During our media training, we tell participants that a free media should be respected as a cornerstone of democracy – speaking truth to power and asking awkward questions of governments and the powerful. For all the changes wrought by social media, this week we have had two reminders of why traditional media still has its place and the challenges it presents to PROs.
First, the good old-fashioned, long running investigation. It was the Financial Times’ relentless pursuit of the truth that ultimately led to the collapse last week of $10bn German fintech company, Wirecard. Following audits by accountants KPMG and EY who discovered a $1.9bn black hole on the balance sheet, it admitted to a multiyear fraud and its former chief executive was arrested.
The Financial Times first raised questions about inconsistencies in the group’s accounts in 2015. It then doggedly followed the trail despite denials, threats, intimidation, lawsuits and a PR fightback advised by FTI Consulting. Whistleblowers inside the firm trusted to the FT their accounts of events and leaked documents.
When the FT reported that half of Wirecard’s business is actually outsourced, with the payments processing handled by partners who pay Wirecard a commission, the FT sent investigators to visit some of these partners in the Philippines. It discovered a retired seaman and his family, who are bemused to learn that their house was supposedly the site of an international payments business.
And the second, traditional media challenge? The undercover reporter. On the other side of the Atlantic, the CBS syndicated-news magazine, Inside Edition, sent a reporter undercover to determine whether hotel rooms in Covid-hit New York were being properly cleaned. It discovered that Trump International, Hyatt Place and Hampton Inn hotels failed to change sheets or wipe down surfaces between customers during the pandemic.
And how did the hotels react? While Hyatt Place and Hampton Inn apologised and set out how they would redouble their efforts, perhaps it’s not surprising that a spokesperson for Trump International sent a statement accusing the program of faking the report. It said: ‘Following an internal review, we have concluded that the claims made by Inside Edition are categorically false. Trump International Hotel and Tower New York is one of the premier luxury hotels anywhere in the world and has received countless accolades, including the Forbes Five-Star award for the past 13 years.’
Which of course fails to address the points. Winning an award in the past has no bearing on your Covid-secure procedures in the present. Maybe no award for them in 2020.