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24 April 2015

The security of editorial freedom

Written by: Ben Fenton, Senior Director at Edelman

Corporate Reputation, Media

The irony was not lost on me that, when reading this very good article by Jane Martinson, the head of media at the Guardian, about the difficulty publishers have in balancing the needs of advertisers against editorial independence, the ad that popped up in the middle of the piece was recruiting for MI5.

Leave aside the intriguing thought process that led the Security Service to think of recruiting from among those who read Media Guardian, it showed that there are always more tensions to business decisions than are apparent.

The MI5 recruitment ad invited people to “create tomorrow’s headlines”. Presumably, they meant that MI5 officers could perform acts of derring-do in thwarting society’s enemies and thus be part of the newspaper stories of tomorrow.

But it was hard, especially given MI5’s history of subverting the press in pre-war and post-war Britain, recruiting spies within most national newspapers and leaning heavily on editors thought to be malleable, to think of other interpretations of that phrase.

And it showed that, while juggling simple concerns of “Church vs State” in the commercial sphere, publishers also have to be concerned at what role they play in the security of the state where they operate, and how they might be manipulated. The Guardian, with its Snowden revelations, has that concern more than others.

When I refreshed the page, as is the way with the digital display advertising model, the advertising space was occupied by a slot offering hair colouring products (a service I am equally unlikely to pursue) and MI5 was nowhere to be seen.

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