Media Watch 23/2/15

By Rowan Williams

Former Foreign Secretaries Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind both deny that they have broken any rules, after the two MPs were separately filmed by undercover journalists offering to use their positions of influence in exchange for cash. Straw and Sir Malcolm were secretly filmed by journalists working for The Daily Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, who posed as representatives of a fictitious Chinese company. In the recordings, Straw described previously using his influence to change EU rules on behalf of a private firm for £60,000 a year, while Sir Rifkind claimed he could offer access to British Ambassadors around the world. Both MPs have referred themselves to parliament’s commissioner for standards. Straw has been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party at his own request, while Sir Rifkind faces no suspension. Sir Rifkind, who is Chairman of parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, has said he will not step down from his position as chairman unless requested by his committee colleagues.

UK bank HSBC’s profits fell by 17.6 percent to £12.2 billion in 2014, the bank has announced. The bank called 2014 a challenging year, blaming the paying of fines, settlements, and redresses to UK customers as reasons for the fall. The news of the profit drop follows revelations of collusion in tax avoidance at HSBC’s Swiss banking arm, with current chief Stuart Gulliver now under scrutiny for sheltering millions of pounds in a Swiss account through a Panamanian company. Gulliver was reported to have been paid a £7.6 million salary in 2014, down from £8.03 million in 2013 due to the bank’s falling profits. Other HSBC executives saw falls in salaries and bonuses in light of lower profits. HSBC apologised again for its misconduct on Monday, while former director of public prosecutions Lord MacDonald has warned that the bank’s actions could open the possibility of criminal charges in the UK.

A landmark case is to begin on Tuesday that could affect how mainland Chinese companies are sanctioned in the Hong Kong stock market. Hong Kong’s securities regulator, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), is set on Tuesday to take action against China Metal Recycling (CMR) Holdings Ltd. The SFC had forced CMR into liquidation in July 2013 over evidence of accounting fraud. On Tuesday, the SFC will take CMR before the Hong Kong High Court in a bid to recover as much value as possible for CMR’s creditors and shareholders. Should the SFC be successful, it would mark a landmark precedent in the policing of mainland Chinese companies in Hong Kong. However, a victory for the SFC would still leave the challenge of securing CMR’s mainland assets.

The Papers

Money, and scandals surrounding it, make the headlines in several papers today. The Guardian, which has closely followed the ongoing scandal at HSBC, leads with news of the “Swiss account secret” of HSBC boss Stuart Gulliver. Documents from the bank’s Swiss arm show that Gulliver “sheltered £5m using Panamanian firm” to avoid tax, the paper writes. The Independent leads with a different angle on HSBC, quoting ex-director of public prosecutions Lord MacDonald when it writes that the bank is “guilty of ‘grave’ crimes”. According to the paper, Lord MacDonald has claimed that HSBC was “involved in ‘collusion and criminal activity'”. A different scandal leads in The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, with two MPS embroiled in a “cash for access scandal”. MPs Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, two former Foreign Secretaries, both deny offering to use their positions to assist a private firm for cash. Both were filmed by undercover journalists posing as a representatives of a fictitious Chinese company. The Financial Times leads with news of fears in the City that “new bank liability rules will deter best people”. Under new rules, non-executive members of banks and insurers will be held criminally responsible for “reckless decisions causing a body to fail”. City leaders fear the rules could put off prospective workers. The Times leads with news of Somali terror group Al-Shabaab, who have called for “UK attacks on shoppers” in locations such as London’s Oxford Street and Westfield shopping centres.

British Media on China

On police reforms: Chinese police reforms received coverage in The Independent over the weekend, with the announcement sparking hopes “that police torture and corruption are to be curbed and further miscarriages of justice avoided”. Public support for police in China is “at rock bottom”, the paper writes, but under new rules all police interrogations will have to be filmed. The paper notes that the reforms “are likely to have been introduced as much for publicity reasons” as for human rights, but notes that the changes have still been welcomed.

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