Sunday, 22 March 2009

Notes on Reading the Business Pages of Papers

If in doubt, make a paper hat...

I've started reading the Financial Times. No real reason, except it has serious news stories in it, and Serious Times Need Serious News I guess.

One of the few undoubtedly good things about the economic crisis is that a whole raft of smug economic/business pundits in the papers have had their credibility torn to pieces by it. You could call it a 'delegitimation crisis'. The worst offender out of a quite sizeable queue is Hamish McRae, who writes in The Independent. I first came across him in the mid-90s, opining that the UK could live on services, most notably financial services, and our industrial base could go to rack and ruin. Now he is piping up that things aren't that bad. Well you didn't predict this did you Hamish? Or have your tea leaves started doing the business again?

'The Independent' has a totally unwarranted reputation as a liberal-left newspaper. Mostly it has achieved this by going on ad nauseum about Iraq and Climate Change on its front pages. However, any paper that employs the likes of Bruce Anderson, Dominic Lawson and Stephen Glover is hardly bona fide centre-left. Moreover, its business/finance pages are basically Thatcherite. I came to this realisation a few years ago, when there was a big controversy about the Link ATM system. Up to then, you were not charged for using your ATM card at Link cash point machines. I think in particular that if you are not in debt to your bank/building society, you should not be charged for using the ATM of some other financial institution. Why should you have money taken out of your account for no good reason? However, some of the big banks wanted to charge Link users. There was a big campaign in the papers against this- quite rightly so- and covered the whole newspaper political spectrum from the Tory tabloids to the Morning Star and all points in between. The only exception I came across was 'The Indie', which argued that as you already pay charges to your bank, why shouldn't you pay another? I thought this outrageous, and after that I've always held a dim view of the Indie's business coverage. You have to remember as well that the Indie is mindlessly pro-EU, so their economic coverage is basically underpinned by trying to find ways to get Britain to join the euro.

Another thing I've noticed reading the business/finance pages, particularly in the Thatcherite papers (which for me consists of The Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, Daily Star and their Sunday equivalents) is the difference in coverage between their news/comment pages and their personal finance sections. Read the news and comment sections and it is all about how great the free market and capitalism are and how bad the state's record and role in the economy is. However, get to the personal finance pages and it usually consists of one big litany of moans and complaints (either in article or letter form) about financial institutions in particular, and capitalist firms in general. This just shows the difference between free market theory and Actual Existing Capitalism in practice. I wonder how many people reading the Thatcherite press have experienced cognitive dissonance when they jump to the personal finance sections.

Update: for an overview of business in the papers by Peter Wilby.


Madam Miaow said...

Isn't the FT the paper of choice among the left because, supposedly, "it doesn't lie to the bosses"? Although they probably use code.

Roger Alton, New Labour's pro-war gimp at the Observer, is now the Indy's editor, so don't expect it to get any better. Oh look, Ten Best Sex Toys, wall to wall Madonna and slebs. Quite an innovation you've masterminded there, Rog.

Anglonoel said...

I saw a clip of Chomsky the other day extolling the virtues of the FT. It would make a great advert!

The Indie shares the same office building as the Mail. Obviously there's rumours about the Mad buying the Indie. The ex-KGB guy who has bought the Evening Standard is touted as a buyer of the Indie too. What also got me goat about the Indie was their End of the World-style front pages acompanied by a blurb for 2-for-1 flight offers to New York...