Former Times editor turned Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins today accused his own paper of taking government money to portray "public relations as journalism".
He was referring to an eight-page supplement which appeared inside Society Guardian on Wednesday – Promised Lands.
Although not labelled as advertising or advertorial – Jenkins reveals in is Guardian column that the supplement was paid for by the Housing Market Renewal Partnerships "which agreed the synopsis – to boost the controversial Pathfinder housing policy."
He said: "In return for a large sum of money, the agency was offered pre-sight of the copy to ‘correct inaccuracies'. In effect, it secured sympathetic coverage. None of the writers (nor the Guardian's readers) was told of this, or that their fees were being paid, in effect, by the Blair government. Some were given to understand that they were writing for the Observer."
The supplement focussed on the Pathfinder housing clearance projects in the Midlands and north of England. Under the title Promised Lands on the front page is the slogan "Pathfinders rebuilding scattered economies."
But as Jenkins explains – the Pathfinder scheme, involving the wholesale demolition of streets of terraced housing, has been controversial. Many residents would rather stay in their Victorian terraced homes and refurbish them.
Jenkins says that "agents" of Housing Minister Yvette Cooper "have already been ‘buying' interviews on local radio stations to exclude local protesters. They have now bought a national newspaper."
He adds: "That taxpayers' money is used to further the interests of private developers against local homeowners is bad enough. That such money should be spent inducing newspapers to dress public relations as journalism in a ministerial spat with the Treasury is close to sleaze.
"Another battle will be joined next week in a Guardian supplement paid for by the pro-sprawl government planners of the Commission for Rural Communities. I guarantee that no contribution from the Campaign to Protect Rural England will be included. I wonder why."
Today The Guardian issued a statement in which it said that the paper clearly labelled Wednesday's Promised Lands section as a sponsored supplement. "In common with most newspapers, publishes sponsored supplements which are labelled and designed as such," it said. "Wednesday's supplement included on its front page a panel which stated that it was produced in association with Housing Market Renewal Partnerships. Simon Jenkins's piece was a robust statement of his views, in the long tradition of the Guardian allowing its columnists a free rein.