Media Perspective: Why the Bribery Act should make media companies worried
A view from Jeremy Lee

Media Perspective: Why the Bribery Act should make media companies worried

When the economist Milton Friedman popularised the expression "there's no such thing as a free lunch", he can't have realised that it would become so beloved and repeated by smug, knowing middle managers.

Whether Friedman was accurate is moot. But what does look likely is that you won't find anyone in the media industry stating that "there's no such thing as a free golf trip", let alone make it a mantra so that it reaches the popular corporate vernacular, any time soon.

Next April, the Bribery Act comes into force, of which the implications for the media industry could be enormous.

The act is ostensibly designed to stop corruption and market distortion and could have one of the toughest enforcement regimes in the world, with unlimited fines for companies and jail terms up to ten years for individuals found guilty of offering inducements.

Its jurisdiction applies to any company with operations in the UK, wherever they are headquartered and wherever the alleged bribe took place.

If, as intended, it prevents corruption from companies in states where corporate transparency is less than crystal clear, such as Russia, then, in theory, it is a good piece of legislation that ensures fairness in a globalised world. But its definition of what constitutes bribery is so loose that it should have every media company worried.

Few businesses are so dependent on the power of corporate hospitality and entertaining as the media industry.

I'd go so far as to say that it's an essential part of the job - with so many media channels, it's impossible for any media buyer or advertiser to have an understanding of (let alone immerse themselves in) every commercial medium on offer.

This is what the media agents of advertisers are paid to do - have an understanding of audience behaviour that does not confirm to their own habits. Otherwise, all media spend would go on sponsoring The Inbetweeners or be spent on Facebook.

Anyone who thinks that backhanders are still prevalent is living in the past; rather, the relationships that are built up, and the knowledge shared, are a crucial way that media is traded.

So, is a lunch here, a fact-finding visit there or even a blatant out-and-out jolly bribery or an inducement? I would argue not.

Aside from unfairly hinting at a lack of morality, there are enough checks and balances with media auditors and a free media market that any but the lowest-level bribery would get picked up immediately. It's important that free lunches remain worth every penny.

Jeremy Lee is associate editor of Campaign