Thursday, February 19, 2015

Peter Oborne, former chief political commentator at British broadsheet newspaper the Daily Telegraph, has alleged the paper suppressed and under-reported stories involving banking giant HSBC so as to avoid a loss of advertising revenue. In a public resignation from the paper published on the openDemocracy website on Tuesday, the veteran journalist and columnist alleges the division between advertising and editorial had not been kept watertight and that editors were committing a form of “fraud” on readers of the newspaper.

In Oborne’s article, he details how he submitted a story to the Telegraph regarding HSBC closing a number of prominent British Muslims’s accounts — despite assurances to the contrary, the story was not published by the paper. This led to Oborne investigating other coverage of HSBC in the newspaper. He cites the example of a story written by the Telegraph banking correspondent Harry Wilson on problems with HSBC’s accounts, which Oborne claims was quietly removed from the Telegraph website. Oborne says the failure of the Telegraph to cover HSBC is also present in the relative coverage given in November 2014 after the bank had to allocate a fund of £1 billion to compensate customers, as well as an investigation into manipulation of the currency market: Oborne argues these developments were given considerable coverage in competing newspapers including the Guardian, Times, and Mail but the Telegraph covered them only briefly several pages into the business section.

Oborne’s article alleges a number of other examples of suppression — calling the coverage of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong “bizarre”, and noting that the paper under-reported news of false accounting at Tesco but gave significant prominence to stories about the company without a critical edge.

Following Oborne’s article, a spokesman for the Telegraph responded: “Like any other business, we never comment on individual commercial relationships, but our policy is absolutely clear. We aim to provide all our commercial partners with a range of advertising solutions, but the distinction between advertising and our award-winning editorial operation has always been fundamental to our business. We utterly refute any allegation to the contrary. It is a matter of huge regret that Peter Oborne, for nearly five years a contributor to the Telegraph, should have launched such an astonishing and unfounded attack, full of inaccuracy and innuendo, on his own paper.”

Media commentator Roy Greenslade, writing for the Guardian, described Oborne’s allegations against the Telegraph as “dynamite” and said they go “to the heart of a paper’s credibility”. The Barclay brothers, owners of the Telegraph, “are being held to account”, according to Greenslade, and Oborne “has shone a light on a dark reality”.