Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary letter from the Guardian Media Group

  You kindly offered me the opportunity to investigate and clarify the situation regarding an education supplement published by the Guardian, an issue which you raised with me during my evidence on 23 April 2008.

  The supplement "14-19 reforms" appeared in the Guardian on 6 March 2007 and was in fact clearly labelled—in a banner running along the bottom of the front cover—as being "in association with the Department for Education and Skills", alongside a prominent DfES logo. The phrase "in association with" is one traditionally used by newspapers and broadcasters to describe financial support from a third-party sponsor.

  Sponsored supplements are a valued source of revenue and allow the Guardian—and other newspapers—to explore in more depth than editorial budgets would normally allow topics the Guardian hope are of interest to readers. The Guardian believes readers understand and appreciate this.

  As it happens, later in 2007 the Guardian and Observer voluntarily reviewed the presentation of commercially-led editorial supplements with the aim of determining how they could convey even more plainly to readers the precise terms of the relationship with a sponsor. The result included a decision to place the sponsor's logo and the words "in association with" at the top of the front page. In addition, all sponsored supplements now carry an "explainer" section on the front page stating clearly who produced the supplement, who paid for it, and how the brief was agreed.

  A set of detailed guidelines for commissioning editors, writers and sponsors was also drawn up. These were published on the Guardian's website in September 2007 and a link for the webpage ( is included in the explainer section of every supplement so that interested readers can find out exactly how a sponsor is involved with a supplement. We believe the Guardian and the Observer are the only British newspapers to make this process so transparent.

  The guidelines make clear that while sponsors, such as the DfES, can suggest themes and information they would like to see included in a supplement, they cannot—once the synopsis has been agreed—have any influence over content until the final proofing stage, when they can check for factual errors only.

  The editor of the supplement—a member of Guardian staff or a trusted freelance expert appointed by the Guardian—is bound by the guidelines to ensure the content contains balance (even where that might conflict with the views of the sponsor). Writers are likewise instructed to produce their articles exactly as they would for the main paper in the clear understanding that the sponsor cannot interfere with the tone or content of their work.

  In all of this we believe the Guardian and Observer go further than any other newspapers in setting down the rules of engagement with sponsors of editorial content and in sharing these rules with all parties, including readers.

  I will be grateful if this letter could be made available to the members of your Committee.

15 May 2008

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