Both financial services powerhouse Morgan Stanley and global energy powerhouse British Petroleum, two giants of their respective industries, recently “informed print publications that its ads must be automatically pulled from any edition containing ‘objectionable editorial coverage.’” In the case of British Petroleum, ad-accepting publications are now required to “inform BP in advance of any news text or visuals they plan to publish that directly mention the company, a competitor or the oil-and-energy industry.” These are not empty threats. As one veteran of the magazine industry put it, “magazines are not in the financial position today to buck rules from advertisers.”
The timing of their decisions is no coincidence. A recent settlement against Morgan Stanley has splayed the firm’s name over the front pages of finance papers. Just today, another top investment banker announced his departure, “adding to the exodus of executive departures that has plagued the firm over the last seven weeks.” Unlike Morgan Stanley, British Petroleum hasn’t had a large amount of press coverage lately but some issues on the horizon — like the House and Senate energy bills (and the undue influence of industry lobbyists) — have caught the attention of everyone in the energy industry. Corporations in general are suiting up to fight back against corporate oversight, particularly the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
The power that these firms are trying to wield is an affront to free press, one of the democratic ideals that we should all hold in the highest esteem. If their actions don’t generate good news, then they should fix their company not the news.