By Joel Benjamin
Mar 20, 2015
England is globally upheld as the home of democracy. In reality, a country ruled in the interests of an unelected head of state (HMRH Queen), an unelected second chamber (House of Lords – filled with parasites like HSBC’s Lord Green), and the City of London, a secret fiefdom of financial firms with its own laws and police force, outside the scope of criminal justice, or Westminster reform.
We are reliably informed that ‘Great’ Britain has a “free press.” Yet as highlighted by the resignation of respected Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne due to HSBC collusion in editorial decisions, the truth is anything but the case.
The British Broadcasting Corporation, otherwise known as the BBC is considered one of the nations treasures. A “public interest” broadcaster, funded through our own taxes, the Beeb prides itself on being ‘impartial.’ However as Guardian commentator Owen Jones points out:
“Detailed research by Cardiff University finds that the BBC is biased in favour of corporate and establishment voices. Its political coverage is dominated by former Tory or overtly rightwing figures; the Tories – including David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson – heavily recruit from Auntie Beeb. As anyone on the left who has appeared on the BBC will know, neoliberalism is its commonsense and starting point.”
Since 2012, I have been involved in campaigning with Move Your Money UK. A campaign calling for individuals, businesses, and public institutions to withdraw their funds from the corrupt big 4 UK banks who literally run the UK economy – with an 85% oligopoly on bank lending.
Over the past three years, I have made thousands of calls to press journalists, called out City regulators and Local Government finance officers for inaction on bank fraud, even attending Bank AGM’s to ask direct questions of the respective bank boards.
What I have learnt through this process is that by and large *all* of the UK mainstream media outlets no longer do detailed investigative journalism on the City of London.
In my opinion, this is true with the possible exceptions of the FT, specialist broadcast units like BBC panorama, Foreign Broadcasters like Al Jazeera and Russia Today (Keiser Report), and under ground publications like Private Eye.
This dynamic can perhaps best be been seen playing out in content such as Private Eye’s: “Eye Told You So” where scandals covered in the Eye, years earlier, are finally mentioned by the mainstream UK media. Eye 1334 (Feb 2013) >
Of the US publications, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone and Bloomberg have done an admiral job of covering the LIBOR and Forex scandals, largely whitewashed by the major UK papers [there is a geopolitical reason for this which I shall come to later].
The more observant amongst you may have noticed I have not included the Guardian in this list. The exact reasons for the Guardian’s absence, I shall attempt to set out below, but it is worth noting that when the Treasury Select Committee questioned HSBC bank Executives Stuart Gulliver and Douglas Flint – they noted:“of the online UK media platforms, our highest spending is with the Guardian.”
As Owen Jones points out in his piece on the Peter Oborne resignation, “the Guardian is a liberal paper, not a socialist paper.” On the political spectrum, that positions the Guardian somewhere between the Liberal Democrats and Labour.
However on economic and financial policy, neither Labour, nor the Liberal Democrats are remotely left-wing.
As US professor, lawyer and former banking regulator William K Black points out:“on economic policy, all three major UK political parties are to the right of the US Republican party.”
Let me repeat that. ALL of the major UK parties, Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems are to the right of the US republicans on economic policy and reform of the City of London. The UK economy is a neoliberals wet dream.
In practice, what this means is that the “Overton window” or the narrow acceptable spectrum of UK mainstream media debate on key economic issues (such as reform of the City of London banks) includes a majority of right-wing voices, and largely excludes real left-wing voices and opinions.
Owen Jones goes on to say: “I often disagree with the Guardian’s editorial positions, sometimes passionately… But I have never been prevented from writing what I think.”
Herein lines the crux of the issue. Jones is by and large a media commentator. He comments and writes what he “thinks” (i.e. opinion) on issues already in the public realm.
Owen is generally not an investigative journalist, establishing new “facts” that need to pass forensic scrutiny, libel, and potential advertising relationship damage litmus tests by newspaper editors, prior to being published.
Such “facts” may bring multi-million (and indeed billion) pound damages to bear on offending City firms, and make newspapers, broadcasters, and the offending firms in question understandably squeamish.
The distinction between establishing fact, and expressing opinion is especially true for journalists breaking stories involving fraud by City of London banks, where the threat of libel and court damages aimed at newspaper editors is often sufficient to bury bad press.
In 2013, Move Your Money obtained a consumer marketing report paid for by City of London financial firms stating 2.4 million high street bank customers had switched from the big 4 banks following the LIBOR scandal. The story was offered up to the BBC as an exclusive, but pulled at the last minute, following intervention by the City lobby, namely the British Bankers Association threatening legal action.
All of the major publications and broadcasters live in constant fear of being sued by City of London firms with deep pockets and aggressive panels of lawyers. The reality is that the Guardian is no less susceptible to this financial pressure than other UK publications.
Let me clarify one thing. I am a generally massive fan of the Guardian.
The Guardian’s reporting on the Snowden ‘Prism” intelligence leaks was accurate, brave and relentless. Despite massive political pressure from the UK and US Governments, it did not back down. But we should not fetishise the Guardian, or pretend the paper is something it is not.
When looking for breaking news on finance, and particularly financial crime, I almost never turn to the Guardian. The Guardian sets the tone for supposed left-wing coverage on banking matter for broadcasters like the BBC, and yet recent Guardian coverage on banking scandals has often been wide of the mark.
The notable difference between the Guardian’s coverage of the Snowden leaks, and the crimes of UK banks including HSBC is the protection of commercial advertising revenues.
HSBC pays newspapers like the Guardian and the Telegraph a lot of money for advertising. As a rule, the US and UK Governments do not.
The Guardian can afford to offend the Government, with little commercial damage to its bottom line, aside from some smashed hard-drives, at the hands of tech illiterate Government goons.
However as Peter Oborne notes in his resignation letter featured on Open Democracy: “HSBC is the one advertising contract you can’t afford to lose.”
Defenders of the Guardian will be quick to point out that the Guardian covered the HSBC Swiss Leaks tax-evasion scandal with aplomb, despite HSBC’s thinly veiled threat by way of a “pause” in its special (and no doubt lucrative) partner advertising deal with the Guardian. On this point, I must agree, but how many times has such a “pause” been threatened by HSBC in the years preceding Swiss Leaks? How did the Guardian respond?
It is worth noting Swiss Leaks is focussed on financial crimes centred upon Switzerland, not crimes committed within the UK, or issues immediately threatening HSBC’s continued operation in the UK.
HSBC has subsidiaries in 556 tax havens around the world. The bank can deal with a tax avoidance scandal in one of these jurisdictions, and continue relatively unscathed.
The Swiss Leaks represented a massive international partnership, involving a network of journalists comprised of the ICIJ, Le Monde, the BBC and many others.
The reality is, if the Guardian hadn’t published first, the story would have aired internationally, and the Guardian would have lost its scoop. Sooner or later, the UK press would have covered Swiss Leaks irrespective.
The City of London maintains such a vice like grip over reporting on financial fraud, I have begun to form relationships with international journalists to circumvent UK censorship by omission.
The unfortunate reality is that barriers to reporting on UK financial fraud from outside of the UK, are much lower than the barriers at home.
As long as UK financial firms are allowed to continue operating a financial model based on fraud, the truth shall continue to remain a scarce commodity.
This is particularly true with regards to the treatment of UK banking and financial sector whistle blowers, as long suffering individuals like @Paul_R_Moore and@nw_nicholas will attest.
We should all remember that we only learnt of the Swiss Leaks fiasco because of the brave actions of whistle blower Herve Falciani who should by rights, be celebrated and protected with the same vigour as Edward Snowden.
A report by Joe Lynam on City of London whistle blowing for the BBC in September 2012 found that:
“No risk manager wants to admit that he didn’t do his job. So an unholy alliance of mutual self-interest kicks in,”… “So they’ll do anything to bad-mouth a whistleblower as an underperformer. They have a 100% success record.”
“not a single UK-based bank has ever been punished for firing a whistleblower within its ranks – even though these individuals are protected in law since the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 came into force. When Newsnight approached the FSA for a response it said it would not comment on individual cases.”
It’s worth noting that Joe Lynam’s piece only aired on the BBC UK, because the fraud in question was centred upon Italy, and involved foreign banks like Nomura and JP Morgan, not UK Head Quartered banks.
I have been attempting to tell the UK dimension to this story of derivatives “mis-selling” to UK based local government for 18 months, and been constantly knocked back by BBC editors, despite significant interest in the story from respective journalists.
Meanwhile Nicholas Wilson, labelled “Mr Ethical” by his shady former boss, has been fighting a lone battle to expose HSBC sub-prime consumer credit fraud with City regulators for the past 12 years.
Wilson’s story re: HSBC fraud has been investigated and buried by no less that BBC Panorama, The Guardian, Private Eye, BBC Newsnight, The Sunday Times, Paul Lewis Money Box and Radio 5 Live.
The only mainstream media coverage Nicholas Wilson has received in 12 years of campaigning against HSBC is via BBC The Big Question with Nicky Campbell which covered whistle blowing and establishment corruption which aired 15 Feb 2015.
What the UK Government cannot tell the UK public is that the current growth model for the UK economy revolves around the endorsement and protection of financial sector fraud.
The current regulatory trend of non-prosecution and fines for financial fraud in the City can rightly be seen as implicit Government endorsement of this criminal too big to fail banking model.
But there is also intense competition between countries for tax evasion services, dirty money flows and control of key markets. This can be best viewed through the dual lens of respective fines imposed by UK and US regulators, and hot foreign investment fuelled property bubbles in NYC and London.
Financial sector fines imposed by the UK regulator the FSA were only around 1/50 of the US equivalent through 2008-2013.
Very quietly, the USA is attempting to fine UK financial firms out of business, make them uncompetitive, and closing off access to key global markets.
As a result of Swiss Leaks, you may even see US regulators cancel HSBC’s American banking license, despite utterances from the US DOJ’s Eric Holder that HSBC was “Too Big to Jail”
Within this broader geopolitical context, the UK Government sees HSBC as a plucky British firm taking on the major US ‘too big to fail’ banking behemoths.
When considering the global competition element in banking and the relative importance placed upon the City of London by UK Government policy makers, there is zero chance the UK Government will willingly prosecute HSBC, and risk ceding key Asian market access to the USA.
Ultimately, the ‘collateral damage’ inflicted by this thoroughly criminal bank in terms of lives lost, businesses destroyed and lands plundered is all forgiven, so long as HSBC is seen to be propping up the ailing British state and its thoroughly corrupt establishment.
Environmentalist - interested in social movements & cooperative economic models. Co-founder @Comm_Reinvest. Campaigner for financial reform and tax justice @moveyourmoneyuk and @pplvspfi and UK debt audits via @DebtResistUK. Follow me on twitter @Gian_TCatt