Peter Oborne, who joined The Telegraph in 2010, dramatically resigned “as a matter of conscience” from the newspaper this month accusing its owners, the Barclay Brothers, of deliberately suppressing reports about the HSBC tax scandal for fear of losing advertising revenue, terming it as a “fraud on its readers.”
The controversial story, which The Telegraph deleted from its website, was titled – HSBC Faces £70bn Capital Hole, Warn Hong Kong Analysts – and reported that the banking giant had overstated the value of the assets on its balance sheet by more than £50bn.
Oborne accused The Telegraph of a “collapse in standards” under the Barclay brothers: “It has long been axiomatic in quality British journalism that the advertising department and editorial should be kept rigorously apart. There is a great deal of evidence that, at The Telegraph, this distinction has collapsed.”
In his blog, Oborne launched a blistering attack on the newspaper for its minimal coverage of the tax evasion scandal. He wrote:
“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 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.
[In 2012] The Telegraph investigations team—the same lot who carried out the superb MPs’ expenses investigation—received a tip off about accounts held with HSBC in Jersey. After three months of research, The Telegraph resolved to publish six articles on this subject. Thereafter no fresh reports appeared. Reporters were ordered to destroy all emails, reports and documents related to the HSBC investigation.
[In 2013] 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’.
Winning back the HSBC advertising account became an urgent priority. It was eventually restored after approximately 12 months. Executives say that Murdoch MacLennan [chief executive of Telegraph Media Group] was determined not to allow any criticism of the international bank.”
When Oborne sent detailed questions to The Telegraph about its connections with advertisers, this was the newspaper’s response:
“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.”
Interestingly, a week before Oborne resigned, a team of journalists from 45 countries leaked documents that revealed that HSBC profited from doing business with arms dealers, and how HSBC’s Swiss banking arm helped wealthy customers dodge taxes and conceal millions of dollars of assets.
And after a week of Oborne’s resignation, HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver apologized for unacceptable practices at its Swiss banking arm, which helped clients to avoid tax.