Matrix Database: The Top 20

The Matrix Database is an effort to document personal factors that undermine powerful journalists’ claims of objectivity and impartiality. We are on the lookout for significant conflicts of interest and likely causes of bias/imbalance along the most high-profile political and opinion journalists in the UK – and we’ve found plenty!

We have now completed the entries for the “top 20” UK journalists (ranked by Twitter following). Our results for the “top 20” are as follows:

45% (9/20) of the top 20 UK journalists studied at at least one private/independent school

50% (10/20) of the top 20 UK journalists studied at Oxford or Cambridge University

These figures compare with the overall British population as follows: 7% attended private/independent schools, 1% attended Oxbridge. The figures also correlate with those of the Elitist Britain Parliamentary Report, which found that 54 percent of the top 100 media professionals attended independent schools and 47 per cent of newspaper columnists attended Oxbridge.

These aren’t the only bare facts in our findings for the top 20 which cast doubt on how reflective of the population (and, ipso facto, the population’s interests) these journalists are.

35% (7/20) of the top 20 UK journalists have significant work experience in a rival field to journalism – i.e. a field such as politics or business those very same journalists are meant to hold to account. Anyone who doubts just how compromising this category is may wish to check out the entry for Daniel Finkelstein, who, among many other things, was speechwriter to Chancellor George Osborne while on The Times payroll for commentating on Osborne’s government!

80% (16/20) of the top 20 UK journalists earn in the region of 10 times the average UK salary of £26,193 or more (Average UK salary figure as per the Office of National Statistics).

In reality, all the top 20 journalists almost certainly earn £250,000 or more per year, but the income of private sector journalists/authors like James O’Brien and Daniel Finkelstein isn’t usually disclosed.

Warning: That Isn’t Even the Worst of It!

Most of the above is known, to a degree. Reports such as Elitist Britain and the publication of BBC salaries affirm that “top journalists” have privileged backgrounds and huge incomes.

The area our database set out to study, which has not, to our knowledge, been systematically examined before, are private ties between journalists and other elite individuals/groups that call into question fundamental journalistic tenets like independence and impartiality.

Robert Peston, son of a Baronet, helpfully summarises:

If only voters knew the close social, educational and familial connections between politicians, media and the City, there would be riots on the street.”

Do our top 20 findings suggest that voters should be concerned about an elite consensus overriding democratic principles?

70% (14/20) of the top 20 UK journalists have at least one primary establishment connection. We define a primary establishment connection as “a close family relationship or long-term friendship which, by definition, would render impartial reporting of the person in question (and their related interests) impossible”. Full definition here.

Many of our top 20 had multiple entries in this field. Laura Kuenssberg, for example, has High Court judge, Lord Robertson as a grandfather. Her other grandfather is Dr Ekkehard von Kuenssberg, founder and president of the Royal College of General Practitioners. Her father is businessman and director Nick Kuenssberg, OBE. Her mother is influential public sector chairman Sally Kuenssberg, CBE. Her sister is Joanna Kuenssberg, the High Commissioner of the UK to Mozambique.

Kuenssberg, we note, is the BBC’s Political Editor – arguably the most influential journalist in UK democracy. Whose interests do her background suggest she will promote, those of ruling elites or the public that pay the licence fee?

Our database demonstrates that it isn’t just the odd journalist, a Kuennsberg or Peston, who operate in this compromised position – it is the majority of them.

And there’s more:

60% (12/20) of the top 20 UK journalists have at least one secondary establishment connection. We define secondary establishment connection as “recent friendships or unusually close professional relationships – that, nonetheless, raise questions about the possibility of impartial reporting” (Full definition here). A case in point would be then-BBC Political Editor Andrew Marr launching a book at Downing Street, with his host the very PM (David Cameron) he was meant to be holding to account!

50% (10/20) of the top 20 UK journalists have BOTH primary and secondary establishment connections

Only 10% (2/20) of the top 20 UK journalists had no verifiable establishment connections (Andrew Rawnsley and Dan Wootton).

CONCLUSION

What are we to make of all this?

Structural studies of the media, such as Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model (explained and evidenced here) highlight the influence of media ownership on journalistic output. In essence, Chomsky and Herman show, journalism is confined to fierce debate and reporting within the spectrum of opinion allowed by elites.

Our findings, preliminary though they are, complement the propaganda model by highlighting that top journalists are themselves the elite. Leading journalists earn salaries in the hundreds of thousands, hail from establishment backgrounds and/or digest elite values at private schools and Oxbridge. They marry other members of the journalistic, business or financial elite and socialise with leading players in British politics, business and journalism.

Journalistic output is, in effect, constrained both from within (elite group consensus) and without (ownership values of the media).

You can view the database and access each top 20 entry here. This is not a subjective study. We outline here our criteria and methodology.

If you enjoyed this article please let us know in the comments below. You can also subscribe to our mailing list and receive a monthly Free Press update direct to your mailbox!

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6 thoughts on “Matrix Database: The Top 20

    1. Thanks for the comment Douglas. The database isn’t really intended as an attack on individuals (though appreciate the summaries can be a bit provocative!). The fact that one individual has a privileged background/connections doesn’t necessarily show anything – e.g. Tolstoy, Shelley and many others came from privilege but whole-heartedly advanced radical positions.

      What we would argue is that individuals like the above are exceptions. Therefore, if our database shows (as it is on track to) that the vast majority of the most influential UK journalists are of the elite, linked to the elite, paid elite salaries…then mainstream UK journalism, as a whole, cannot be exonerated.

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  1. Fabulous work! However, even when the evidence is presented to the very people who’s lives are negatively shaped by these findings, it’s difficult to get a reaction. I’m not sure if they don’t engage and dismiss it because they don’t fully understand what is going on here or misunderstand and believe it’s a bitter left wing take on events. Or maybe it’s just lazy apathy. Or, as it seems to me, often they want to feel that they identify with the elite even though they are on £50,000 a year or considerably less. Whatever the reason this is a huge problem and sadly I’m not sure how we get round it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the comment Brian. It is challenging for people to digest media bias. When you have believed/been encouraged to believe your whole life that we live in a democracy with a fearless, free press it’s quite daunting to adapt to a whole new perspective. We’ll keep trying to raise these issues though! If enough people do so, over a long enough time period, hopefully awareness will grow and it will become easier for people to adjust to new perspectives

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