It is said dog does not eat dog, but recent revelations about HSBC’s Swiss branch have sparked an acrimonious war of words between leading British newspapers over the sensitive issue of curbing editorial independence to drive advertising income.
The spark was lit on Tuesday by Peter Oborne, chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph (founded 1855), when he announced his resignation in a widely publicised letter, alleging that the newspaper’s coverage of the HSBC row was a ‘fraud’ on its readers.
The ‘HSBC files’ revealed by The Guardian and the International Consortium of International Journalists attracted blanket coverage across the globe, and led to raids and official action in India and other countries.
According to Oborne, since HSBC was a major advertiser in the newspaper, it downplayed the story: “You needed a microscope to find the Telegraph coverage.”
Oborne detailed several instances of how the politically conservative newspaper’s stance on the banking sector had influenced coverage. The newspaper has been owned since 2004 by the Barclay brothers, David and Frederick, who have interests in various sectors.
“With the collapse in standards has come a most sinister development. 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”, Oborne wrote.
As The Guardian and others widely publicised Oborne’s resignation, The Daily Telegraph responded on Friday with a fiesty editorial, rejecting charges levelled by Oborne. It said: “This newspaper makes no apology for the way in which it has covered the HSBC group and the allegations of wrongdoing by its Swiss subsidiary.”
“We will take no lectures about journalism from the likes of the BBC, the Guardian or the Times.All have their own self-serving agendas.”
The Guardian retaliated on Friday with a story on how the Barclay brothers had secured a 250 million-pound loan from HSBC for a struggling corner of their business empire shortly before the newspaper’s reporters were allegedly ‘discouraged’ from running articles critical of the bank.