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Breaking: leading music critic quits after conflict accusation

Edward Seckerson, senior music critic of the Independent newspaper in London, has resigned after being threatened with suspension for his online activities.

It appears that Seckerson was accused of conflicts of interest by the paper’s managing director after posting artist interview podcasts that he makes privately and for profit onto the newspaper’s website.

Here‘s an example.

Seckerson made no false claims about the interviews, which also appear on a third-party website. He has acted at all times honourably and without decit.

The Independent, however, is reeling over a range of ethical scandals, the last of which was a plagiarism admission by one of its star columnists, Johann Hari. This may have been the reason for getting tough with the music critic. He, when told of the suspension, resigned from the paper within 24 hours.

The Independent is the poorer for his departure.

It also looks much the sillier. The newspaper is owned by a former KGB officer, Alexander Lebedev, whose considerable wealth and influence has come about by mysterious means. For a newspaper of such dubious provenance to claim the moral high ground over the ethically harmless and genuinely independent activities of one of its arts critics is beyond preposterous.

Sales of the Independent have fallen from a historic high of almost 400,000 in the early 1990s to barely 50,000 today once bulks (or freebies) are taken out. The official circulation is 84,000.

Here is video footage of the newspaper’s owner in polite conversation (he’s the one in the grey suit, watch the hands).

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  1. A great shame, as Seckerson is one of the better ones. I suspect, though, that the Independent needed him more than he needs the Independent: their arts coverage isn’t up to the standard of some of the other broadsheets and, as we know, the broadsheets are only heading one way.

  2. Craig Urquhart says:

    Ed Seckerson is one of the last true newspapermen in the business. It is truly a loss to all who care about good reporting.

  3. NIgel SImeone says:

    This is a big loss for the Independent – and it looks like a very stupid decision.
    Meanwhile, best wishes to Ed.

  4. Joep Bronkhorst says:

    Does he really make the podcasts for profit? I’ve just been on his web page and I can’t see how they make any cash – there’s not even any advertising on the site. (NB. If he does, I can quite see why the Indy would take umbrage at him posting them on their site, too.)

  5. If he is making podcasts for money they amount to advertising. Therefore, continuing to review for the Independent is surely a clear conflict of interests. I understand this decision completely. The Indy is right to be “getting tough” after the Johann Hari scandal.

    • Let’s be clear – the Independent was under no obligation to host my podcasts but did so voluntarily when they were offered and furthermore took credit for their quality by branding them as ‘Independent Podcasts’. They are not and never have been Independent Podcasts but produced independently. They can’t have it both ways.

      • Joep Bronkhorst says:

        Quite so: your podcasts shouldn’t have been on the site in the first place. They’ve now realised this and told you so. So why are you resigning? Is it purely a matter of principle after being ‘threatened with suspension’?

        Don’t get me wrong – I think you’re a terrific journalist and normally agree with everything you say. The Indy will be poorer without you. I hope there are other factors, e.g. you needing more time to devote to your books

      • @ Edward. Interesting. So it’s not as if what you were doing was unknown to the Independent management. Or is it that they didn’t know you were doing the podcasts for profit? If so, it was an error on your part not to say so up front. Might have meant some haggling, but these things can be done.

        • Do they really think radio quality podcasts professionally edited and mixed by professionals cost nothing? They were very quick to capitalise on their quality and take credit for them.

          • The online team knew full well their provenance. That is a fact.

          • Cheers Edward. There is no inherent right on my part or anyone else to receive a reply to such a question, and your doing so is appreciated.

      • Edward, I clicked on Norman’s link to one of your podcasts on the Independent site. (It’s no longer there; I gather the Indy has taken it offline.) Who wrote the text accompanying that podcast calling it an Independent exclusive? Was that you? Or a sub-editor on the Indy staff?

  6. In fairness to Lebedov (owner of the Newspaper) only Russian speakers will understand the context of the dispute on that shocking video which you posted, and maybe the punch-up was partially justified.

    • Punching people is always wrong, even on television.

      • …yerrr. Someone should get hold of all those violent people and beat the crap out of them…

        When I read your bracketed comment (…”watch the hands) I thought, oh how quaint, this is one of those clips showing a Russian with lots of hand movements as he talks. I recall some decades ago reference to Russians talking with a lot of hand movements. I can’t say I’ve consciously checked this out – now I will obviously, or at least pay attention to pointers from those who have paid attention to Russian culture. Then I read your post above, and I thought “eh wot?”.

        Here is Lebedev’s reply to a question about the punch-up. The BBC clip shows the punch-up at 0:55. At about 1:09, he is asked why he punched Sergei Polonsky on national t.v. He says: “I was listening for 90 minutes, which I don’t think was depicted by Sky, of aggression and insults. Which actually ended with ah, direct aggression against me, with actually a threatening move and ah, I don’t think I had any, any big chance not to do what I did…”

        The interview is interesting. On the face of it, he is trying to do some societal good with his wealth.

        • Maybe i’m rather gullable, but i found Lebedov to be rather charming in this interview. The punch-up was clearly a last resort, and an act of self-defence.

  7. Margarita Gertl says:

    I’ve never seen a list of Mr Seckerson’s credentials in musical training, particularly his CV of working as a trainer of singers. Which I why I’ve always been appalled by his highly personal comments which frequently amount to advice as to which repertoire a singer should be undertaking as well as, in the recent case of Ben Heppner, a suggestion that he should give up altogether.

    His reviews and writings are always more about him than about the music and I’ve long been better pleased with the writings of other Independent journalists. I’m not interested in his podcasts as I find his broadcasting style self congratulatory.

    The Johann Hari issue was alltogether different and has no place in this story of Mr Seckerson’s resignation. Mr Hari was easy to catch out for his lack of research and copious bluffing and that’s why he was fired.

  8. Robt. Switzer says:

    I’ve known Edward personally for over 30 years. I have attended performances with him and never ceased to be amazed by his ability to produce excellently written, cogently observed reviews on remarkably short deadlines. Never have I seen him behave unethically. The fact that Edward fully informed the Independent’s management of his activities plus their willingness to post his podcasts on the paper’s website belies any claim of conflict of interest on Edward’s part. The Independent will be poorer for losing him, and their shabby treatment of him is shameful.

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