Is Financial Journalism Going Too Far?

I am sure many of you saw this tweet on Friday by Paul Lewis, host of BBC Radio4 Moneybox programme…

Paul Lewis Tweet 1

Thanks to Paul, next time you are asked for an example of what is wrong with consumer journalism, you can do it is less than 140 characters!

We all understand what Paul was doing; teasing his followers to tune in and listen to his programme.  Apparently, the programme includes a debate of sorts on what returns investors should have got in 2012! ??? The programme airs later today. (Saturday 19th Jan)

The problem with this is that social media is exactly that; a media in itself. It may be used to promote content of other media but the message equally stands on its own.  I mean, you couldn’t possibly go on TV, say something that is highly misleading and then tell viewers to ‘tune into my radio programme for the low down!’ Why do the same on twitter?

It is impossible to know how many of Paul’s 46,763 followers actually listens to the programme to get the whole story but the statement is misleading on every level. The power of social media also means that others who don’t follow Paul and don’t/won’t listen to his programme will see the tweet and won’t get the full story either.

I am all for good financial journalism, the kind that champions consumer rights and seek to right the wrong that has been done to investors by some sections of our industry.  That’s the kind of journalism that Paul is known for but this tweet isn’t doing any of that! Not only is any complaint based solely on investment performance highly unlikely to be successful (but Paul already knows that!),  this is the kind of half -baked message that has fueled an up-rise of claims management companies we have seen recently, encouraging  consumers to pursue frivolous claims against advisers.  The Ombudsman is now struggling to cope and it takes months for them to deal with legitimate claims. This result of which is increased cost of regulation and by extension, cost of much needed financial advice for consumers.

I couldn’t help but wonder where the figure 9% came from? It’s probably based on FTSE performance in 2012 but surely any adviser who put all their client’s money in the FTSE is barking mad! And you know, if they did, Paul would have been the first to tell the client to complain about lack of diversification in their portfolio.

In fact last year,  Paul suggested  on several occasions that people should invest their pension funds in cash. I didn’t hear him qualify that advice in any way in terms of age, risk profile or financial objectives, just that ‘cash is king!’ Surely those who followed his ‘advice’ didn’t get 9%, did they? Should they complain too? But to whom? The BBC or the FSA?

When challenged on his tweet, this was Paul’s response….

PaulLewis Tweet 2

So that makes it alright then! It’s sensational,  misleading and completely untrue! It does nothing to help consumers but as long as it is a tease to promote his radio programme, which is funded by taxpayers, then that’s absolutely fine!

How far can a journalist go just to score a few cheap points? Surely there are boundaries both in terms of regulation and common expectation, but how clear are they? How do we deal with situations where the media mislead consumers or strays into regulated advice? Surely there are consequences?

I know some people have called for financial journalist to be as qualified as advisers and/or regulated in some shape or form. I am having no part in that!  Being a Gen Y who loves new media, do I want bureaucrats to stick their nose in what’s been said on blogs and twitter? Hell no! Certainly not the FSA in its current form!  But on very few occasions like this when Paul Lewis (sadly someone I  have a lot respect for) or some other influential media figure says something that is completely uncalled for on twitter,  it just makes me think… ‘is financial journalism going too far?’ and ‘what can we do about it?