February 17, 2015

Our Kingdom | Al Jazeera

Peter Oborne, formerly chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph, has resigned from the paper, claiming that it went easy on a multinational bank in an effort to win back an advertising contract.

In a lengthy post published to opendemocracy.net, Oborne details a history of lickspittle coverage he says was caused by The Telegraph’s desire to repair a relationship with HSBC Holdings. After publishing six articles in an investigation into HSBC, The Telegraph’s investigations team was “ordered to destroy all emails, reports and documents related to the HSBC investigation,” Oborne writes.

This was the pivotal moment. From the start of 2013 onwards stories critical of HSBC were discouraged. HSBC suspended its advertising with the Telegraph. Its account, I have been told by an extremely well informed insider, was extremely valuable. HSBC, as one former Telegraph executive told me, is “the advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend”.

The Telegraph was willing to go to great lengths to get back in HSBC’s good graces, Oborne writes. He says Murdoch MacLennan, the chief executive of Telegraph Media Group, was “determined not to allow any criticism of the international bank.”

“He would express concern about headlines even on minor stories,” says one former Telegraph journalist. “Anything that mentioned money-laundering was just banned, even though the bank was on a final warning from the US authorities. This interference was happening on an industrial scale.”

Oborne decided to speak out publicly because of perceived softball coverage of HSBC in recent days. The so-called “Swiss leaks,” which revealed HSBC helped its clients hide money in secret Swiss accounts, was widely covered by journalists from 45 countries, according to Al Jazeera. But to find the Telegraph’s coverage of the leaks, Oborne writes, readers would need “a microscope”:

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.

After a lot of agony I have come to the conclusion that I have a duty to make all this public.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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