In an article headlined ‘Why I Have Resigned from the Telegraph’, the paper’s chief political correspondent, Peter Oborne, makes a series of startling allegations. His piece for Open Democracy, which was clearly written with a heavy heart, exposes a series of decisions – chiefly about the troubled HSBC bank – where Oborne claims commercial considerations dictated the paper’s coverage (or lack of it) of major stories.
The Daily Telegraph is a founder member of the new press regulator IPSO, which Hacked Off has repeatedly described as a sham. If Oborne’s account of the inner workings of the Daily Telegraph is accurate – and he is respected across the political spectrum – it is clearer than ever that Lord Justice Leveson was right to demand an end to the cosy system in which the press regulates itself without independent scrutiny. According to Oborne, one of the key newspaper groups which controls and finances IPSO has repeatedly failed its readers, tailoring its coverage to suit major advertisers.
From his opening sentence, which describes the Daily Telegraph’s coverage of HSBC as “a fraud on its readers”, Oborne pulls no punches. He alleges that:
* The distinction between advertising and editorial “has collapsed”
* Critical stories about HSBC failed to appear over several years or were pulled from the paper’s website
* From the start of 2013, stories critical of HSBC were discouraged after the bank suspended its advertising with the Telegraph. “Winning back the HSBC advertising account became an urgent priority”, Oborne claims
* The paper was equally keen not to offend the Chinese government. In December, the FT, The Times and The Guardian ran powerful leaders on a refusal by the Chinese government to allow a committee of British MPs to visit Hong Kong. The Telegraph “remained silent”
* Online visits – “click culture” – have become more important than importance or accuracy. On 22 September last year, the online paper ran a sensational story about a three-breasted woman which an executive told Oborne “was known” to be “false” before it was published
There are other serious allegations in this unusually candid piece. “There are great issues here” Oborne concludes. “They go to the heart of our democracy, and can no longer be ignored.”
This is exactly what Hacked Off had been saying since it was set up in 2011. Phone hacking was just one of many unethical practices which have done incalculable damage to the reputation of the British press. We welcome Peter Oborne’s brave decision to resign and tell readers what he believes has gone wrong at one of this country’s most influential newspapers.
The case for ending the system in which editors and owners effectively regulate themselves without independent audit – currently in the guise of IPSO – has never been stronger.