OPINION: Media must get back to business

I attended a private dinner a short while ago, the purpose of which was to explore ways to improve the training of business journalists and hence the resulting press business coverage.

Its starting point was that business got a rough deal in the UK printed media and the importance of business in supporting the economy and the incomes of the nation was rarely stressed. The public may understand that business creates the wealth on which the country depends, but there is little in the financial pages to help them under­stand how it works.

The dinner was of limited success because most journalists were unconvinced that it was a lack of training in business issues that lay behind any perceived shortcomings in coverage. But there was agreement that there was too little good business journalism around.

This dinner came back to mind last week then the BBC business coverage was subject to robust examination by Sir Alan Budd who found it in some parts sycophantic and uncritical, and elsewhere excessively ‘consumerist’. It ill behoves the printed media to gloat at the BBC’s shortcomings however – as some did – because these same basic failings apply here. Personal finance pages veer alarmingly between consumerist exposes and endorsements of new products, while the mainstream news sections are excessively consumerist – getting excited by high profits, British Airways travel chaos, Marks & Spencer recovery and anything by Sir Philip Green along with the cost of houses.

Meanwhile, the business sections in the national press are almost exclusively focused on the equity markets, takeovers and economics. If the BBC can get done for sycophancy, then so should these City pages. How often does one read a profile which is little more than a hagiography? How vigilant is the financial media in exposing the sharper practices of investment banks, hedge funds or the power brokers of the square mile?

How much questioning is there of the logic behind the takeover frenzy in the thrill of the chase? The truth is that if we were subject to a similar level of scrutiny, not much of the press would come out as well as the BBC.

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