THE chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph, Peter Oborne, who resigned from the newspaper on Tuesday, yesterday called for an independent review of the newspaper’s guidelines over its coverage of the HSBC tax scandal.
Oborne claimed prominence was not given to the HSBC story because of commercial interests.
In a lengthy statement published on the OpenDemocracy website on Tuesday, Oborne wrote: ‘Late last year I set to work on a story about the international banking giant HSBC.
‘Well-known British Muslims had received letters out of the blue from HSBC informing them that their accounts had been closed.
‘No reason was given, and it was made plain that there was no possibility of appeal. “It’s like having your water cut off,” one victim told me.
‘When I submitted it for publication on the Telegraph website, I was at first told there would be no problem. When it was not published I made enquiries. I was fobbed off with excuses, then told there was a legal problem.
‘When I asked the legal department, the lawyers were unaware of any difficulty. When I pushed the point, an executive took me aside and said that “there is a bit of an issue” with HSBC …
‘On Monday of last week, BBC Panorama ran its story about HSBC and its Swiss banking arm, alleging a wide-scale tax evasion scheme, while the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published their “HSBC files”.
‘All newspapers realised at once that this was a major event. The FT splashed on it for two days in a row, while the Times and the Mail gave it solid coverage spread over several pages.
‘You needed a microscope to find the Telegraph coverage: nothing on Monday, six slim paragraphs at the bottom left of page two on Tuesday, seven paragraphs deep in the business pages on Wednesday.
‘The Telegraph’s reporting only looked up when the story turned into claims that there might be questions about the tax affairs of people connected to the Labour party …
‘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 …
‘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 …
‘Would Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have been much more energetic in its own recent investigations into wide-scale tax avoidance, had the Telegraph continued to hold HSBC to account after its 2012 investigation?
‘There are great issues here. They go to the heart of our democracy, and can no longer be ignored.’