The Evening Standard’s lucrative deal with Swiss chemical giant Syngenta shows how commercial giants pay for news – with readers left in the dark.
London’s Evening Standard, the city’s flagship free newspaper read by millions of commuters every week, struck a lucrative deal that helped to varnish the reputation of one of the world’s largest agribusiness companies – with readers unaware that the firm was paying for positive coverage, openDemocracy can reveal today.
Billion dollar lawsuits the company was facing from farmers in the US were not mentioned in the paper’s coverage, and the ongoing controversy over UK plans to soften post-Brexit rules on GM seeds in farming was also bypassed.
As part of a major commercial deal in 2017 between the Swiss giant Syngenta and ESI Media – a major UK media company owned by Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev and run by his son Evgeny – a series of public ‘debates’ and articles on the ‘future of food’ were run by London’s Evening Standard.
In the debates and related content, paid for by Syngenta, there was no examination of the financially damaging billion-dollar legal challenges Syngenta was facing across the United States.
Also omitted from the Standard’s coverage was the emerging political controversy over plans by the UK government to rewrite post-Brexit rules on the use of genetically modified seeds in farming – which Syngenta continues to back through expensive lobbying.
Syngenta’s paid-for debates and coverage in the Evening Standard are part of a growing practice inside ESI Media which deliberately blurs the division between advertising and editorial content, senior inside sources have told openDemocracy.
As part of a wider investigation by openDemocracy into the commercial pressures now affecting Europe’s media, former executives, journalists, and other insiders at ESI described a culture where senior editors play a subservient role to commercial masters who effectively run ESI’s operations – with readers left in the dark about who pays for their news, and on what terms.