Peter Osborne was the head political writer at the Telegraph, a rock-ribbed conservative paper owned by the shadowy Barclay brothers; he quit after seeing the paper soft-pedal and downplay scandals involving its major advertisers, and broke his silence once he learned that the paper had squashed stories of illegal tax-avoidance schemes run by HSBC.
Writing in Opendemocracy, Obsorne paints a picture of a newspaper where the owners and editor-in-chief have slashed payroll and refused to allow its investigative and editorial writers to address widely publicized scandals involving the paper's star advertisers, while running long, vacuous pieces about those firms' trivia, such as a story about cat that lives in a Tesco store.
That was how matters stood when, 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.
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. It might sound a pompous thing to say, but I believe the newspaper is a significant part of Britain's civic architecture. It is the most important public voice of civilised, sceptical conservatism.
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. Imagine if the BBC—so often the object of Telegraph attack—had conducted itself in this way. The Telegraph would have been contemptuous. It would have insisted that heads should roll, and rightly so.
Why I have resigned from the Telegraph [Peter Osborne/Opendemocracy]
(Thanks, Sid Ryan!)