“Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme…” – John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667
Cub reporters: beware of marketing agencies employing investigative journalists. These wrongens* will likely try to corrupt you.
Initially I wanted to be the source instead of the reporter on this story because I was involved directly, but then again I might as well do all the work myself.
Caption: Faces of media corruption. The pictures above were sourced from the public Twitter accounts of the three.
Back in August 2014 I was desperate for a job. I had just moved in with my girlfriend and freelancing wouldn’t cut it, so I started applying to every reporting job available, without checking out the potential employers beforehand. One ad sounded particularly good:
I interviewed and got the job straight away. Not once during the interview did Caron Schreuder (pictured) or Chanice Henry (pictured) hint at Medianett’s total subservience to advertisers and at the company’s total absence of editorial independence, both enshrined in internal company law [read on]. All we spoke of were investigations, scoops and sources. Like real journos.
I didn’t know this at the time, but:
In the occult world of British finance, press coverage defines a reputation and reputation bears heavy on deals, sometimes worth millions. That’s where Medianett comes in.
Medianett Limited is an umbrella company that runs several financial news websites such as – http://www.bridgingandcommercialdistributor.co.uk, http://www.debtmanagementtoday.co.uk, http://www.todayslandlord.co.uk, http://www.loantalk.co.uk, http://www.bridgingandcommercial.co.uk.
Its main beat is short term loans, mostly ‘bridging’ loans secured against property.
Medianett peddles a bold but not entirely original business model: “our method combines advertising – both online and through email broadcasts – with energetic and committed press coverage,” chirps their website. In clearer words, it is an advertising agency that also does journalism-for-hire, cutting out the PR agents and replacing them with professional reporters.
In my second week on the job, unsolicited blowjob articles written by loan company employees started landing on my desk with the request to polish them and post them up online under my own byline, as news. Chanice Henry said at the time that “this is something that we do for our clients.” I felt blindsided and braced for worse.
The following week they hit me with the most extraordinary (read extraordinarily deranged) reporter’s job description I have ever had the misfortune of laying eyes on.
From the document above:
- Keep in touch with clients at least once a fortnight and stay abreast of the developments that involve them.
- Every Friday, complete your section of the Client ring around.
- Do your best to maintain a long term relationship with clients.
- Always be aware of the interests that are present between us and our clients and act accordingly. If there is a potential conflict of interest with a client and a story, gain the advice of your senior colleagues.”
Barely a month in my employment, it came to a head after an article I wrote upset an advertiser and personal friend of Mouhammad Mulki, the owner of the company (pictured). It was about bridging companies breaking Financial Conduct Authority guidelines by advertising bridging loans for credit repair. I named a few and posted the article with the blessing of the editor and the two directors (Caron Schreuder and Mouhammad Mulki, company director).
Here is a copy of the article as I wrote it, captured from Google Cache: 11 bridging firms breach FCA’s tastes [google archive].
A day after, everyone in the company (5 staff that I knew of) left for a trip to Barcelona and I went to the office to work alone. On the way, my phone started ringing with SMS messages from Chanice Henry.
As that one band called The Smiths sang, “What she asked of me at the end of the day, Caligula would have blushed…”
For your viewing pleasure, here is a gallery of shameless texts Chanice Henry, who graduated from Portsmouth University with a bachelor in journalism and is also a fully qualified NCTJ reporter – shorthand and all – has sent me that morning:
“As I said before remove the mention of only bridging [sic] now please. It’s a long story [sic] behind it.” – Chanice Henry, editor
Left to my own devices, recording devices as it happened, because Caron Schreuder told me I should try to record the conversations I have with sources, I refused Chanice’s direct order to censor the article for no good reason.
I was tinkering with a dictaphone when Mouhammad rang…
You may delight in hearing his frightened, threatening voice, by clicking here.
If you didn’t listen, read on, I detail the conversation in a statement published below.
It should be noted that Only Bridging has stopped advertising bridging loans for credit repair since this episode, so the article did the job. Funny thing is that it never mentioned Simon Juniper, the boss of Only Bridging, a loans company. Wherever did Mouhammad get that idea?
Right after the phone conversation with the director of the company, I got banned from the building. The receptionist was on her way to escort me out when I left out of sheer instinct, saving both of us some embarrassment.
I got called into a “disciplinary meeting” the next working day. Here is the statement that I submitted as a defense at the time:
Two days later I received the expected outcome: immediate dismissal. The unexpected part was the galling gross misconduct allegation. Doc below:
Since I didn’t want unemployment benefits I saw no point in appealing.
The tweet that constituted the second part of their motivation is this:
I’m in trouble for refusing to do something disturbingly unethical.Been asked “what’s wrong with you” in surprise when I questioned an order
— Matei Rosca (@mateirosca) September 25, 2014
It’s debatable whether it actually affects the company’s image, since the tweet mentions no company and it was posted up on my personal account rather than the Medianett one.
Recently I’ve been brooding over my craft and my life, so I’ve decided to write this article in order to not let the truth about Medianett be buried, and also to give them an opportunity to come clean. The memory of that month has been haunting me since it happened.
Not that I’m expecting this blog to reach such high places but it would also be important for the FCA to know that Medianett is compromised, since their mortgage regulator, Lynda Blackwell, said that the FCA routinely get their market intelligence from trade press.
So let the whole thing be on the record, in the freely-accessible public domain, and move on, I figured.
I wrote them the following email a few weeks ago, as a right to reply before publication:
“Hello Mohammed, Chanice, Caron.
I am writing an article about my time at your company and before I publish it I would like to give you the opportunity to state your position. My questions are:
Mohammed and Caron –
Will you apologise publicly for sacking me for gross misconduct because I disobeyed an order to corrupt my journalistic ethics?
Do you regret the Only Bridging episode that lead to my dismissal?Are you still in business with Only Bridging?
Do you regret the Only Bridging episode that lead to my dismissal?
Will you remove the clause in the company standards that forbids employees from writing stories that are in ‘conflict of interest’ with your advertisers? Or have you done so already?
Will you apologise publicly for bending to censorship and lying by omission to your readers?
Will you add an explanatory note to the ‘Bridging companies breach FCA tastes’ in which you say why the mention of Only Bridging was removed from the article?
All of you – will you please give me a statement on your definitions of censorship, the public interest and of accurate reporting?
In return I got the sad-ass libel writ embedded below.
The gist of the letter:
“Medianett does not recognise the allegations set out and, will not be responding to your email, or to any matters raised therein. We are instructed that such allegations include untruths, misstatements, and misunderstandings of fact. The purpose of this letter is to place you on notice that our client’s policy is to protect its business reputation, name and brand, and the reputation of all its directors, employees and servants at all times, and if necessary, to pursue to trial any defamatory comment, or libellous material, whether oral, written or electronic[…]”
This shook me badly, like it would any freelance reporter out there in the wild, flying by the seat of his discount Sainsbury’s knickers.
I replied the bullies thusly:
The two weeks passed and I’ve not heard from the lawyers, or Medianett. I don’t know if they actually sought an injuction or not. I wrote to the lawyer again:
“Jonathan-Have your clients reconsidered during the two weeks that passed since I replied to your libel writ? There is still time for them to give honest answers to my questions. Please inform them I intend to post up my article on Wednesday.
No word yet.
To wit – it’s natural for trade press of any kind to be ‘the voice of an industry’, as they say at conferences, but any press that’s worth a goddamn – regardless of format or of industry – must also be its conscience.
*- Some may dispute the spelling of the term wrongen and say it’s really spelt “wrong’un” – short for the grammatically sound yet completely unstylish “wrong one,” but I choose the vernacular deviation as used by the good people of the East End who to the best of my knowledge spawned the word. So, wrongens it shall be.
NB: I apologise to Mouhammad for misspelling his name in the documents. I only ever knew him as Mo (that’s what he calls himself) and learned the correct spelling of his name recently when I looked up the company on the Companies House website.
June 11th 2015: This article was shared for about a week back in February on the media page of the popular political blog Guido Fawkes (www.order-order.com), under the ‘seen elsewhere’ section. Guido brought in a significant number of readers, many of whom I don’t doubt were politicians, financiers and otherwise powerful people in London and the UK. I assert this because it’s well-known that those upper echelons are precisely the audience that read Guido Fawkes. Also, Chanice Henry left Medianett for some pharma rag soon after this blog went up (according to her Linked In profile) and more than four months passed, which is the usual half-life of a libel claim like the one I was threatened with, of which I heard nothing more than what is reported above. I reckon the story is redeemed. Onwards…