Opinion  

Impartiality takes a backseat when firms write content

John Kenchington

Let’s face it, journalism is never likely to be among the most loved professions.

I hope people are aware that we at the Financial Times Group operate to very high standards, with strict internal codes of ethics and conduct, but ultimately I can live with the whole opprobrium thing.

But I cannot accept any suggestion that journalism itself is anything less than vital to democracy.

Shame PR spinner Dominic Hiatt does not seem to share this view. In a recent post on adviserlounge.co.uk entitled ‘Decline in journalism standards offers unprecedented opportunity’, the co-founder of Rhizome PR wrote that most financial journalists possess little grasp of their specialism.

This “implosion of financial journalism” offers an “unprecedented opportunity for financial services firms… to create great content”, provided it is impartial and not promotional, he states.

They can attract “the traffic that would previously have gone to media outlets” and “reap some serious awards” (Rewards?), he says.

So, in other words, the decline in journalism offers an opportunity for self-promotion by financial services firms willing to provide neutral content.

But what he is suggesting is impossible. If a company undertakes an initiative that aims to sell products, then the initiative is fundamentally biased, regardless of the execution.

And here’s the thing – investment providers will never, ever be able to be impartial about investments. Sooner or later, somebody will always intercept any material before it is disseminated and object to anything that would harm product sales.

They simply cannot resist the urge to accentuate the positive. They always have and always will.

Content from providers is often interesting but it cannot be viewed as strictly objective.

No amount of regulation could ever force companies to be impartial about their wares. You will never see them admit their product range is rubbish or say it’s better to leave your money in the bank.

So why is journalism any different? Aren’t we bankrolled by investment providers and therefore biased?

No – because our advertisers pay us precisely because we are free to criticise them. That’s what makes people read us. That’s why so many eyes pass over our pages every week. Telling it like it is is our raison d’être; that is what we sell.

Journalists have one vested interest above all others – in not having any vested interests.

When I write about investments I have no interest whatsoever in whether providers are able to sell the products, and there is a crystal-clear internal separation between our advertising sales and editorial teams.

The fact is that without journalism we’d soon find ourselves in a world in which everything appears to be simply brilliant all of the time. Perhaps that’s Mr Hiatt’s world, too.