Guest Editorial: Pro-HSBC media a ‘fraud on readers’

In a high-profile event surrounding a major, multinational financial institution, the stance which is taken by mainstream media can be examined thoroughly. HSBC’s recent coverage across the international press surrounding allegations of money laundering is a case in point.

TopFX VP Business Development Paul Orford looks at the duty which the mainstream media has toward providing information to readers as well as protecting its commercial interest.

Over the past ten days we have seen an interesting development in the story regarding the HSBC accounts scandal and the stance of various mainstream media entites reporting it.

I would not like to get into the rights or wrongs of the allegations regarding the account holders, as that is a matter for the law enforcement authorities to decide. However one thing that did intrigue me was the relationship between the media bodies reporting and the pressure that an advertiser places upon it.

What is interesting to examine, is to whom is the duty of the media companies? Should they be reporting the story verbatim or should they assess the interests of the advertiser? Is there room to do both?

Peter Oborne ,the former Chief Political commentator of the Daily Telegraph, he has called for an independent inquiry into the editorial guidelines regarding its lack of coverage over this major story.

He claimed that the Daily Telegraph’s management had deliberately supressed stories in order to retain a valuable advertising account. He went further and outlined that one former Telegraph executive told him HSBC was “the advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend.”

For Mr. Oborne, the traditional distinction between the editorial and advertising departments has collapsed.

As 99% of us would fall into the category of reader rather than advertiser, we are more likely than not to argue that it should never be to the detriment of the end user (reader). But should it? In an age where we pay zero to read such useful information, how do we expect them to pay for journalists, researchers and office space?

In an industry that is just recovering from a crash where marketing budgets have been tightened, would a website or newspaper be morally wrong in financially protecting itself and its staff members by following the wishes of the advertiser?

A logical extension to this could be argued that if I am an advertiser, there is no way I would like to see my product criticised in a service I am paying for. Moreover, is there no difference between asking the waiter not to abuse you after you have placed your order at the restaurant?

The great thing with online media is that we can form the debate in the comment section after the story has been finished. (Prepares tin hat!) In fact I find that it is often the most interesting part of many stories.

I can think of a number of FX related stories recently that have been published, and in the comments section various opinion makers give their version of events. The benefit of this being that there is a right of redress to give an often completely contrasting interpretation of events.

I think the real beauty of this format is that it keeps both the readers and advertisers happy. If people can offer non libellous / litigious comments regarding a story then maybe we have achieved the best possible solution.

This is a guest editorial which was compiled by, and represents the viewpoint of, Paul Orford, VP Business Development, TopFX

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