CIPR: Blurred Lines on paid-for content help no one

The Evening Standard is facing allegations that it has been offering favourable coverage to companies that are willing to pay large sums of money.

According to reports by Open Democracy last night, the freesheet guaranteed “money-can’t-buy” news coverage to six companies, including Uber and Google, for £3m as part of their ‘London 2020’ project. It was alleged this would result in “readers unable to differentiate between news that is paid-for and other commercially-branded content”.

Commenting, Sarah Hall, CIPR President said: 

Sarah Hall Chart.PR, FCIPR, CIPR President
Honesty in editorial coverage of news stories is a critical part of public trust. While the media is under economic pressure there is no justification for a course of action that could result in readers being misled – particularly where the coverage concerns controversial brands who are actively involved in public policy debates. The public expect editorial independence, which should enable a plurality of voices to be heard in commentary and coverage.

I welcome the firm denial issued by ESI Media, and remind CIPR members that dealing honestly and fairly with the public is an explicit issue of professional ethics in our industry. Paid-for content should be clearly labelled so the public can identify where normal editorial standards apply and where space has been bought by the brands involved.
Sarah Hall Chart.PR, FCIPR, CIPR President

The project is to involve six themes that companies will run in tandem with the paper for two years, on issues such as clean air, the London housing crisis and tech in the workplace. Six partners have paid up to £500,000 each to be involved in ES coverage.

Jon O’Donnell, group commercial director at ESI Media, called the OpenDemocracy claims "grossly inaccurate and a wildly misunderstood interpretation of the London 2020 project." He said the integrity and independence of the paper's editorial remained "paramount" and said that all commercial content was clearly labelled as such.

Notes to editors

Notes to editors

About the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)Founded in 1948, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the Royal Chartered professional body for public relations practitioners in the UK and overseas. The CIPR is the largest membership organisation for PR practitioners outside of North America. By size of turnover and number of individually registered members, we are the leading representative body for the PR profession and industry in Europe.

The CIPR advances professionalism in public relations by making its members accountable to their employers and the public through a code of conduct and searchable public register, setting standards through training, qualifications, awards and the production of best practice and skills guidance, facilitating Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and awarding Chartered Public Relations Practitioner status (Chart.PR).