The Guardian didn't intentionally place a promotional supplement on Sri Lanka next to an article critical of Sri Lanka, but the accident will prompt the newspaper's editorial and commercial departments to "ensure that there is a fuller picture of any problems," the Guardian's readers' editor Chris Elliott reported.
Elliott called the incident "far from serendipitous."
The Guardian's June 6 front-page report, headlined "Tamils deported to Sri Lanka being tortured, victim claims," reported on "detailed allegations that Britain is forcibly deporting asylum seekers who are then tortured in Sri Lanka." And, the Guardian's June 6 edition also had a "a 24-page supplement on Sri Lanka funded by the country's government" promoting the country and suggesting negative reports on Sri Lanka and human rights are the result of "a sometimes sensationalist media."
See here a TwitPic of the supplement and the front-page cover, as posted by the New Statesman's Helen Lewis (via @resonancefm).
According to Elliott, the supplement included a note that it was "independent" of the Guardian and that The Report Company "takes sole responsibility for its content." Elliott told iMediaEthics by e-mail that The Report Company is "an entirely independent company."
Elliott noted that the Guardian's editorial and commercial departments operate independently, even on these supplements, but to avoid future incidents like the above, the two departments will have "discussions." We asked Elliott for more information about what this means and how it works. He explained by e-mail:
"Before the commercial side of the company enters into any future contract with the Report Company there will be a discussion about the list of countries proposed and any country supplement that both commercial and editorial sides feel are not ones with which the Guardian should be involved won't run."
Elliott wrote: "I think this unhappy accident is at least clear evidence that the editorial content of the Guardian is not influenced by commercial considerations."
He noted that the Guardian "should not have distributed this supplement" because it "lends a perception of endorsement." We asked Elliott if this means moving forward, the Guardian's editorial side can squash any supplements. Elliott explained to iMediaEthics that "The Editor-in-chief has a legal obligation in the UK for ads as well as editorial. Not sure where this kind of supplement fits legally but because of the editorial traditions of the Guardian it would be a final decision for the editorial side of the business."