Posts Tagged ‘Murdoch MacLennan’

Northcliffe on the Threat of Coercion by Advertisers

February 21, 2015

Who Runs This Place

I also picked up yesterday a copy of Anthony Sampson’s Who Runs This Place? The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century (London: John Murry 2004). This attempts to describe how the country has become less democratic, and government and big business more unaccountable. It’s a very good book, and accurately describes how we have lost power to the governing elites. One of the most immediately significant passages deals with the way newspapers have increasingly come to reflect the interests of their advertisers.

This was brought home most powerfully this last week with the scandal over the suppression of adverse news about HSBC by the Telegraph. HSBC is heavily involved in tax avoidance, and is being investigated by the Swiss, Americans and other nations for money laundering. Yet this was largely kept out of the pages of the Torygraph on the express orders of its chief executive, Murdoch MacLennan. HSBC was the advertiser the newspaper believed it could not afford to lose, and so instructed its journalists to do everything not to offend it. The resulting scandalous lack of coverage, and the suppression of other news stories and their substitution by puff pieces to satisfied other advertisers, so outraged the columnist Peter Oborne that he resigned. Oborne has written a piece on the Net describing his decision and the circumstances that led up to it. Mike has covered this extensively, including linking to Oborne’s piece, on his own blog over at Vox Political.

Sampson notes in his section on the growing power of advertisers that Lord Northcliffe, the press tycoon, was well aware of their power and did everything he could to keep it in check. Northcliffe said in 1922 ‘Do not let the advertisements rule the paper’. Apparently for a brief period he had the hall porter at the Daily Mail censor them. Northcliffe himself was a major pillar of the establishment, but he was absolutely right in this instance. Unfortunately, Murdoch MacLennan and the others weren’t listening.