Martin Lewis, who last week sold his editorial business to FSA authorised and regulated Moneysupermarket.com Group plc, spent £1 million on the deal in legal fees. Much of this seems to have been spent on hammering out a 15 point so called editorial code, according to Lewis, who has been posting in defence of his sale on his forum.
Lewis’s editorial code is not the official Editor’s Code being picked over at the Leveson Inquiry. This code is administered by the Press Complaints Commission. The printed media and their websites (with the exception of Northern & Shell) pay a voluntary levy to the PCC which hears complaints from the public against the press about inaccurate or misleading articles, invasions of privacy and other matters.
Rather than sign up to the PCC for a relatively small fee Lewis has instead spent a vast sum drawing up a private code of his own. It seems an extraordinary amount for a man who refuses to pay over the odds for a can of cola.
Lewis, whose appears on Wikipedia as a financial journalist, has always considered himself as such and his business an editorial one, with the freedom of the press. Asked by the chair of the Treasury Select Committee in 2010 who regulated him, Lewis said it was nobody. ‘ I am a financial journalist and regulation of the media is an interesting one,’ he said. In 2009, he corrected the Committee which seemed to think his business was a price comparison website: ‘We are not actually a price comparison site, we are an editorial site,’ he told MPs.In 2008, appearing on Channel 4 News, he corrected Jon Snow’s misunderstanding about his business: ‘No Jon I think you are misunderstanding I have an editorial website’.
Now that his editorial business with its access to press information and the public through national broadcasters (*) is owned by a price comparison website, is it time the public had an independent regulator to complain to, even a feeble one like the PCC?
Lewis told the BBC his code has the power to fine Moneysupermarket.com a seven figure penalty for breach. The PCC lacks even the ability to fine. But is all this talk about paying lawyers a million pounds and seven figure fines preparatory work aimed at impressing the OFT, which has to approve the merger, when what such an influential media business needs is independent regulation?