Stephen Glover: Cash for content: is the Guardian as pure as it claims to be?

The Guardian has been chiding other newspapers for not taking seriously its "revelations" about the News of the World and telephone hacking. Not for the first time – My God, no – the newspaper climbs on to its pedestal and looks down its nose at the rest of Fleet Street, which it judges less scrupulous, less virtuous and less committed to fearless journalism.

So it is with great fascination that I have been considering a leaked Guardian email that has fallen into my hands. It does not suggest boundless venality. If another, earthbound newspaper had produced such a document, one might have shrugged one's shoulders, and reflected that times are hard and people may understandably sail a little close to the wind. But The Guardian, moral arbiter and scourge of malpractice? That makes this special.

The email is dated 23 February 2010 and is written by Wendy Miller, public sector manager at Society Guardian, to someone at the Local Government Association. It discloses that Society Guardian is shortly publishing a 12-page supplement about the future of public servives, and is looking for three or four sponsors, each of which will pay £15,000 plus Vat. The authenticity of the email is not in question, and has not been challenged by The Guardian.

There is nothing wrong with a newspaper seeking a sponsor for a supplement provided the sponsorship is not concealed. It goes on all the time. What makes this case unusual are the terms on which sponsorship is sought. Wendy Miller writes that the sponsors would receive "significant branding space as well as input into the editorial direction and content of the project". This would seem to imply that the editorial content of a supplement can be influenced by a sponsor, which would constitute dodgy journalism.

I rang Wendy Miller to seek a response, and she hung up when I told her of my interest. So I sent her an email setting out my concerns which was soon answered by someone called Diane Heath, acting head of PR. In the grandiloquent, slightly offended tones employed by The Guardian whenever its integrity is questioned, she disavowed any impropriety, and referred me to the newspaper's guidelines which sponsors of its supplements are expected to observe.

Amid much verbiage there is a short relevant passage. The guidelines say that sponsors "will have an input in the planning (ie synopsis) of the supplements" but that the commissioning editor is not obliged to accept any such suggestions. This would seem to go significantly less far than Wendy Miller's email which dangles the prospect of "input into the editorial direction" – that might be defined as "planning" – as well as "the content" of the supplement. Content means articles.

Now it might be said that a sponsor paying £15,000 would read the newspaper's guidelines, whereupon he or she would find that the "input" was less generous than that indicated in Wendy Miller's email. But she does not refer to any guidelines. Moreover, she makes clear that she has never done business with the person to whom she is writing, so he may well be unaware of them.

She offers him a degree of editorial control without any caveat. Is this consonant with the newspaper's uniquely lofty view of itself? Readers will have to decide for themselves, but I think not. I am also pretty appalled that the Local Government Association, a publicly funded body, was invited to use taxpayers' money to subsidise Guardian journalism. (It decided not to.) That doesn't seem right to me.

Society Guardian, like other of the newspapers' supplements, has a near monopoly of public-sector advertisements which the Tories have said they will address if they win the election. Someone should look into the practice of public bodies buying editorial content. Meanwhile if the newspaper should undertake an inquiry into this affair – a favoured tactic when its integrity is impugned – let me predict its unruffled and self-serving conclusion. There is nothing whatsoever to worry about, and The Guardian is always perfect.

Enough agendas to fox even President Zuma

I wonder what President Jacob Zuma of South Africa made of the coverage of the Lord Ashcroft affair if he had time to pick up a newspaper during his brief visit to Britain. A quick look at The Sun might have left him unaware of the controversy surrounding the tax arrangements of the vice-chairman of the Conservative party since the paper largely ignored them. Should the Yorkshire Ripper turn out to be a Tory donor, The Sun would probably keep it quiet.

Mr Zuma might have formed the impression that it was an important though not sensational story if he relied on The Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail. Neither paper has any interest in harming the Tories. A glance at The Independent, which got it about right, would have convinced him that it was quite a big deal.

The Labour-supporting Daily Mirror enjoyed some Ashcroft-bashing while recognising there might be limits to its readers' interest. Not so The Guardian. For months it has been gunning for Ashcroft, recognising him as a Tory Achilles heel, and last week there were a succession of apoplectic splashes.

The paper's other quarry is Andy Coulson, David Cameron's PR man. Its obsession with phone hacking at the News of the World, formerly edited by Mr Coulson, can largely be explained by its desire to scupper the Tories.

Mr Zuma may have had trouble in deconstructing the motives of The Times, second only to The Guardian in the ferocity and scope of its coverage. Isn't the Murdoch-owned paper now supposed to be sympathetic to the Tories? The Times, of course, was fighting a re-match of a campaign it lost in 1999.

Between June and October of that year it published tens of thousands of words about Michael Ashcroft, culminating in the mistaken accusation that the US Drug Enforcement Administration had the then Tory Treasurer in its sights as a drug runner and money-launderer. After Lord Ashcroft sued the paper, it admitted it had been wrong and published a correction.

Most of the participants in that battle have moved on, including Peter Stothard, who has long since vacated the editor's chair. But one belligerent remains.

Tom Baldwin was the author of many of the 1999 pieces, and was accused of being encouraged by New Labour friends. It was a great joy – and how it took one back! – to see his byline, admittedly not prominent, amid last week's coverage.

Suggested Topics
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
The number of children in relative income poverty is currently 2.3 million in the UK

A Brazilian wandering spider
natureIt's worth knowing for next time one appears in your bananas
Life and Style
Time and Oak have developed a product that allows drinkers to customise the flavour and improve the quality of cheaper whiskey
food + drink

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Programmatic Business Development Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: As the Programmatic Business Dev...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Trainee Recruitment C...

European Retail Sales Manager, Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: My client is looking for an...

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past