‘Democracy itself in peril’: Telegraph commentator quits over paper’s HSBC links

The Daily Telegraph building (Image from wikipedia.org)

The Daily Telegraph building (Image from wikipedia.org)

Peter Oborne, journalist and respected political commentator for the Telegraph, has published a lengthy resignation letter in which he condemns the links between the newspaper and scandal ridden banking giant HSBC.

His letter, published online, documents years of
editorial decisions marred by the paper’s advertising contracts
with the bank, including the decision not to follow the recent
HSBC tax-avoidance scandal as closely as other media outlets, and
even removing some articles from the site completely.

“The coverage of HSBC in Britain’s Telegraph is a fraud on
its readers. If major newspapers allow corporations to influence
their content for fear of losing advertising revenue, democracy
itself is in peril,”
the letter reads.

He said the pressure put on the paper to maintain advertising
from HSBC was a “sinister development,” which blurred
the traditional boundary between advertising and editorial
sectors, with HSBC described as the “advertiser you
literally cannot afford to offend.”

Their coverage of the
HSBC scandal, in which it was revealed the bank had been aiding
clients in avoiding vast tax bills, was mirrored by earlier
coverage of the Hong Kong protests during 2014.

“A free press is essential to a healthy democracy,” he
writes, adding “there is a purpose to journalism, and it is
not just to entertain. It is not to pander to political power,
big corporations and rich men.”

READ MORE: ‘Sincerest
apologies’: HSBC CEO begins damage control after tax evasion

“Newspapers have what amounts in the end to a constitutional
duty to tell their readers the truth.”

He said the embargo on publishing articles criticizing HSBC had
begun in 2013, after the bank suspended its advertising contract
with the Telegraph following investigations into its offshore
accounts in Jersey.

It took the paper a year to regain the advertising contract,
Oborne recalls, but the pressure on the editorial sector became
intolerable and he resigned in December. He says he fully
intended to “leave quietly,” but after the paper’s
microscopic” coverage of the HSBC tax scandal, he felt
a duty to speak out.

“If advertising priorities are allowed to determine editorial
judgments, how can readers continue to feel this trust? 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.”

The article, which the Telegraph quietly removed from its
website, alleged HSBC had a £70-billion hole in its finances.
They took the article down despite the analysis coming from an
independent company and being covered by many other news outlets.

A contemporary of Oborne, Alex Massie, says he “performed a
great public service
” by writing the letter, calling Oborne
a man “of great conviction.

Massie wrote in the Spectator, which itself shares a proprietor
with the Telegraph, that if the reputation of the Telegraph had
been damaged by the revelations, then the reputation of HSBC is,
once again, on the line.

“The bank is, as I
say, free to spend its marketing budget as it sees fit but the
idea it can think it reasonable to bully and threaten newspapers
if they dare to run ‘unhelpful’ stories is another example of an
over mighty corporation that evidently thinks the world deserves
to be arranged in ways that comfort HSBC.”

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