Monday July 21,2014 : A QUESTION OF ETHICS AND HYPOCRISY
The Guardian newspaper's venture into online gambling under the microscope.
Is it hypocritical for a national newspaper that espouses high moral values and warns on the pitfalls of gambling to allow its commercial division to become actively involved in online and mobile sports wagering?
That's the ethical question addressed over the weekend by the reader's editor at The Guardian, which is currently offering online and mobile betting on football and horse racing through its GoWager website.
In a thoughtful article following a well-articulated reader complaint, the editor examined the line between straightforward advertising for gambling companies, and commercial involvement in a gambling enterprise which involves marketing to readers and providing direct links to the gambling website.
The complainant in the case was sent an unsolicited GoWager promotional email under the newspaper's "offers" facility, despite the fact that he has not a gambler at all.
He said that although he would personally prefer that there be no general gambling advertisements in the newspaper, he recognised that others might have differing perspectives, and consequently he would not consider complaining in that regard.
However, active commercial involvement and wide promotion to readers introduced a new dimension: "In my mind it has crossed the line from merely bearing an advertisement for a service to actually encouraging its readers to take up gambling," he observed.
Explaining the interaction between editorial and commercial interests, the editor commented that the issue was regularly debated by newspapers both internally and externally.
Advertising is essential to support editorial activity, but a question of ethics and policy was involved, and in the Guardian's case an independent social audit is commissioned annually and published on the newspaper's website under the title "Living Our Values."
The annual study includes a reader survey in which one of the questions asks whether The Guardian should refuse to carry certain forms of advertising, with gambling among the categories listed.
The last such survey showed that respondents who think The Guardian should not carry advertisements for gambling has risen from 38 percent to 52 percent in the past five years across print and web.
That statistic is lower for online readers, where the increase has been from 37 percent to 48 percent.
Gambling is not the most despised pastime, it appears – the article notes that in the survey it is about fifth on the list…but the percentage of negative responses was similar to that which influenced the newspaper to stop taking sex chat line adverts a decade ago.
Being selective can be costly; the article notes that the sex chat lines decision cost the newspaper GBP 350,000 in the year the ban was executed.
In the current gambling promotional case, the Guardian's e-commerce chief subsequently apologised to the complainant, acknowledging that he had been incorrectly profiled, but noting that many readers were keenly interested in the GoWager facility
"We only market sports betting on the sports pages of the newspaper and website and we do also believe that it is the choice of the individual whether to participate in the form of activity," she wrote.
A survey by the commercial department showed that a third of the online and print sports readers bet on horses and football, and before GoWager was launched there was extensive discussion among senior editors at the newspaper, who concluded that individuals have the right to choose.
The reader's editor comments that a decision on where to draw the line between general gambling advertisements and active online gambling promotions will soon have to be made as the Guardian mulls the expansion of the GoWager activity into other sports.
He concludes by advising that the newspaper is currently conducting a review of all Guardian retail sector offers such as GoWager during which it will be decided whether to continue to promote interactive betting.