Week 8: Villain – The Daily Telegraph

by Charlie_East_West on February 22, 2015

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This week’s villain of the week award goes to The Daily Telegraph for toadying up to HSBC and then publishing an article to attack The Times over the suicides of two of their newspaper staff.

There is nothing worse than a bully. From the school playground through to corporate boardrooms and the corridors of power at Westminster, bullying is rife. It can manifest itself in many different forms, but this week The Telegraph displayed a horrible example of projection bullying. Namely, when a bully is caught doing something wrong, the bully then goes off to try and get someone else in trouble. It is a horrible trait, which was displayed by the Telegraph this week.

After being accused by the Peter Oborne – its former chief political commentator – of failing to pursue the HSBC tax avoidance story because the bank was one of the Telegraph’s biggest and most lucrative advertisers, the Telegraph went after its broadsheet rival – The Times – with a front page headline of “Publisher of The Times starts internal inquiry into suicides of overworked advertising staff” – The Telegraph, facing justifiable attacks over their HSBC association, immediately tried to change the axis of blame back towards a rival newspaper but on a disgustingly personal level.

Running a story on employee suicides within a rival newspaper is way below the belt – even for the press. Shame on them. It is strategically stupid. It damages their integrity. It is media bullying.

All of this is rather saddening. Although I disagree with most of the editorial content of The Telegraph, I have admired the general quality of its output, the historical importance of the paper and its reputation for breaking meaty investigative stories. Their coverage of MPs expenses is a perfect example of this (albeit they were given the story on a plate). So, for The Telegraph to stoop to personal tragedy attacks on The Times suggests that The Telegraph now has a credibility problem on two fronts – its collusion with unethical business (HSBC) and its collusion with the dark arts of media scapegoating over a personal tragedy.

There is also a wider context to this. Like all national newspapers, The Telegraph is suffering from sharp circulation decline. Since 2004, it has lost over 400,000 readers. To compensate for this, advertiser funded revenue becomes critically important to the survival of newspapers. This creates an integrity paradox. The commercial arm of a media outlet may well be a whisperer in the ear to the editorial team to ensure that hefty advertisers do not receive negative coverage.

The HSBC scandal conspicuously highlighted this paradox. As did Peter Oborne. The Telegraph scarcely noted the murky stories surrounding HSBC, and then claimed to be the “champion” of business and enterprise. As HSBC are one of The Telegraph Media Group’s big advertisers, it begs the question, what are newspapers really for? Are they there to do their job and report and scrutinise events, or are they now there to act as corporate PR mouthpieces for the advertisers?

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