Magazine article The Spectator

The Express Gets a Scare Story Wrong-Not That Its Readers Would Know

Magazine article The Spectator

The Express Gets a Scare Story Wrong-Not That Its Readers Would Know

Article excerpt

Whenever the Euro-sceptic press publishes a `scare story', there are invariably plenty of high-minded people on hand to complain about distortion. However, a different set of standards applies to Eurofanatic newspapers. Last Thursday the Express 'splashed' on its front page a scare story of its own about the euro. It was completely wrong, yet I have not read a single complaint.

According to the Express, the Bank of America had `dropped plans to base its European headquarters in Britain because of Tony Blair's dithering over the single currency'. The story alleged that the bank had withdrawn from talks about moving its European headquarters to Canary Wharf in London. Unnamed government ministers were cited as believing that `other major companies could follow suit, abandoning Britain for Europe and raising fears of huge job losses'. Robert Gordon, head of the government-backed investment agency London First, was quoted as saying: `This is the first sign that the euro is having an effect on the London market. Most European business leaders expect Frankfurt to overtake London as a financial centre within the next five years'.

All pretty alarming. My heart certainly sank when I read the piece. Happily for us, it was untrue save in one particular. The Bank of America has been involved in discussions about moving its headquarters to Canary Wharf that were abandoned for commercial reasons. But it has not dropped any plans to move its European headquarters to London for the simple reason that it is already in the City, where it has been based since 1931. It has never had any idea of moving out of Britain. The Express got the wrong end of the stick and did not check its facts with the Bank of America.

The next day, Friday, the paper was obliged to publish a short correction at the bottom of the City page acknowledging that the Bank of America was based in the City and had no plans to move. But there were very few signs of contrition. In her Saturday column, Rosie Boycott, editor of the Express, made light of the error, merely noting that `denials [had flown] thick and fast, with the Bank of America quickly claiming the story had no validity'. She went on to observe that `privately, foreign banks have been saying for some time that they wish Tony Blair would get a move on.... Talk to bankers and they will tell you: keep sitting on the fence and Britain, through the City, faces losing out to Germany and its economic centre of Frankfurt'. In other words, Ms Boycott was saying, though this particular story may be alleged in some quarters to be wrong, it illuminates a larger truth; which is that London is already losing out to Frankfurt.

Needless to say, any Euro-sceptic newspaper employing such shoddy reasoning in defence of its own position would be roundly mocked. Ms Boycott's approach is breathtaking. First you publish an untrue story, and then you draw a moral from it while managing to imply that the story may have had elements of truth in it. But I don't only blame Ms Boycott. For I detect here the influence of Clive Hollick, proprietor of the Express, and prospective vice-chairman of Britain for Europe, a leading pro-euro movement. It is one of life's ironies that Express readers are still among the most Euro-sceptical in Britain. Ms Boycott and Lord Hollick propose to shake them out of their dumb complacency - if need be with false stories. …

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