Tuesday 17 December 2013

When the media colludes with news management

I have only two comments on the interim findings by Howard Davies about airport capacity in the south east, which was sort of disappointing - because it seems to make no reference either to climate change or to the coalition's promise not to expand Heathrow made when they came to office.

First, just to ask - are there any limits at all to the expansion of air capacity?  Is there any point where we would say that, despite the supposed rewards, the cost - in destruction of homes, lives and well-being - is just too high?  Because if there is, let's say so now and make sure we stick to it.

Second, that I'm not sure this emphasis on noise is really the point.  Yes, the noise stress that Heathrow imposes on West London is huge, but does it really make any difference if we change the climate to do so quietly?

But the really infuriating thing about the debate today has been that it has allowed the banks to avoid discussion about their postcode lending data.  Which is presumably why they announced so recently that it would be published today.

Only one major newspaper seems to have covered the story, and then it was just about the mortgage data - there is more money in outstanding mortgages in London than in the whole of Wales, I gather.

Given the house price bubble, this is hardly surprising - but there is a far more important angle they seem to have mislaid.  Why has the media been so craven in their failure to cover the story?  I'm aware that they are sometimes unable to concentrate on two things at once, but this is important.

What really caught my attention was the figure that London and the South East account for 34 per cent of small business lending.

Now that is important.  The British Bankers Association list these figures very carefully next to the estimated turnover of SMEs in that region, which is broadly similar, but you have to ask what comes first - the chicken of small business turnover or the egg of small business lending.

Maybe the other regions have such low levels of SME activity is precisely because they are so badly served by the banks.

If that was so, we would know what to do about it: find ways to make sure the big banks pay for a lending infrastructure that is capable of shaping a new generation of SMEs.

But why aren't these things being discussed today?  If the banks had requested media outlets not to cover it, I'm sure they would have refused.  But all they have to do is release the data on Heathrow Airport day and the media gets discombobulated.

It is rather pathetic.  Because this is the urgent debate we need to have about how to genuinely re-balance the economy.  And our futures all depend on it - and far more than the question of whether BAA is able to re-organise its landing slots to include Chinese flights.

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