The Uber Files have once again shown that mainstream media is not there to protect democracy, but to participate in its sell out.
Mathew D. Rose is an Investigative Journalist specialised in Organised Political Crime in Germany and an editor of BRAVE NEW EUROPE
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the then MacGann as the two politicians visited Uber’s headquarters in Silicon Valley in 2016
The recent case of the Uber Files has reconfirmed my decision to leave investigative journalism. As one titillating scandal detail follows hot on the heels of the other, the big picture – the systemic picture – is suppressed or simply ignored as always.
First of all, what were the strategic elements of Uber’s lobbying campaign? As far as we have seen up to now they were politicians at EU, national, and municipal level; corporate media; and academics. What they all have in common, maybe with exceptions, is that these people were bribed to act in the interests of Uber. However the words bribe and corruption have not appeared in a single article, NGO statement, or tweet. These were however quid pro quo deals, money for influence: business as usual in the EU.
What one has to understand with corruption is that quid pro quo does not mean an immediate exchange. One can deliver one’s own part of the bargain and collect the reciprocal fee later. Former EU commissioner Neeli Kroes is a typical example. As she was EU commissioner Uber promised her a generously remunerated position on its board later. For her part, while in office and afterwards she used her power and influence to further the financial interests of Uber. Once she had left the EU she waited until the official so-called “cooling off period of 18 months (although during this period she was energetically active for Uber) before officially joining Uber’s advisory board. Records show Uber offered her $200,000 a year to chair the board.
Such reciprocations can also be implicit: “I’ll fulfil my side of the bargain and contact you when I need something”. This does not have to be cash. It can be a job for one’s child or niece, access to shares, influence. That this system functions so well – no written contracts – is proof of the trust and confidence participants have in it. It is a system that has great similarities with Omertà.
Other politicians we know were approached by Uber are the former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. Important markets necessitated important interventionists on Uber’s behalf. If they were remunerated as was Kroes, we do not know. Probably in one way or another they were. Establishment politicians are there for the business.
With mainstream media Uber’s strategy was to offer to sell these large corporations much coveted shares in Uber, giving them a piece of the action. This worked extremely well with the German Springer conglomerate in a “media+cash for equity deal”. Other media investors who purchased Uber shares included Lord Rothermere, owner of Britain’s Daily Mail; Ashley Tabor-King, founder of the largest commercial radio group in Europe; Bernard Arnault, CEO of luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, which is the parent company of the French financial daily Les Echos; and Carlo de Benedetti, publisher of Italian weekly L’Espresso. Included in these deals were lobbying for Uber, especially to obtain government influence. Is this the freedom of press we are so concerned about claiming it defends democracy? No, corporate media is the subversion of democracy and the free market, if there ever was one.
Add to this influential academics, who for a fee fabricated studies highlighting questionable advantages of Uber for the common good. A French academic apparently wrote a report that Uber was a “route out of the French banlieues”, which was cited in the Financial Times. Consultancy fee for the report? 100,000 euros. A well known German economist did the same, receiving only 40,000 euros. His study was given a stamp of legitimacy as it was conducted in collaboration with a consultancy branch of the prestigious German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). For a further 4,000 euros the German professor penned an article that appeared in an influential German business paper, which claims to be a serious source of information.
Let us not be naive and assume Uber suddenly invented this aggressive corruption scheme to attain influence in the political class , corporate media, and media. One has to realise that thousands of corporations are doing the same. That means for the one example of Neeli Kroes that came to light, there are another 999 we know nothing about. This is going on all the time. This is why the political system in Europe works in the interests of corporations and not the people. It is considered the entitlement of the ruling class. But that is never a topic in the many articles written about the Uber Files. And the perpetrators of this subversion of democracy, theoretically responsible to protect it, are daily selling it to the highest bidder. We shall see no consequences for them, nor do we really expect it. Instead we shall wait yearningly for the next titillating #files and think “Isn’t press freedom and liberal democracy great!”
The Uber Files have raised a number of questions, which actually no one is asking. Has it occurred to anyone that there is no investigative journalism project based in Brussels and hardly any investigative reports originating from there. One can find hundreds of articles about corruption in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan by investigative journalism organisations each year. And the EU in Brussels? One should mention there was a brief surge by British media in the run up to Brexit. So it can be done if the will is there.
Then let us remember that such #files are not the result of long and arduous research. They come from whistleblowers who contact journalists, providing them with a massive amount of emails and documents. This is not the media actively monitoring our democracy. It is waiting to capitalise on the next sensation.
The only ones deserving an honourable mention are the underfunded, overworked NGOs who sit in Brussels. It would be a transgression not to name Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). It is doing what one would expect from investigative journalists, trying to expose the endemic corruption (innocuously termed lobbying) that occurs in Brussels. They were spot on with Uber and Kroes, having posted articles concerning both already in 2016. But then, with regard to corruption in Brussels, wherever you investigate you will probably be successful. That is why no one wants to look. Hardly anyone reads CEO’s publications and probably most who do are lobbyists as well as EU politicians and technocrats keen to know if CEO has caught wind of their corruption.
The French have a lovely saying: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (The more things change, the more they remain the same). Everyone may feel with the Uber Files is another milestone in the tortuous path of incrementalism has been reached. It hasn’t. There may be a flurry giving the impression of action and change. Of this we shall hear little more. Instead you have a swarm of lobbyists trying to figure out how to stop something like this occurring again and Uber executives calculating what the corruption premium will be after this bad press.
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