Peter Oborne, The Daily Telegraph and the Corruption of the British Press

by George_East on February 20, 2015

Peter OborneThe publication of Peter Oborne’s devastating resignation letter as Chief Political Commentator of the Daily Telegraph has brought back into focus just how deeply rotten much of our media is.  Oborne accuses the Telegraph of allowing its commercial advertising revenue streams to dictate editorial policy – with in particular stories about HSBC and tax evasion (which were broken by the Guardian and Le Monde but which have had prominence across the press) being buried.   The Telegraph responded with a general denial of Oborne’s accusations, but without identifying any particular fact that was incorrect.

The origin of this, so Oborne suspects, was the ‘suspension’ of advertising by Britain’s biggest bank as a result of a story that the Telegraph ran about HSBC’s Jersey subsidiary.     Intriguingly the Guardian yesterday  pointed out that the owners of the Telegraph, the shadowy Barclay twins, borrowed £250M from HSBC just before its journalists were discouraged from running stories about the bank.   Alan Rusbridger also revealed that HSBC ‘paused’ advertising with the Guardian in the light of its decision to run stories.

Oborne has always been a bit of a maverick (take for example his view that Ed Miliband is the most effective leader of the opposition that the country has seen) but has always been an independent minded rightwinger with integrity, that has made him (along with Matthew D’Ancona and Alex Massie) for me the members of the right wing commentariat most worth reading.  Oborne was, for example, very critical of the role of partisan conservative activists such as Danny Finkelstein (who even writes speeches for George Osborne) and Tim Montgomerie on the comment pages of the Times.

Faced with the allegations and a media shitstorm (there is nothing after all that the British media likes more than talking about itself), the Telegraph is unrepentant today running a frankly demented editorial which effectively accuses The Guardian and BBC of having an agenda against it for ideological reasons (pots and kettles) without addressing Oborne by name or his allegations in any sense at all.

This story – that a pillar of the conservative establishment, The Telegraph, which was once renowned for the integrity of its news coverage (a reason that for many years I have preferred it to The Times or the Independent) has its editorial dictated by its advertorial is just another nail in the coffin of the British press.  Indeed it has also resulted in some other stories coming out of the woodwork such as the resignation of veteran legal correspondent, Joshua Rozenberg, from the Telegraph in 2007 which is now revealed to have been because the Telegraph’s news desk added some made up stuff to a story that Rozenberg wrote about a decision of the European Court of Human Rights and the British Army.

Of course, this rot is not confined to the Telegraph.  We’ve had over recent years the  criminality of phone hacking being revealed (particularly at News International but also it now appears at the Mirror Group).   We’ve had the revelations that the BBC pulled a documentary about Jimmy Saville because it would negatively impact on the celebrations of that (now revealed) monster’s death.    The once biggest newspaper in the country, The Express has upped and died under the ownership of pornographer, Richard Desmond – barely bothering even to pretend to cover the news, with its endlessly regurgitated front pages.  And then of course there is the Mail, in all its dishonesty and nastiness.

Newspapers do, of course, face horrendous financial pressure in the age of the internet.  The news they provide is available instantly and for free.  The views that their writers express are really about all they have to distinguish themselves, along with the occasional (and increasingly rare) old fashioned investigative piece that takes resources, journalistic guile and a willingness to take the legal risks involved.   If even this is skewed by advertising need, then what little value they add disappears completely.  Then those annoying sponsored special supplements which go straight in the bin are just an express version of what the whole of the newspaper implicitly really is.

Hats off for Oborne for revealing what he has.  But I suspect in doing so he has put another nail in the increasingly secure lid of the coffin of the British press.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike Killingworth February 20, 2015 at 5:06 pm

Yes. The press as we have known it is mortally wounded.

It is part of a far larger process. The right-wing historian Lewis Namier is little read these days, yet his overarching thesis, that history is the struggle of the monarch against the nobility, bears reconsideration. Stretch “monarch” to include the sovereign people, and allow for nobles by wealth as well as by inheritance or conquest, and, in Namier’s terms we are seeing power move from the King to the aristos.

This has never made for good governance in the past.

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