Newspaper editorial freedom and advertising revenue

Today, 19 February, this newspaper reports that a senior reporter on the Daily Telegraph resigned because of no reporting of HSBC events.

The reporter claimed that two or three years ago HSBC suspended any advertising in the Daily Telegraph because it did not appreciate their investigation of possible impropriety in their Jersey subsidiary. This lasted for a year, during which time the newspaper, in need of the revenue, published articles favourable to HSBC, in particular their philanthropic activities.

It is almost certainly true that with the competition from sites on the Web many newspapers, both in Britain and in Switzerland, become quite dependent for survival on advertising revenue. As readers, we cannot know how much this revenue counts for, nor on whether it has in any way been reflected in what we read. Certainly, even though I regularly read the Daily Telegraph, I could not have known much about HSBC had I not been living here in Geneva.

The question that comes to mind is whether advertising can have any influence on newspapers, and in particular on this newspaper. My personal experience, here in Geneva, gives rise to some slight worriess, in particular related to Geneva airport and the airline companies.

My overall impression is that there tends to be minimal coverage of events which might cause the airport to be seen in a non-favourable light. This was emphasised when, late last year, snow during the day caused a very large number of airline passengers to have their flights delayed or cancelled, and even to have to sleep in the airport. I have absolutely no doubt that the staff of the airport and the airlines worked tirelessly and heroically to minimise the consequences. However, in contrast to the papers not based in Geneva, in particular Le Matin and 20 Minutes, this newspaper did not seem to want to mention the problems.

I have had similar experiences with letters sent by email to this newspaper. Almost invariably, when I write about some aspect of aviation, I get no receipt acknowledgement. When I specifically request an acknowledgement I get one, and the letter is published. However, when I sent an email letter in January this year, again without any acknowledgement, I decided not to do anything other than wait to see if the letter would be published. As far as I know, it was not.

This is a general worry for a number of people. We rely on the newspapers reporting what is happening around the world in a fair and unbiased manner. At the same time, it is quite obvious that here in Geneva there are numerous airline advertisements, in particular from the main airlines which have bases in Geneva. There are also articles written by journalists which show the airport and the airlines in a favourable light. 

So is there any interaction between the editorial staff and the advertising department, not only in relation to the airport, but in general to anything concerning outside organisations which contribute significant amounts of money via advertisements?

I do not in any way accuse anyone of anything, but the question needs to be asked, and a reply obtained.

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