Anthony Hilton: Lies can keep PR industry busy

When I spent a brief period of my early journalistic life as a stock market reporter, the trick was to spot the lies.

Anthony Hilton: lies can keep PR industry busy
Anthony Hilton: lies can keep PR industry busy

There were no electronic media then, indeed no electronic markets, so everything was word of mouth. People would tell you things to help spread a story about a share because normally they had already bought it and wanted others to come in behind them - or had shorted and wanted others to sell.

Sometimes the stories were true. Journalists built their reputations on finding those grains of wheat and not being complete suckers for every spiv story in town. Few were good at it - the lies were always so much more entertaining.

No-one bothers lying to stock market reporters now - they just stick the rumour on a web chatroom and sit back and watch the share price react. Market abuse has been raised to the level of an art form, with the regulators seemingly unable to do much about it. The electronic age really has made it possible for the lie to go around the world before the truth has got it boots on.

But one can recognise that and still be startled by its implications. Lunching the other day with a financial PR consultant whose client list is mainly private firms, I was startled to hear that most of his time was spent firefighting the lies spread about his clients. One can understand lies about public companies for the reasons just mentioned - you can make money from the share price reaction. But why waste energy rubbishing a company whose shares can't react?

Ask the question 'who benefits?' and you get the answer. If your firm is struggling, then the web allows you to spread rumours that cast doubt on the soundness of your main competitors far more quickly and effectively than you could ever do before.

Thanks to the internet, organised lying is no longer confined to the stock market. It's become a mainstream business. Where this leaves journalists in the future I am not sure, particularly as these days so many have already given up trying to distinguish between truth and fiction. But it certainly promises to keep the public relations industry busy.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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