Shameless Mirror columnist Heather Mills continues to plug health food chain, without disclosure of interest

  1. On 13 December 2018, Heather Mills turned her attention to homeopathy in her latest “Live healthy with Heather” column for the Daily Mirror newspaper. (Daily Mirror 13 Dec 2018) There she again plugged Holland & Barrett, without disclosure of interest.
  2. Ms Mills had promoted the health food chain in the same underhand way in her first column, as I revealed on 16 November 2018. Private Eye magazine reported my Heather Mills exposé (see 29 November 2018 and 1 December 2018 posts).
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“Mum-of-three” plugs Cambridge Weight Plan in the Mirror, without disclosure of interest

  1. On 12 December 2018, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported the case of “mum-of-three” Fiona Ednie, who “dropped six dress sizes” – thanks, apparently, to the Cambridge Weight Plan. (Daily Mirror 12 Dec 2018)
  2. Under the headline My life was saved by a Christmas jumper”, the Mirror describes the “mum” as a “charity boss, from Glasgow”.
  3. Nevertheless the newspaper omitted to mention a relevant fact: Ms Ednie works for Cambridge Weight Plan. She’s one of its so-called consultants – individuals who help local people wanting to lose weight with the Cambridge Weight Plan. Here’s Ms Ednie‘s consultant profile on the weight loss organisation‘s website: https://www.cambridgeweightplan.com/FionaE.
  4. Ms Ednie isn’t independent of Cambridge Weight Plan. Therefore, the Mirror misled its readers by failing to disclose that she works for the firm.

Charity Commission opens regulatory compliance case into Care after Combat following my investigation

  1. I recently asked the Charity Commission for a comment on the concerns I raised about military charity Care after Combat (see 20 October 2018 post).
  2. Its spokesperson said in a written statement on 11 December 2018: “We are aware of concerns about Care after Combat, including around governance issues and political independence. We recently opened a regulatory compliance case in order to assess whether the trustees are actively fulfilling their legal duties towards the charity. We expect the trustees to respond meaningfully to our concerns as such issues have the potential to seriously undermine public confidence in charity. Charities can and should be able to speak out on matters affecting their beneficiaries, but they must protect and nurture public trust by maintaining their political neutrality at all times.”
  3. She concluded: “As this is an active case we are unable to comment further at this time.”

Amir Khan’s charity exposé in The Times

  1. On 7 December 2018, Martyn Ziegler, chief sports reporter, reported in The Times newspaper my Amir Khan‘s charity exposé (see 13 November 2018 post).
  2. Mr Ziegler‘s report (“Khan‘s charity money trouble”) began on the back page: The Times 7 Dec 2018 p78; and finished inside: The Times 7 Dec 2018 p73.
  3. His report is also available on the newspaper’s website, behind a paywall: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/sport/amir-khans-charity-money-trouble-m85hfrtpj.

John Ridding and incomplete disclosure in FT accounts

  1. On 6 November 2018, I alleged that the latest accounts for The Financial Times Limited (registered company number: 00227590), those made up to 31 December 2017, fail to disclose a related-party transaction. The alleged related party is children’s charity Room To Read UK Limited (registered charity number: 1125803). The Financial Times (FT) donates office space to the charity.
  2. Prior to publication, the FT didn’t respond to requests for comment. However, it deigned to comment the same day once I’d published (see second post on 6 November 2018). As you can see, I published the FT’s statement in full straightaway.
  3. Which wasn’t difficult because it was merely two sentences. There I also wrote I’d respond shortly. In fact, I did the next day. But, again, the FT didn’t respond to requests for comment. So what did I say in my email of 7 November 2018?
  4. First, I acknowledged that The Financial Times Limited and Room To Read UK Limited aren’t in fact related parties – at least not by the narrow definition applied by the newspaper. Nevertheless related parties are often more loosely defined than that.
  5. What is indisputable is that the two entities are linked via John Ridding, the under-pressure chief executive of the FT, who is also a director there. And, as the FT accepts, Mr Ridding is a related party to each.
  6. Second, I invited the news organisation to comment on incomplete disclosure of transactions. I don’t understand why the firm‘s accounts fail to disclose its donation of office space to the charity, whether they’re related parties or not. Without disclosure of the in-kind donation, the accounts are incomplete. The reader is simply unaware the FT used some of its non-cash resource in this way. Therefore, omission of the donation in the accounts creates a false impression of the firm and its activities.
  7. My third point was the lack of openness and transparency around the link between the two entities. This is about more than fullness of disclosure of transactions. Mr Ridding is a related party to each entity. Thus the onus is on the FT to show that it takes seriously the need to be open and transparent in its accounts. One way it should do this is by documenting the link between the two entities. By withholding this information in its accounts, the FT risks the perception that it is deliberately hiding the link.
  8. I finished with a question about advertising in the newspaper. I asked whether the FT has ever granted Room To Read UK Limited free and/or reduced-price advertising in the newspaper. If so, in which year(s)? The charity first came to my attention earlier this year after several full-page ads in the FT (see 4 June 2018 post). No other charity has advertised so extensively in the newspaper in 2018 (to date). Thus theres the reasonable suspicion that the FT makes special concession to the linked charity on advertising. If so, this should be reported.
  9. I read the FT every day. It’s actually my favourite newspaper for reasons far too boring to go into. Though for an organisation that holds others accountable, its non-responsiveness and unaccountability are disappointing. What’s worse, its journalists daily berate companies, rightly, for incomplete disclosure in their accounts. Remember, too, Room To Read UK Limited fails to name in its accounts the FT as the donor of office spacedespite my questions about its exact relationship with the newspaper months before it (the charity) filed (see 6 November 2018 post).
  10. Mr Ridding came under scrutiny for his perceived fat-cat salary upon publication of the FT’s latest accounts at the end of July (see 6 November 2018 post). However, he also deserves scrutiny as a related party to both the FT and Room To Read UK Limited, both of whose accounts omit to disclose the transaction between the linked entities.

Disclosure failings on the PRCA public affairs and lobbying register

  1. Each quarter, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) publishes online a publicly accessible public affairs and lobbying register. There companies that are members of the PR and communications trade body disclose employees involved in political lobbying, as well as all clients. Or at least that’s what’s supposed to happen. Here I show that disclosures made by a prominent member organisation call into question the accuracy and usefulness of the PRCA public affairs and lobbying register. Of equal concern is PRCA’s response to disclosure failings by members.
  2. Parliament’s latest (at 13 November 2018) register of journalists’ interests – and previous versions thereof – reveal an interesting declaration by Andrew Gimson of the influential ConservativeHome website: “consultancy” for leading political lobbying firm Lodestone Communications. (register at 13 November 2018)
  3. Journalists on the register possess a parliamentary pass. Mr Gimson hasn’t just become a parliamentary passholder: he appears on the register of journalists’ interests at 2 February 2017, for example, for the same sponsor, ConservativeHome. (https://web.archive.org/web/20170217224008/https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmjournl/journalists.htm)
  4. Mr Gimson is a contributing editor to ConservativeHome, and biographer of Boris Johnson, the ex-foreign secretary. So why is Lodestone employing the journalist? The agency’s entry on the then latest static PRCA register, that for March-May 2018, showed him as having “conducted public affairs services” on its behalf in the last quarter. (PublicAffairsRegister March 2018 April 2018 May 2018) Another Lodestone employee allegedly involved in lobbying caught my eye there: Sonia Sodha. Ms Sodha is chief leader writer at Sunday newspaper The Observer, as well as deputy opinion editor at stablemate The Guardian. Thus the agency reported that two high-profile journalists carried out lobbying on its behalf.
  5. I emailed Lodestone, asking for which clients it disclosed on the register did Mr Gimson and Ms Sodha act. The agency didn’t respond to emails.
  6. I also separately contacted Mr Gimson and Ms Sodha about their alleged lobbying activities for Lodestone. Mr Gimson at ConservativeHome failed to reply to messages. Ms Sodha, meanwhile, wrote in an email: “I didn’t do any work, paid or otherwise, for Lodestone or its clients in that period.”
  7. Which obviously contradicts what’s on the register. So I then asked Ms Sodha in an email why she was named there. I received nothing, despite sending a reminder.
  8. Nicholas Dunn-Mcafee, head of public affairs, policy and research at PRCA, is contact for the register. Lodestone told him, he said in his email, that both Mr Gimson and Ms Sodha “don’t work on clients/provide lobbying – ‘for example, they speak at our events’ and in the past were added to the register for transparency”. Mr Dunn-Mcafee continued: “They understand that this is over-disclosure and will correct their future reporting accordingly.”
  9. In the next update of the static PRCA register, that for June-August 2018, Lodestone doesn’t list Mr Gimson or Ms Sodha.
  10. Then there’s another problem with the agency’s disclosures – one that means Lodestone, it appears, has breached the PRCA public affairs and lobbying code of conduct. (PRCA Code of Conduct – updated following review in September 2016) The relevant para is 11, which includes the requirement for PRCA members to report on the register “passholders and the relevant institution by placing ‘(Passholder – Institution)’”.
  11. On 25 September 2018, I therefore emailed Mr Dunn-Mcafee again to point out Lodestone doesn’t show Mr Gimson holding a parliamentary pass on the then latest static PRCA register, that for March-May 2018. In his response three days later, Mr Dunn-Mcafee said: “I appreciate you noting the parliamentary pass detail, and we obviously require members to declare employees with passes when those employees are required to appear on the register. I’ll pick up this point with Lodestone, but given his inclusion is a mistake.”
  12. Nevertheless I heard nothing more from PRCA – even after sending a reminder four weeks later (26 October 2018).
  13. As I say, Lodestone told Mr Dunn-Mcafee that neither Mr Gimson nor Ms Sodha actually provide lobbying services for any of its clients, despite the firm’s original disclosures on the PRCA register. Here Mr Gimson warrants particular scrutiny because of his access to parliament as a journalist. (Ms Sodha doesn’t hold a parliamentary pass.) The potential concern about anyone with a pass, journalist or not, is whether access to parliament is being abused for the purposes of lobbying.
  14. Lodestone’s disclosure failings risk undermining public trust and confidence in the PRCA public affairs and lobbying register. How many other political lobbying firms are misreporting their activities? Earlier this year, I revealed that PRCA secretly updated its latest supposedly static register after my discovery PLMR, another political lobbying firm, omitted to declare a client (see 13 February 2018 post). So this isn’t the first time PRCA’s actions, or lack thereof, in response to disclosure failings by a member call into question the credibility of the trade body.
  15. ADDENDUM: On 1 November 2018, PRCA announced on its website that it had merged with the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC), a hitherto independent membership body. APPC had maintained its own publicly accessible register of political lobbyists, where again members were required to list relevant staff and all clients.

Private Eye belatedly credits me for Heather Mills exposé

  1. You might notice that Private Eye failed to credit me when it used my Heather Mills exposé in the latest issue of the magazine (see previous post). I was disappointed and surprised. Hitherto the Eye has always credited me, rightly, whenever it’s used any of my work.
  2. Well, Private Eye has apologised and now names me in the online version of its article (screen shot in Figure 1). On publication of each issue of the fortnightly magazine, the Eye also posts a small selection of stories therein on its website as a taster.

    Figure 1. Private Eye credits me for Heather Mills story in latest Street of Shame (Eye 1484): online version of article at 1 December 2018

  3. As usual, the article will only be available on the Eye website until next issue. Catch it while you can.