Peter Oborne, the chief political commentator for the UK Telegraph, quit the newspaper and accused it of allowing advertisers to influence coverage.
“The coverage of HSBC in Britain’s Daily Telegraph is a fraud on its readers,” Oborne wrote in a column published by Open Demoracy. “If major newspapers allow corporations to influence their content for fear of losing advertising revenue, democracy itself is in peril.”
The Telegraph rejected Oborne’s claims. In a statement sent to iMediaEthics by e-mail, a Telegraph spokesperson said:
“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.”
The final straw for Oborne was the Telegraph‘s lack of significant coverage of the leaks of HSBC private Swiss bank accounts, he wrote. However, Oborne claimed that things had been going downhill at the newspaper for the past year.
“Stories seemed no longer judged by their importance, accuracy or appeal to those who actually bought the paper. The more important measure appeared to be the number of online visits,” he claimed.
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Further, he said that the newspaper wouldn’t publish his report last year on the closing of HSBC accounts. He also claimed the newspaper unpublished a report critical of HSBC by the Telegraph‘s Harry Wilson.
He decided to speak out today because of what he viewed as thin coverage of the recent HSBC leak compared with other media outlets’ coverage, he wrote.
“All newspapers realised at once that this was a major event,” Oborne wrote. “The FT splashed on it for two days in a row, while the Times and the Mail gave it solid coverage spread over several pages.” However, he argued:
“You needed a microscope to find the Telegraph coverage: nothing on Monday, six slim paragraphs at the bottom left of page two on Tuesday, seven paragraphs deep in the business pages on Wednesday. The Telegraph’s reporting only looked up when the story turned into claims that there might be questions about the tax affairs of people connected to the Labour party.”
He went on, “The Telegraph’s recent coverage of HSBC amounts to a form of fraud on its readers. It has been placing what it perceives to be the interests of a major international bank above its duty to bring the news to Telegraph readers. There is only one word to describe this situation: terrible. ”
iMediaEthics has contacted HSBC for comment.