As someone who enjoys writing as much as I love the financial sector in the U.S., there have been times when it is obvious facts are being omitted in the media. Then, there are those times when the facts are leaked, but journalists find themselves in a ball of red tape with no way to report what they know without jeopardizing their reputations, their employers or those involved in whatever the story is that’s being held back.
In a recent article written by Gillian Tett of the Financial Times, she bravely retells the sense many of her fellow journalists felt several years ago when they were not allowed to report on what they knew was coming: the Libor scandal. Many “in the know” were well aware of how banks were manipulating the data associated with Libor, but they were unable to report it. Call it intimidation or journalistic liberties in opting to back out, either way, the story stayed under the radar until a week ago.
Libor, or London Interbank Offered Rate, is considered the granddaddy of the financial sector. This rate, determined every business day, affects the way markets trade and a host of other habits. And every day, it’s a toss up as to how this one number will influence national and global politics as well as the interest rates consumers pay on their mortgages, credit cards and automobile loans. Throw in “fixed” predictions and it becomes clear the compromises and lack of ethics those involved posses.
Last week, in a column titled “LIBOR Affair Shows Banking’s Big Conceit”, she wrote,
At the time, this sparked furious criticism from the British Bankers’ Association, as well as big banks such as Barclays; the word “scaremongering” was used. But now we know that, amid the blustering from the BBA, the reality was worse than we thought. As emails released by the UK Financial Services Authority show, some Barclays traders were engaged in a constant and pervasive attempt to rig the Libor market from 2006 on, with the encouragement of more senior managers. And the British bank may not have been alone.
Even as the news was breaking, Tett knew it was just the beginning and she knew, too, that indeed – Barclays wasn’t in this alone.
But did the banks have so much power that they could have annihilated the careers of any journalists that didn’t bury the story? Actually, yes. No journalist worth her salt wants to have the word “sensationalism” associated with her career. Journalism is a noble profession but it only works when fear is absent in the trading of information and reporting of news.
This is where bloggers and the crucial role they consistently play in the media world comes into the picture. Granted, there are bloggers who know little, if anything, about responsible journalism. There are no requirements or really, when it comes down to it, no code of ethics for bloggers. Still, it was the bloggers who had less at stake if they opted to report anything. It was rare this happened, though. There was one blog, ZeroHedge, but its writers remain anonymous for obvious reasons.
Of course, we’re now dealing with the repercussions of those risky “under the table” brokers. The question is, should journalists move forward, regardless of any threats by those entities under the spotlight? If there was ever a case that supported and justified freedom of the press – this is it. As Tett said,
Threats are more effective against respected journalists whose careers you are threatening to ruin than against complicit regulators that can ruin yours.