With impressive consolidation of readership for both print and electronic formats the Guardian Media Group has started to look for acquisition opportunities to expand their business. Already, with the success of Guardian Unlimited in the Internet the GMG has established a worldwide loyal readership. In fact, of the 13 million visitors to its website each month, more than 4 million are from the United States and another significant portion from outside Britain. In this way, the GMG has now become an international brand. Add to this their presence in the radio space – the GMG owns the West Midland radio station Smooth fm. The inclination to acquire smaller businesses comes on the back of impressive profits in the financial year 2006-07, when the GMG posted pre-tax profits of pounds 97.7 million, an increase of 30 million pounds from the previous year. Simultaneously, the group managed to minimize its losses in the Guardian’s Berliner venture, which boosted the overall profits. In this scenario, it makes good business sense for GMG to consolidate their market position. Toward this end the GMG has made initiatives in the last two years to acquire other businesses that have the potential to give GMG strategic advantage over its competitors. For example, toward the end of 2007 the group was looking to acquire parts of Emap’s business, when the latter announced that it may break-up its business. Explaining the rationale behind this move, Chairman Paul Myners asserted that “the group is embarking on its acquisition trail after raising around pounds 674 million from the sale in June-2007 of a 49.9 per cent stake in its Auto Trader arm, Trader Media Group, which was bought by private equity group Apax Partners” (Kuttner 2007) . It also made sense for the Guardian Media Group to invest heavily in the radio segment for likely long term gains. This strategic move to improve its standing in radio is especially relevant when seen in light of the following facts:
“GMG’s radio business improved full year underlying operating profits by 30 per cent to pounds 3.5 million. Total listening hours stood at 46 million a week following the acquisition of QFM, Century FM and Smooth Radio. GMG said it was on track to be the third most listened to radio group in the UK by the end of 2007, with new station launches planned in its Smooth network set to boost listening figures.” (The Birmingham Post 2007)
Amid all the speculation surrounding the tactical and strategic advantages that these initiatives would fetch, attention is being diverted away from the Guardian’s unique selling proposition. As Alan Rusbridger once remarked to an audience, “the Scott trustees do not demand the sort of returns many big media organizations are used to…. Trustees understand that serious public service journalism isn’t always compatible with enormous circulations or huge profits” (Mcnair 2000). Seen in the light of this remark, it is all the more important for the Guardian to maintain the journalistic standards that it is known for. Even from a business point of view, making efforts to keep up its core values would prove to be strategically more beneficial in the long run.
The common framework of journalistic ethics that is being adopted by the Guardian group is a fair and balanced one. Having said so, adhering to such guidelines are not without challenges. One of the basic tenets adopted by the Guardian journalists is to compile their reports after thorough fact-checking. In other words, they test the accuracy of the information being reported and take efforts to make sure that no mistake is incurred due to oversight. In reality however, there are systemic challenges to adhere to this principle. Given that most of the media coverage revolves around information released by government spokespersons, the veracity of the information given cannot be easily verified. For one thing, it is implicitly accepted that any message from government sources is an authentic and accurate one. To question or suspect elected representatives and authorities is not natural to many journalists, including those from the Guardian. Hence, there are practical difficulties in implementing their core set of ideal journalistic practices. The leadership in the Guardian should focus on addressing this issue. (Mcnair 2000)