Robert Peston’s sources

September 30, 2008

To hear Robert Peston’s account of the fin­an­cial crisis you might won­der where he gets his inform­a­tion. He is a ter­rif­ic report­er and seeker-out-of-scoops. But at what point does a journ­al­ist with really cut-glass sources stop being a journ­al­ist and start being — well — a cypher?

And in the cur­rent fin­an­cial crisis, just when does a cypher become a syphon? The author of Brown’s Bri­tain might well won­der.

Take this ver­sion (go to the 8am news belt or see the ver­sion blogged here) of events sur­round­ing the nation­al­isa­tion of the Brad­ford and Bingley on Monday morn­ing, just as the Tory Party con­fer­ence kicked off (dis­clos­ure: I’m not a Con­ser­vat­ive).

Sounds like it could have come straight from the cold hard lips of a Brown loy­al­ist like…Sue Nye. Surely though, Peston isn’t just a gov­ern­ment spokes­man? His job title, after all, is Busi­ness Edit­or.

Here’s some of his live from the Today pro­gramme. Judge for your­self:

The most polit­ic­ally explos­ive aspect of Brad­ford and Bingley’s nation­al­isa­tion is how much risk of losses is being born by the tax­pay­er.

The answer, sur­pris­ingly, is not much.

Because the bulk of any future losses will be born first by share­hold­ers and pro­viders of what’s called sub­or­din­ated debt.

And after that losses — up to a stag­ger­ing £15 bil­lion — would fall on our belea­guered bank­ing industry.

For tax­pay­ers to lose a penny Brad­ford and Bingley’s future losses would have to be unthink­ably huge.

The reas­on tax­pay­ers are pro­tec­ted is that on Sat­urday the board of the Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Author­ity, the City watch­dog, ruled that Brad­ford and Bingley was unable to pass the test of being a viable bank, and there­fore a claim was triggered on the insur­ance scheme for bank depos­it­ors, the Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­pens­a­tion Scheme…

Depos­it­ors won’t lose a penny…

But for now it looks as though tax­pay­ers at least are off the hook even though this is a very sub­stan­tial nation­al­isa­tion…

Is that the Author­ised Ver­sion? It cer­tainly sounds like the Treas­ury line. Tax­pay­ers are often bank cus­tom­ers, Peston might have noted in passing.

For Peston, the seni­or ser­vant of a gov­ern­ment-fin­anced broad­caster, the bal­ance between eval­u­at­ing what he’s ‘learned’ and repeat­ing what he’s told must be an uncom­fort­able one.

But the blame for his pre­dic­a­ment resides firmly with the people leak­ing this inform­a­tion — a gov­ern­ment that is pre­pared to dis­pense import­ant pub­lic inform­a­tion second hand.

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