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No news is bad news for industry in the spotlight

Financial services just can-not seem to get good press. Every week brings

more glaring headlines condemning the industry and in recent weeks a spate

of damningTV documentaries.

The question is whether the headlines are true or whether journalists are

guilty of sen-sationalism.

As the financial sector affects a great deal of the population – many of

whom have little understanding of the products they have bought – it can be

a rich source of hard-hitting news for journalists.

With financial issues often making the front page, particularly in the

news-barren days of August, the financial industry must learn to deal with

the press rather than hoping the problem will go away.

To use media attention to their advantage, the industry must learn how to

speak to journalists.

Holden Meehan senior adviser Richard Hunt says: “We are fortunate enough

to be quoted regularly in the press. We recognise the immense power of the

press. It is something to be nervous about but it can also get our views

known and build up our client base.”

Panorama recently threw the spotlight on the indus-try with its look at

endowments, which provoked fur-ious reactions.

The makers have been condemned as ratings-hungry and interested only in

sensationalising the issues rather than striving for a fair analysis.

IFAs claim the programme took a hard-hitting line rather than portraying

the issue fairly and are worried that consumers will take the programme&#39s

views on board.

The Analysts director Tom Kean says: “People assume that what they read

and hear from journalists is correct particularly from the likes of the

BBC. The BBC has a duty to report accurately in an unbiased and

non-sensationalist manner, unless the story is truly sensational. So it

would have resulted in rather drab viewing in this case.”

Hunt says: “Panorama showed the financial industry in a terribly unfair

light. It is not surprising the programme has been cut down to a half- hour

slot as it is no longer a fair, investigative piece of journalism.”

But others feel the industry did not help themselves by refusing to appear

in front of the cameras.

Zurich Financial Services came under severe criticism after its Allied

Dunbar representative failed to meet the standards of the mortgage code

during Panorama&#39s sec-ret filming. But Zurich bel-ieves it never had a

chance of a fair hearing.

External affairs director Jeff Wagland says: “We chose not to put one of

our spokespeople on the programme as we felt we could not trust Panorama to

deal with our views fairly. Now we have seen the programme, we felt we were

justified in this view. Panorama edited the interview, showing only 30

seconds from a 40- minute film. How can this be a fair representation?”

Sofa spokesman Robert Reid says: “They said they refused to appear as the

programme would be edited. Of course the programme was edited. The public

are notstupid, they know that. By not appearing in front of the cameras,

the life office looked as if it had something to hide.”

In light of such negative press, some IFAs are call-ing for journalists to

take financial exams in the hope they will then be better informed and able

to understand technical issues.

The Onions Group principal Penny O&#39Nions says: “It would be useful for

journalists writing about products to have some qualifications enabling

them to understand the subject better. The editors and sub-editors also

need to have a sound knowledge of their subject so that they can edit the

stories carefully.”

But talk of regulating the press is viewed by journalists as the thin end

of the wedge which threatens to damage press freedom, so a gulf remains

between what the industry wants and what the press wants to see.

What is clear is that the more sensational stories, prefereably including

the two words misselling and scandal, will be placed higher up the paper.

Many in the industry believe personal finance journalists want to break

into the main pages of the paper.

But journalists deny this. Daily Telegraph financial reporter Gary

Parkinson says: “Of course journalists are looking to get the best story

but it does not follow that the story is not true. It is not our job to pat

the financial services on the back and tell them they are wonderful.

“There are some great IFAs out there and they are still the best place to

go for advice but it is a broad church encompassing some appalling IFAs as

well. The industry needs to strive for professionalism so it would not be

such a target for the press.”

Aifa director general Paul Smee believes the story is not all bad news.

He says: “IFAs would do well to remember that there are a lot of good

stories as well as bad. In the national press, it often says at the end of

stories that people should consult a financial adviser and this is great

for the industry and raises the profile of the industry in a positive way.”

The top 10 unit trusts remain largely unchanged. The same ten funds make

an appearance, with a few climbers and fallers in the middle order.

CF Bio-Tech holds onto the top spot after knocking off Artemis UK smaller

companies the previous week. Its one-year return of 143.74 per cent is down

more than 20 points since the previous week.

Small player Solus&#39s UK special situations fund is the week&#39s highest

climber, up four places to sixth with a one-year return of 113.18 per cent.

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