An inconvenient marriage: Nikkei and the Financial Times

Jesus wept. My short response to the Financial Times's sale to Nikkei. The longer version follows below.

Noriko Hama
26 July 2015

Flickr/Financial Times. Some rights reserved.

“Without fear and without favour” is the banner under which the FT's editorial comments appear. The Nikkei’s editorials appear under nothing, although if pressed they might come up with something like “Without anything so long as stock markets are in favour”. I subscribe to both the FT and the Nikkei. I buy the FT because I enjoy quality journalism combined with sound economic analysis. I buy the Nikkei because I like to know what and how the other half think. To give credit where it is due though, it should also be noted that the Nikkei is good at reporting economic figures. At least they can tell the difference between seasonally adjusted data and not seasonally adjusted ones. Or so they used to. Even that aspect of their output seems a bit shaky these days.

This is an arranged marriage of convenience straight out of the history books of Japan’s equivalent of the Wars of the Roses period. Never mind either personalities or principles. All that matters are survival and power for the two Houses in question.

There are four possible outcomes from this ill-conceived matchmaking. In descending order of improbability, they are: the good drives out the bad, the good and the bad find a way to coexist, the good and the bad retreat into their respective bunkers, the bad drives out the good.

If the most improbable were to happen and the good drives out the bad, Our Lord will smile again and all will be right with the world. But alas, there is an old Japanese saying which tells us that “red dye dyes you red.” It is very difficult to retain your true colours when you are submerged in a hue that is muddier than your own. Either you get bogged down or you manage to escape before fate submerges you. It would be nice to think that some of the FT’s pink dye will rub off on the more dedicated journalistic talent within the Nikkei. But then those that did turn pink would feel the urge to escape. I am by no means totally starry-eyed about the FT’s journalistic instincts but these are certainly more evident in the pink paper than in the Nikkei’s pages.

Once the urge to escape becomes widespread, we will end up in the realms of the least improbable. That is to say, the bad will have driven out the good. This may after all be the most desirable as well as the least improbable solution. Provided that the lot that gets driven out find a way to support themselves financially in a brave new world.

The two options in between are the least desirable. Coexistence of the good and the bad will lead to hypocrisy, cynicism and intellectual laziness. A bunker mentality on both sides can only lead to suspicion, conspiracy and intellectual paralysis.

Whatever the course of actual events, the worry is that the eyes of good reporters should turn too inward and self-preoccupied in these two newspapers. In that event global businesses and nation-state policymakers will be spared the exposure to critical journalism they so badly need if they are to retain any sanity and integrity. We can only look on. With fear and with anxiety.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

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