Editorial independence? You bet!

Sports lovers, or “punters” as some would term us, are bombarded with betting advertising in print, on television and online.

It’s sold to us as the only way to truly enjoy the game. Sitting in the stands, watching on TV, buying a membership…that’s not enough! We can have skin in the game. But as W.C. Fields once said, “Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.”

Live odds are presented to us during games. Jaimee Rogers tries to seduce us during ad breaks. Gambling has sought to be inextricably linked to sport.

GazzaBet

When La Gazzetta dello Sport decided to launch a new betting platform called GazzaBet (nothing to do with Paul Gascoigne, it appears), journalists at La Gazzetta decided that enough was enough.

GazzaBet is an online betting platform. It is a partnership between Rcs Media Group, publishers of the famous Italian sports daily, and gambling platform developers Playtech. From the Playtech media release:

The launch of GazzaBet marks RCS MediaGroup’s first entry into sports betting and provides a safe and transparent user experience backed both by the La Gazzetta dello Sport brand – a hallmark of reliability and integrity – and the technological expertise offered by Playtech, the leading provider of innovative multi-channel, turnkey sports and gaming solutions.

Repubblica-webJournalists at La Gazzetta aren’t buying this safe and transparent line. They’re so outraged that they placed an ad in the newspaper La Repubblica. Here’s an extract:

“The soul [of La Gazzetta dello Sport] has never changed: it says that sport is its unique mission. Without compromise, without ever betraying its identity. By associating the name of La Gazzetta dello Sport with the business of sports betting, as Rcs MediaGroup has done by starting the operation GazzaBet, takes our newspaper away from what it always was, because it threatens to undermine the confidence of its readers. It opens the way to a conflict of interest, as the shareholders of Rcs include some owners of football teams (Juventus, Fiorentina, Torino). And above all, it is not in line with the tradition and values ​​of the pink pages.

In a La Gazzetta editorial this week, the editors noted that they “do not intend to criminalize those who bet nor claim that the choice of RCS MediaGroup is illegal…”

The same editorial goes on to say: “The editorial staff is perfectly aware of the difficult economic times and the publishing crisis, and has already made heavy sacrifices in terms of staff and wealth of information (such as the closure of the Campania regional edition).”

It’s about editorial independence. La Gazzetta has crossed over from a media outlet that gains revenue from gambling advertising to being a partner in a gambling venture. Will this undermine the trust that players put in the journalists when talking to them? Will this undermine the trust readers have in the newspaper to tell the truth? The editors certainly fear that this will be the case. They compare themselves to reporters from the BBC, who can (in theory) report without fear of offending an advertiser or business parter. Hang on, doesn’t the BBC have a commercial arm? Oh well, whatever.

A libertarian might take the view that citizens are free to do whatever they like with their money. Individuals can do anything they like with their lives, regardless of whether or not society approves, as long as they don’t violate the rights of others. Betting is (largely) legal.

The editors of La Gazzetta have avoided this libertarian conundrum by hanging their hat on editorial independence.

John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty that “everything must be free to be written and published without restraint.” Articles on the problems with gambling addiction might be thin on the ground where the media is sucking on gambling’s teat. But maybe we’ll get plenty of articles on the evils of match fixing.

Many well-known football writers with excellent reputations write for gambling websites – probably because gambling websites pay contributors.

Some gambling websites offer live streaming of games.

Perhaps it is foolish to refuse gambling’s embrace.

Further reading: An editorial from The Guardian about the GoWager online betting platform.