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Noam Chomsky: The Advertising License to Do Business

Noam Chomsky: The Advertising License to Do Business


In this video, I will use the example of international
banking giant HSBC and how it used its advertising power to silence reporting in three UK newspapers,
the Telegraph, Guardian and Sunday Times. All sources for this video, you’ll find
in the description box below. The first example comes from Peter Oborne,
former chief political commentator at The Telegraph, who resigned from his job in 2015
after he was censored from writing about HSBC because it was one of the paper’s major corporate
advertisers. Late in 2014 Peter set to work on a story
about HSBC. Well-known British Muslims had received letters out of the blue from HSBC
informing them that their accounts had been closed. When Peter submitted it for publication on
the Telegraph website, He was at first told there would be no problem. When it was not
published he made enquiries. He was fobbed off with excuses, then told there was a legal
problem. When he asked the legal department, the lawyers were unaware of any difficulty.
When he pushed the point, an executive took him aside and said that “there is a bit of
an issue” with HSBC. Eventually he gave up in despair and offered the article to openDemocracy.
A link to his article is in the description box below. He researched the newspaper’s coverage of
HSBC. He learnt that Harry Wilson, the banking correspondent of the Telegraph, had published
an online story about HSBC based on a report from a Hong Kong analyst who had claimed there
was a ‘black hole’ in the HSBC accounts. This story was swiftly removed from the Telegraph
website, even though there were no legal problems. When he asked HSBC whether the bank had complained
about Wilson’s article, or played any role in the decision to remove it, the bank declined
to comment. Then, on 4 November 2014, a number of papers
reported a blow to HSBC profits as the bank set aside more than £1 billion for customer
compensation and an investigation into the rigging of currency markets. This story was
the city splash in the Times, Guardian and Mail, making a page lead in the Independent.
Peter inspected the Telegraph coverage. It generated five paragraphs in total on page
5 of the business section. Peter then met with Murodoch MacLennan, the
executive chief of the Telegraph at that time, and Murdoch agreed that advertising was allowed
to affect editorial, but was unapologetic, saying that and I quote “it was not as bad
as all that” end quote and adding that there was a long history of this sort of thing at
the Telegraph. The second example involves HSBC fraud totalling
an estimated £1 billion, regarding the bank’s ability to prey on unsuspecting British shoppers,
which has been systematically covered up by much of the UK media. This is all according to former debt recovery
specialist and whistleblower Nicholas Wilson, HSBC has been integrally involved in a fraudulent
scheme to illegally overcharge British shoppers in arrears for debt on store cards at leading
British high-street retailers. Without knowing, hundreds of thousands of Britons have been
defrauded of a total of one billion pounds worth of money. Wilson says and I quote “I handled John
Lewis debt collection for over 20 years and negotiated my firm’s contract with HSBC/HFC,”.
“The illegal arrangement was between the solicitors and the bank, and I told them all
at the very first meeting it was illegal.” end quote That was in 2003. By 2006, Wilson could no longer stomach the
fraudulent fees that were being applied to accounts handled by HSBC for retailers like
John Lewis and many others. As many as 600,000 people, he estimates, were being defrauded. He went to the Law Society and blew the whistle.
Wilson was soon after made redundant. The Law Society oversaw a mediation process between
Wilson and HSBC, in which the Society eventually concluded that the solicitors had no right
to charge consumers the excess fees. Still, why would there be such a huge degree
of censorship on Wilson’s story on HSBC fraud, but abundant coverage of the HSBC Swiss
bank tax evasion scandal? The scandal, points out according to Joel
Benjamin, a campaigner for Move Your Money UK is not related to UK crimes, or issues
that might threaten HSBC’s continued operation in the UK. Given that HSBC has subsidiaries
in 556 tax havens around the world, he said, the bank can “deal with a tax avoidance
scandal in one of these jurisdictions, and continue relatively unscathed.”But there
is another issue, which relates to the scale of such fraud in the UK, and its contribution
to economic growth. London, even more than Wall Street, is the world’s finance capital,
harbouring most of the global economy’s international transactions, and therefore
holding 400% more money than Britain’s entire GDP. A significant quantity of this money — “many
hundreds of billions of pounds” worth — is from the criminal economy and laundered through
UK banks and their subsidiaries. The exposure of HSBC’s fraud in Britain
could fundamentally jeopardise both the bank’s domestic and US operations. The Guardian, in contrast, has loudly and
triumphantly congratulated itself for reporting on the HSBC Swiss bank scandal despite the
bank putting its advertising relationship with the newspaper “on pause.” Yet the
newspaper has refused to cover Wilson’s story exposing HSBC fraud in Britain. Why? During the Treasury Select Committee meeting
on 15th February 2015, HSBC’s CEO at that time, Stuart Gulliver told the Committee that
the Guardian was the largest recipient of HSBC advertising revenue of all digital news
outlets. According to the Guardian Media Group’s
annual financial review for 2014, its American website, Guardian US, delivered “record
online traffic” in the form of over 20 million unique monthly users “representing year-on-year
growth of 12%.” User growth permitted a dramatic increase in advertising revenues:
“Revenues from US operations more than doubled on the previous 12-month period, reflecting
advertising demand and sponsorship deals with partners such as HSBC, Netflix and Airbnb.” The Guardian’s links with HSBC go beyond
mere advertising. Much has been made of the fact that the newspaper is owned and run by
The Scott Trust. However, The Guardian is not owned by a trust
at all. In 2008, “the trust was replaced with a limited company” that was accordingly
re-named “The Scott Trust Limited.” Though not a trust at all, but simply a profit-making
company. Interestingly, in 2014-2015, The chair of
the Scott Trust Ltd. board was Dame Liz Forgan and she was deputy chair of the board of the
British Museum, where she was appointed a trustee in 2008. According to minutes of a
British Museum board meeting that year, the board approved a bank mandate to open an HSBC
account that would facilitate “HSBC being a sponsor of Museum activities.” Forgan
is also patron of St. Giles Trust, which since 2013 has been sponsored by HSBC as part of
its three year ‘Opportunity Partnership.’ This may just be a coincidence but either
way, the fact is that the chair of the company during that time which owns the Guardian,
the biggest recipient of HSBC digital advertising revenue, was involved in facilitating HSBC
contributions to two institutions. The Thrid example is with the Sunday Times,
Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed reported that the Sunday Times had planned a big exposé
on the HSBC consumer credit fraud. The story was ‘inexplicably dropped’ at the last minute.
Ahmed wrote in 2015 and I quote ‘HSBC happens to be the main sponsor of a
series of Sunday Times league tables published for FastTrack 100 Ltd., a “networking events
company.” The bank is the “title sponsor” of The Sunday Times HSBC Top Track 100, has
been “title sponsor of The Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200 for all 6 years” and
was previously “title sponsor of The Sunday Times Top Track 250 for 7 years.”‘ end quote And to back that up Wilson says on his website
that, and I quote “Today it has been widely reported that
the Sunday Times has published, in an “unprecedented leak”, the list of David Cameron’s resignation
honours. What is very significant about the Sunday Times article is what it does not say. Camilla Cavendish used to be Associate Editor
of the Sunday Times. She was a contemporary of Cameron’s at Oxford, on the same course
as him, at the same college. She was also a colleague at Pearson plc of previous HSBC
director and current BBC Trust Chair Rona Fairhead. Last year, before the election, Sunday Times
Home Affairs correspondent Tom Harper was investigating the HSBC fraud story and Cameron’s
involvement in covering it up. The intention was to publish an article before the election.
I worked with Tom Harper for 4-6 weeks on the story. During that period Camilla Cavendish
attended a meeting with Cameron at his country residence, Chequers. The story was dropped
and I was told by Harper on the day before publication was due, only because I asked.
No explanation was given.” end quote Here is just an example of one company influencing
three major UK newspapers via its financial clout through advertising. The Wilson story
was finally covered by the Guardian, but only after he won the court case in 2017 and 13
years later. Although the The Financial Conduct Authority said that 6,700 people had been
fraudulently billed and only 4m needed to be compensated.
Advertisers are not always so shy about their activities, some like American Express pulling
ads from Sky News over a right wing interview are said out loud. However, I didn’t feel
the need to cover those as no cover up went on and so I feel the advertiser can do as
it pleases. I also didn’t cover the current social media
crackdown on predominantly right wing views as I think to a large extent they’re quite
open about it too, although I think both are wrong. Free speech is free speech, you can’t
choose that only opinions you hate should be restricted. What I hoped to show is that the influence
of advertisers is much deeper and more subtle, we only know about them from whistleblowers
or when people of high moral fibre just quit their jobs and tell all. I hope this video served as some introduction
as to how the media is not as free as it claims to be. Even if the media outlet is well meaning
and wants to report the facts, in a free market economy it must make a profit and with that
comes inherent limitations as long as they rely on advertisements. If you liked this video, please give a like
and a subscribe and in the next video, I’ll talk about another propaganda filter, sourcing.

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