Freedom of the press

Freedom of the press normally applies to the freedom of the press and media to operate and report without unreasonable state interference. It’s important all right, but not for me today. My mind is weighing heavily on a different interpretation of this much used phrase.

I’m looking at the freedom of the press to ride roughshod over the principles, ethics and standards of journalism. Principles like objectivity, impartiality, fairness and accountability. Principles that every journalist should swear by, but sometimes seem to stick two fingers up at instead.

Yesterday, The Telegraph’s Business Editor Alistair Osborne posted a news story bearing the headline “Betfair a ‘shambles’ says punter who lost £16,000”. With a headline like that it was soon all over Twitter like a rash.

Before I go any further I should declare an interest here. I worked for Betfair for two and a half years up until January 2011. I left the company by choice. I am not a shareholder. Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a long standing Betfair customer and fan of the company. My experience working for Betfair served to reinforce what I have always believed. It is a great business, run my passionate and capable people, as well as a great place to work.

After reading the piece I was left with an uneasy feeling that the author has a bit of an axe to grind. Since when has a customer service issue become bona fide business news in a quality UK broadsheet?  At best it’s the kind of story that given time may possibly develop into something Anne Robinson may take up on Watchdog – but even that is unlikely as there is no question of skulduggery or deceit.

I then noticed that the author’s last two pieces on Betfair were equally critical in content and tone. I had even tweeted about one of them at the time just a few days ago, as I was disappointed to learn that Betfair had physically prevented journalists (including Alistair Osborne evidently) from entering their AGM. My feeling at the time was that adopting a bunker mentality was not sensible for a public company with nothing to hide.

Anyway, after reading the comments under Mr Osborne’s latest piece I was quite shocked at how many people were taking the opportunity to indulge in a spot of Betfair bashing. So I tried to redress the balance and point out that in my opinion the author had an axe to grind and the story was a ‘shameful’ piece of journalism.

Well the moderator was having none of it and after a short delay my comment was removed. Luckily I kept a copy. This is what I posted:

“Shameful journalism. This is not business news. This is the kind of tosh I’d expect from Anne Robinson on Watchdog, not from a business editor on the Telegraph. The author clearly has a personal agenda here. Just look at his recent pieces on Betfair. Take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror Mr Osborne. Is this how they taught you to behave in journo school?”

At the last count the article has 91 comments. Many are littered with strongly worded abuse towards the company, the industry and even the ‘victim’. Some accuse Betfair of being rigged. Others of theft. One even makes reference to the CEO’s ethnicity and jokes about his access to triad gangs to enforce gambling debts.

One wag using the name “the_judge” wrote “Jon Weedon get back in your plantpot. Betfair is a scam outfit. It took me months to get my deposits back from these crooks. I hope they go bust and your shares go down the toilet.”

My point is that my comment was not half as rude or threatening as many posts that still reside in the thread. I can only conclude that it was removed because it did not comply with the sentiment of the anti-Betfair brigade who dominate the thread and it dared to question the author’s journalistic integrity. It looks like the expedient route of censorship prevailed over freedom of speech.

It feels very much to me like double standards are at play here. How can a member of the press corp being excluded from an AGM be an outrage, when a member of the public being excluded from commenting on a poor piece of journalism is fine?


3 thoughts on “Freedom of the press

  1. Good post Jon.

    Interesting that Trip Advisor can no longer use “reviews you can trust” strapline as there is now an industry for people to post negative comments on social media channels. I wonder if there is a “negative” PR agency out there?

    Sadly, we are slowly becoming a nation that trusts and is influenced by these comments and dare I say it message boards and comments are highly trusted, more so than tabloid journalism!

    Social media has as important role to play in making sure moderation is fair and also trying to give credence to those that are posting (ratings, number of postings etc).

    The Telegraph should try and take a now of how BBC do it.

    Oh, what were the chances that the was actually the journalist moderating the comments? Quite high I would say!! (think about it… who moderates comments on blogs? The author !!)

  2. I have no doubt there is a growing industry in “negative” PR agencies Lee. Likewise the potential for rival companies and their employees – and even disaffected employees jumping on and posting anonymous comments or comments from bogus accounts is huge. If companies spam their own blogs and message boards with fake testimonials and praise you can be sure they do the opposite on their rivals’ sites.

    My own contributions could not be more transparent as they can all be traced back to this blog, and my facebook and twitter accounts. Likewise yours 🙂

    Most of the comments on the Telegraph thread above are from faceless contributors who could be absolutely anyone and therefore their contributions are pretty worthless in my book. I find it ironic that the one person who is prepared to speak out and be identified is censored.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  3. As a little postscript to the above, the Alistair Osborne anti Betfair crusade looks set to continue. And it looked like it began before I had noticed. Just take a look at the headlines of all of these articles he authored in the Telegraph during September. Does this not look like a man on a mission?

    30 Sep: Betfair security chief Sean Catlett latest high-profile departure
    30 Sep: Betfair is in for a rough ride over data theft
    30 Sep: Criminals stole customer card data from Betfair
    27 Sep: Betfair a ‘shambles’ says punter who lost £16k
    23 Sep: Betfair ‘removed £52,000 from account’
    23 Sep: Betfair pantomime sidesteps the critics
    14 Sep: Betfair investors urged to vote against huge pay rises for bosses
    06 Sep: Betfair blushes saved by gala sporting events

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