I love corporations actually l love the adverts which corporations churn out. Ads which portray them as caring about ethical business practices, caring about the environment and caring about us. Except that the majority of them don’t but we get used to accepting if there’s no genuine feeling there it’s the thought that counts. Also being reassured by expensive adverts telling us that these profit churning engines give a toss about us, takes less effort than actually challenging their business practices in the manner that one man, Nicholas Wilson, the HSBC whistleblower, did.
His revelations allege a £1bn fraud committed by Britain’s largest bank. He accuses HSBC – through its subsidiary HFC Bank – of illegally mischarging British high-street customers in a fraud that goes back over three decades.
More remarkably, even though his claims have been substantiated by official bodies and government agencies, he claims Britain’s corporate mass media have largely ignored the case and here’s why.
During the Treasury Select Committee meeting on 15th February, it emerged that the newspaper that styles itself as the world’s “leading liberal voice” happens to be the biggest recipient of HSBC advertising revenue: bigger even than the Telegraph.
According to the Guardian Media Group’s annual financial review last year, 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.”
HSBC’s “partnership” with the Guardian Media Group has thus played an integral role in enabling the Guardian’s US venture to maximise its revenues, and expand its work.
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, originally created in 1936 “to safeguard the title’s journalistic freedom.” The paper, wrote left-wing columnist Owen Jones in the wake of Peter Oborne’s revelations, “is unique for being owned by a trust rather than a media mogul.”
I have a lot of respect for Jones, who is doing important work, but his assertion here is untrue and misleading.
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, it is still referred to frequently as ‘The Scott Trust,’ promulgating the widely-held but mistaken belief in the Guardian’s inherently benign ownership structure.
The new company purports, like many other corporate entities, to be guided by a range of commendable values, including the task of maintaining theGuardian’s editorial independence. The problem, of course, is that theGuardian functions under the same sort of corporate structure as any other major media company.
The chair of the Scott Trust Ltd. board is Dame Liz Forgan, who has repeatedly called for the financial sector to contribute more to the arts. Two years ago, her attitude to the sector was revealed when she described government tax-cuts to the wealthy as “helpful changes in the tax law,” but opined that the “huge new wealth created in the City” as a result was only problematic because it is not “finding its way to the arts.”
British financiers, she suggested, should follow the exemplary model of Russian oligarchs, who “respect and value their culture.” It is difficult to understand how corrupt oligarchs with nothing better to do than lavish stolen wealth on obscene ‘artistic’ pursuits of concern to a tiny Russian minority should in anyway be considered a model for Britain, given the record levels of impoverishment in Russia (thanks in no small part to neo-liberal austerity), not to mention growing inequality in the UK manifest in demand for food banks which in 2013 had rocketed up by 54%.
Forgan is 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.’
Conspiracy? Coincidence? Either way, the chair of the company that owns the Guardian, the biggest recipient of HSBC digital advertising revenue, is involved in facilitating HSBC contributions to two institutions.
Thanks to the journalist Steve Rushton for some of this information and to an article written by Nafeez Ahmed which contains far more information on the matter than this blog post. I swear each time I hear of the collusion of corporations & the media in ways which hide the truth, my eyes mist over…..with rage.