Peter Oborne has resigned from his position as chief political commentator at British newspaper The Daily Telegraph over its coverage of HSBC.
Oborne has written a scathing attack on the newspaper for the Open Democracy website, in which he accuses Telegraph of “fraud on readers” due to its lack of coverage of negative stories on HSBC, because the bank is a major advertiser. According to his post the newspaper suffered a “collapse in standards” due to management worries over its declining circulation.
The Telegraph: a proud tradition lost
He claims that the situation grew even worse after the sacking of editor Tony Gallagher in 2014, and his replacement Jason Seiken oversaw the arrival of a “click culture” in his role as head of content. Before him The Telegraph had been run by a long line of brilliant editors, and the decline of the position left alarm bells ringing in Oborne’s ears.
The former political commentator wrote a piece on the controversial HSBC practice of closing the accounts of prominent British Muslims, but the paper refused to publish it. Then an article on the poor state of HSBC accounts was written by Harry Wilson, a former banking correspondent at the paper. The article was never published.
It seems that the final straw came in the shape of the paper’s minimal coverage of the scandals that have recently enveloped the bank, including the rigging of currency markets and revelations that HSBC’s Swiss arm was part of a huge tax avoidance scheme. The favorable coverage is thought to be due to the bank’s status as a major advertiser.
Major advertisers given favorable coverage
Oborne claims that HSBC is not the only company that is treated kindly thanks to advertising revenues. He names the Cunard cruise company and Tesco as two others which have seen significant stories given minimal coverage by the paper.
Oborne wrote a resignation letter, as well as another letter to Telegraph Media Group CEO Murdoch MacLennan and chairman Aidan Barclay. In his response MacLennan admitted that advertising exerted an influence over editorial processes, claiming that there was “a long history of this sort of thing at The Telegraph,” Oborne says.
The separation of editorial and advertising departments at any publication is an extremely important issue, and we should be grateful that Oborne had the integrity to speak out against the blurring of these lines at a major British newspaper.