Thursday, 31 May 2018 09:15

Cash for good news: Google pays £50,000 to join UK campaign Featured


Despite having launched a digital news initiative in Europe to "combat misinformation and disinformation, Google is one of six companies to sign up with London's Evening Standard newspaper for a £3 million (A$5.26 million) deal that promises “money-can’t-buy” positive news and “favourable” comment coverage.

The activist group openDemocracyUK said among the other companies that had joined what is known as the London 2020 deal, was being run by the paper's editor, former British chancellor George Osborne.

Google's DNI has a budget of £150 million over three years and the company has said that it aims to "combat misinformation and disinformation” and “help consumers distinguish fact from fiction online”.

This is not the first time that Google has been outed as being involved in a project where it pays to get positive coverage. As iTWire reported in July 2017, Google has paid academics to write papers that could help influence public opinion and policy, with money going to professors at universities ranging from Harvard to the University of California at Berkeley.

openDemocracyUK said big firms, most of them multinationals, have been given detailed sales presentations about the type of coverage their money would buy in the Standard which sells about 900,000 copies and has more circulation in the two-mile radius of Westminster than The Times does nationally.

The London 2020 campaign, due to start on 5 June, will be branded and have native and advertorial pages. However, the firms that have signed up will get content that will seem to be independently written editorial material.

Among the other companies which has signed up is transport app giant Uber which is soon to appeal a ban on its licence to operate in London.

openDemocracyUK said that Starbucks had declined to join, with an unnamed senior executive saying: "Buying positive news coverage is PR death… something you might do in Saudi Arabia, but not here.

"This wasn’t right for us. We do engage in advertorial [a hybrid mix of advertising and editorial] but that’s just marketing. We don’t need to buy our reputation.”

Uber's involvement is controversial as the world's biggest fund manager BlackRock has an investment worth 500 million in the company - and also pays Osborne 650,000 a year for operating as an adviser one day of the week.

London 2020 comprises six “themed projects” which will run for two years: politicised initiatives on clean air, plastic pollution, schools and workplace tech and a project designed to address London’s housing crisis.

The six 2020 “partners” will head projects that will be sold to Standard readers as “improving London for the benefit of all".

Uber will get the branded lead act in the clean air project, while Google will get portions of the schools and work tech projects.

The campaigns will end shortly before the mayoral elections in London in 2020.

Google has been contacted for comment.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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