Anthony Hilton: Firms must stand up for the truth

When I became the Daily Mail's stock market reporter in 1971, nearly 40 years ago, the great challenge was to avoid being taken for a ride by your contacts.

Anthony Hilton
Anthony Hilton

There were no electronic screens, mobile phones or even fax machines in those days, so you had to have people tell you what was going on. You built up a network of the willing, and the days were spent meeting them in wine bars.

The problem was that people who would happily pass on to young reporters what would now be called inside information, but we just thought of as market gossip, were also people who were not averse to making up a few things for their own advantage.

Newspapers were then the only source of market information for the public at large. A convincing tale that caught the readers' imagination could easily bounce a share up or down by ten per cent or more - quite enough for a comfortable profit. So market reporters spent hours cross-checking to avoid being taken for a ride. It was a matter of professional pride to try to protect the public from the rubbish.

These days there are no such filters. The rogues don't need gullible reporters, they just put it on the internet. Chat rooms and blogs are filled with stuff that is libellous, misleading, wrong, but most of all self-serving. We have laws on market abuse that constrain the supply of authoritative information from companies and brokers, but no effective sanction against the anonymous stuff on the web. Today's stock market is a far more dishonest and manipulated place, but regulators seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

Companies seem loathe to confront this issue, hoping perhaps if they ignore the stuff it will go away. But they are going to have to make a stand to preserve the integrity of the information circulating about them. William Hague's decision to deliver a full-blooded rebuttal to internet-based rumours about his personal life has caused some to say he would have been far better to ignore it. I disagree. He has shown corporate leaders and comms professionals how they should respond. If they don't stand up for the truth, who will? - Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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