11February2016

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Rebranding The Conquistadors As Social Justice Warriors – The Guardian, Corporate Sponsorship And ‘Branded Content’

Even a progressive journalist like Glenn Greenwald can't shake off a rose-tinted view of the paper he once wrote for:

'Like everything, it's very imperfect, but survival of the @Guardian as a large, vibrant media outlet is important'

But in what sense is the Guardian's survival actually 'important?' Our response:

'Important for the hawking of Perpetual War as "humanitarian intervention" and corporate tyranny as "democracy".'

From the moment Jeremy Corbyn stood as prospective Labour leader, the Guardian has waged a relentless campaign to destroy this rare shoot of progressive hope. The paper has backed away from the truth about state and corporate power fuelling yet more catastrophic climate change. It has failed to fully and consistently expose the corporate basis to the climate denial campaign and the corporate capture of the 'mainstream' media in facilitating this. These are salient horrors, but the list could go on...

Like most newspapers, the Guardian is struggling financially and is desperately worried about a dwindling stream of advertising revenue. The paper's declared intent of becoming 'the world's leading liberal voice', with rapid expansion in the US and Australia, has backfired, leading to the need for significant cuts including likely job losses.

As a result, the paper is heading ever deeper into the murky world of 'branded content' to raise much-needed funds from corporate advertisers. This is overseen by the pseudoscientific-sounding 'Guardian Labs', a division of Guardian News & Media which was launched in 2014. Guardian Labs currently brings in 16% of the newspaper group's revenue. But it is expected to 'make a far, far greater contribution' over the next three years.

Readers should be ever more sceptical about what this means for the supposed fiercely independent and balanced journalism that the paper forever claims to publish. The latest salvo in this Guardian PR blitz appeared last Monday when Chris Elliott, the readers' editor, wrote about changes in how commercially sponsored content in the paper is to be labelled.

Firstly, the phrase 'sponsored by' will no longer appear. It will be replaced with 'supported by' which will, claimed Elliott, 'describe editorially independent content' even when the funding has come from 'third parties'. Such funding includes:

'The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help support the Guardian's Global Development site; and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to support the Guardian's Cities project.'

These 'independent' pieces are written by Guardian and Observer journalists 'to the same standards expected in all of our journalism'. The mind boggles.

Secondly, straight 'advertisement features' will now be labelled 'paid content/paid for by'. Such content is 'paid for and controlled by the advertiser rather than' the Guardian.

In his defensive piece, Elliott dismissed a recent campaign by pressure group 38 Degrees aimed at the Guardian's partnership with Shell, the giant oil corporation. Last year, the paper had attempted to project a green image by supporting a move away from fossil fuels and to 'keep it in the ground' instead. Elliott now provided a corporate response issued by a 'Guardian spokesman' to justify its close assocation with Shell:

'Shell and the community jobs site Working Mums are co-sponsoring the Guardian's Work/Life balance hub on our Women in Leadership network. The hub is focused on how working parents can use flexible working culture to manage both their job and their home life.'

That PR statement may as well have come from Shell itself.

The 'Guardian spokesman' continued:

'The acceptance of advertising or partnership content in no way affects our editorial position.'

Of course, newspapers always make this claim, adamant that there is a 'firewall' between advertising and journalism. The reality is different, as we have noted on several occasions. Indeed, advertising is one of the five 'news filters' identified in Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model that provides the best explanation for the state- and corporate-biased output of Western news media.

Even the BBC's Andrew Marr, a journalist who is about as firmly embedded in the establishment as it is possible to be, admitted that advertising helps to shape the news:

'It does, of course. It's hard to make the sums add up when you are kicking the people who write the cheques.' (Andrew Marr, 'My Trade - A Short History Of British Journalism', Macmillan, 2004, p.112)

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