Is travel writing in the press truly independent - or influenced by advertisers?
In February 2015, Peter Oborne, Chief Political Commentator of the Daily Telegraph resigned because he believed the paper had deliberately suppressed stories about HSBC because it was a big advertiser with the paper.
He accused the paper of "a fraud on its readers" and said "it has long been axiomatic in quality British journalism that the advertising department and editorial should be kept rigorously apart. There is a great deal of evidence that, at the Telegraph, this distinction has collapsed."
Responsible Travel reviewed the Telegraph's travel coverage on 19th February 2015 to determine how many of the articles contained any negative or critical elements. Out of more than 20 links accessing articles to more than 100 features, the most negative comment found was in a review of an airline’s business class stating, "... pyjamas are only given to those in first class however, and sheets aren’t provided."
This contrasts wildly with the weekend reviews: the films section generated ratings across the full spectrum from one to five stars. Restaurant reviews fared worse, the highest score being only three and a half out of five, while car reviews ranged wildly from four to nine out of ten.
Justin Francis, founder and Managing Director of Responsible Travel said:
"It's striking how little critical commentary we see in travel writing compared to other popular sections of the paper. The obvious question to ask is whether the fact that the cost of the journalist trips (which are routinely covered by the destination or tour company being written about) or the travel companies ad budgets is influencing the coverage.
"I believe the newspapers will need to address this question if they are to retain the confidence of their readers. I also believe that they should be transparent that the cost of the journalist's trip was funded by the destination/tour company, which they rarely do (instead they say the journalist travelled with... or tours can be booked with...)."