Thursday, February 11, 2021

Government advertising poses threat to newspaper independence in Britain

The biggest advertiser in Britain is not Amazon, Apple or Nike - it's the government, writes Chris Sweeney in RT. How independent can newspapers be if they are so dependent on the government?

On the day of writing (February 10), across six national titles – Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Daily Star, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian – there were a staggering 15 pages of government advertising, not counting any supplements. Compare that to the next biggest advertiser on that day in the same titles.

It was the nation’s biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, who reported a 29 percent rise in profits, with four pages. The next biggest was supermarket Asda, bought recently for £6.8 billion, with one and half pages. Budget supermarket chain Aldi and telecommunications firm TalkTalk followed with a single page.

Sweeney argues that this has taken a toll on the reporting on the pandemic:

The newspaper industry has been asleep at the wheel during the pandemic. No hard questions or investigative reporting was done....

But there was a real cost to the newspaper industry's soft soaping: the UK has the highest number of deaths in Europe, with over 113,500. There were embarrassing gaffes, due to an initial lack of scrutiny. 50 million face masks were ordered that couldn't be used, part of a £156 million contract. That was topped by a Royal Air Force plane flying to Turkey to collect gowns. After a ridiculous standoff, the plane finally flew home, but all of the 400,000 didn’t meet standards and were useless.

The British public have been let down by their news-gatherers. There are routine calls for reporters to hold Boris and his ministers to account, along with the leaders of the devolved parliaments – Nicola Sturgeon (Scotland), Mark Drakeford (Wales), and Arlene Foster (Northern Ireland). But the bad news is that when the hard questions needed to be asked, the government’s advertising honeypot kicked in. Now the newspapers are hooked and need the money, so are they really digging as deep as they can?

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