Listen to this article
Bob Diamond called for an end to apologies, Stephen Hester said criticism made “the job harder” and one former stockbroker has sued over his portrayal in Wolf of Wall Street.
But bankers may not actually be as bashed as commonly thought.
Researchers at Oxford university have concluded that newspaper coverage of the banking industry has been as much positive as negative, even during the financial crisis.
“There is no evidence that the media as a whole appear to pursue vendettas against banking or other financial institutions,” says the study from Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Prime Research.
The findings come as the British Banking Association complained about pundits calling for higher capital ratios.
“Banks continue to back the efforts of the regulators to build a safer financial system. But let’s not ignore progress the industry has already made,” said James Barty, the BBA’s strategy director.
The Oxford study examined 138,000 articles about banking published in 12 European newspapers, including the Financial Times, Le Monde, The Wall Street Journal Europe and The Times, between 2007 and 2013.
It found that 24 per cent were positive in tone, while 25 per cent were negative. The remainder were either neutral or ambivalent.
“Things are not as negative as people think they are,” said Robert Picard, a professor at the Reuters Institute.
One explanation, the study suggests, is that business journalists are “unlikely to want to alienate their core readership by being overly critical of the industry”.
But that result does contrast with 2007, when the newspapers’ coverage about banking was more likely to be positive than negative.
In addition, many of the newspapers studied were business newspapers and broadsheets – it excluded British tabloids, the tone of which has frequently been hostile.
Among individual banks, UBS had the most negative press coverage in both 2008 and 2011, the researchers found in a related study using a smaller sample. The Swiss bank was hit by heavy subprime losses and trading losses respectively in those years.
HSBC and Deutsche Bank enjoyed more positive coverage during the financial crisis, although the former was subsequently the subject of money-laundering claims in the US, which cost $1.9bn to settle.
RBS saw the biggest swing in coverage – from positive in 2007 when it bought ABN Amro to sharply negative as criticism mounted of former chief executive Fred Goodwin, bad loans and the pay of executives including Mr Hester.
The banking crisis continues to inspire critiques of the industry, including Martin Scorsese’s film Wolf of Wall Street, which depicts drug-fuelled excess among stockbrokers, and Michael Lewis’s book Flash Boys, which argues the stock market is rigged by high-frequency trading.