In the middle of the worst public health crisis in our lifetimes comes some familiar news. There are always some who make a profit out of public adversity. So step forward Bill Ackman a hedge fund manager who according to The Guardian (26 March) has claimed his firm made $2.6bn (£2.2bn) betting that the coronavirus outbreak would cause a market crash. And this barely a week after telling US companies: “Hell is coming”. It seems that he took advantage of bond market turmoil to make almost 100 times his original outlay of $27m on bets on market movements. Meanwhile in the UK some 5 million self-employed workers are still awaiting to hear what kind of financial support they will get. After much delay, a government announcement is expected sometime today.
Last week I sent out an email to contacts telling them about a new Government inquiry into the future of journalism. Chaired by Lord Gilbert of Panteg, chair of the House of Lords Communications and Digital Select Committee, it will investigate how the production and consumption of journalism is changing, how journalists can be supported to adapt to those changes and how the profession can become more trusted by—and representative of—the general population. Within hours I received a reply from a long standing friend of mine, Mike Jempson, who has run a media reform organisation for decades. Mike has in fact been ‘in journalism’ for some 50 years, and has been director of journalism for the ethics charity MediaWise for almost a quarter of a century. He commented in an exasperated tone: “How many more times are there going to be inquiries and the like? Since 1947 they have got us nowhere! The baleful hegemony of the owners remains the same.”
Almost a year after it was published, the government has finally responded the recommendations of Dame Frances Cairncross’s review into the sustainability of the UK news industry (see my 20 February 2019 blog at: http://thespark.me.uk/?p=1074 ) . Whilst accepting most of the recommendations, it rejected the proposal to create an Institute for Public Interest News as part of proposals to support the news industry. In a statement Culture Secretary Baroness Morgan indicated that the Government was not taking forward the recommendation for the establishment of an Institute for Public Interest News as it did not wish to have a role in defining what is ‘public interest’ news as this risked interference with the freedom of the press.