Former chief political commentator at the Telegraph, Peter Oborne, writes:
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.
After a lot of agony I have come to the conclusion that I have a duty to make all this public. There are two powerful reasons. The first concerns the future of the Telegraph under the Barclay Brothers… Telegraph readers are intelligent, sensible, well-informed people. They buy the newspaper because they feel that they can trust it. If advertising priorities are allowed to determine editorial judgments, how can readers continue to feel this trust? 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. There is only one word to describe this situation: terrible.
This brings me to a second and even more important point that bears not just on the fate of one newspaper but on public life as a whole. A free press is essential to a healthy democracy. There is a purpose to journalism, and it is not just to entertain. It is not to pander to political power, big corporations and rich men. Newspapers have what amounts in the end to a constitutional duty to tell their readers the truth.
Speaking on the Today programme this morning Oborne added that seeing the lack of coverage in the Telegraph of the recent HSBC swiss banking scandal made him feel sick. He now believes the Telegraph should order an independent review to properly assess the relationship between advertising and editorial. He laid out the key questions for HSBC and the Telegraph:
There’s a stunning revelation in the Guardian today that HSBC put its advertising quote ‘on pause’ last week when negotiations were going on about the Guardian’s investigation into what was going on over in the swiss banking arm. Now, HSBC did the same thing with the Telegraph. There’s a pattern developing here, that when HSBC was being investigated, the advertising dries up. It looks to an outsider very much as if it is using advertising as a tool to suppress free speech. They need to explain why they suspended their advertising in the Guardian last week and in the Telegraph years ago.
If their [the Telegraph’s] editorial judgement is unaffected by advertising, it must explain what editorial judgement it is which has led them to downplay negative stories about HSBC.