Scam

If the chairman reckons he can keep his media team in the shadows, unable to cramp his proprietorial style, a paragraph in an FSA newsletter suggests he may have to think again.

”So do you have a robust and detailed media policy?” I asked the chairman of the implausibly-sized investment company Second Coming Asset Management as we met for a pint or two of French Inflation at The Slip Of The Tongue.

“More robust than detailed, I would say,” he replied. “If the press want to talk to Scam, they talk to me.”

“What happened to your media relations team?” I asked.

“Oh, they’re still wafting around the firm somewhere,” said the chairman. “But then, that’s where I prefer to keep them – when they’re let out and about, PR types can be such a brake on proceedings, don’t you find?”

“It has been known to happen,” I nodded. “Although, to be fair, that is rather part of their job.”

”When they’re let out and about, PR types can be such a brake on proceedings, don’t you find?”

“I know,” sighed the chairman. “But it can all be so ­boring. At press lunches, for example, they’re always interrupting me about what I’m saying, or telling the journalist what I meant to say. Or, on the off chance we’ve managed to get on to some interesting – that is to say, non-financial – topic, they then presume to inform me what I’m about to say.”

“I like it when they casually ask questions to try to give the impression they aren’t crowbarring some carefully rehearsed company line into the conversation,” I laughed. “I’m often reminded of the security guard on the front gate who considers himself head of the corporation – trouble is, I fear we will only be seeing more of this behaviour.”

“Not if I have any say in the matter,” the chairman protested.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think you will,” I sighed.

“Oh dear,” the chairman sighed also. “Sounds like the FSA’s involved somehow.” (Scam continues below)

“I’m afraid so,” I nodded.”Its September Market Watch newsletter is pushing the line that even senior people at regulated firms will have to be insulated by ’media relations personnel’. Nothing is set in stone, as such, but there are enough dark mutterings about ’implementations’ and ’failures of ­systems and controls’ to cause concern – after all, I’m betting this wouldn’t be the first time eventual regulation was first casually aired in an FSA newsletter. And, speaking of slippery slopes, the FSA is swearing blind this is not an attack on media freedom but simply a way to plug corporate leaks.

“But one thing history has taught us is that once our beloved regulator gets its hooks into something, it is very ­difficult to prise it loose – I mean, wasn’t the whole organisation supposed to have been abolished by now? – so what may start off as an apparently reasonable attempt to prevent the flow of inside information could morph into something a lot more sinister.

“No doubt the FSA will protest – it may even believe – that nothing could be further from its mind, but its track record in the art of mission-creep is not reassuring. What really worries me though is I’m not sure we can trust too many of the members of Her Majesty’s financial services industry to put up much of a fight on this one.

“I would imagine those groups who aren’t so keen on talking to the press combined with the ones who don’t see the potential dangers and the basically apathetic could be enough to create a tipping-point of acceptance. And when they finally realise they can no longer get the easy PR wins – the topical fund manager quote or whatever – without exponentially increasing their PR team, it will be too late.

“While I’m on this rant, I would consider bringing up the question of what precisely qualifies a media relations type to be the sole mouthpiece of a company, but then we get uncomfortably close to the thorny issue of journalist qualifications and there’s no call for that. So instead I would just conclude by exhorting every arm of Her Majesty’s financial services industry to draw a line in the sand.

“They must proclaim: ’This far but no further – we stand here as one, united to protect a fundamental freedom.’”

“Ah,” beamed the chairman. “The fundamental freedom of the press.”

“Good grief, no,” I corrected him. “The fundamental freedom of the lunch. Specifically my lunch. Being free. Because it’s being bought by you.”