British newspaper The Daily Telegraph has been thrust into unwanted spotlight this week after its top political commentator Peter Oborne dramatically quit, leaving behind a damaging critique of the newspaper’s alleged willingness to bend to key advertisers – particularly HSBC – and opt not publish negative stories about them.
Since that initial Oborne post on the Open Democracy website, a BBC Newsnight investigation and trade industry title Press Gazette have reported other Telegraph staff backing up Oborne’s claims that the newspaper has long allowed its commercial division to have an influence over editorial.
On Thursday, the newspaper’s director of content Chris Evans sent an email to staff, acknowledging a “difficult week.” It also includes the leader column, due to be printed in the newspaper on Friday (but already posted online here), defending the newspaper against its recent criticisms (and throwing a few pop shots at rivals including The BBC, The Guardian, and The Times along the way). The leader carries no byline.
Here is the email sent from Chris Evans to The Daily Telegraph staff in full:
I know it’s been a difficult week for many of you. I want to share with you all tomorrow’s leader which will be published tonight. It sets out our position but also makes clear our commitment to quality journalism.
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, allegations that have been so enthusiastically promoted by the BBC, the Guardian and their ideological soulmates in the Labour Party. We have covered this matter as we do all others, according to our editorial judgment and informed by our values. Foremost among those values is a belief in free enterprise and free markets.
We are proud to be the champion of British business and enterprise. In an age of cheap populism and corrosive cynicism about wealth-creating businesses, we have defended British industries including the financial services industry that accounts for almost a tenth of the UK economy, sustains two million jobs and provides around one in every eight pounds the Exchequer raises in tax.
We will take no lectures about journalism from the likes of the BBC, the Guardian or the Times. Those media outlets that are this week sniping about our coverage of HSBC were similarly dismissive in 2009 when we began to reveal details of MPs’ expenses claims, a fact that speaks volumes about their judgment and partiality.
Our support for Britain’s financial services has never blinded us to the failings of the industry. In 2012, we revealed that HSBC was at the centre of a major HM Revenue and Customs investigation after it opened offshore accounts in Jersey for criminals living in this country. Many of the media outlets that are today so excited about HSBC’s conduct showed remarkably little interest in those revelations at the time.
By contrast, they have seized with almost indecent glee on the latest allegations — even though many of those allegations are almost a decade old and in many instances have been reported and explored before. We believe we are not alone in our suspicion that those outlets have given this issue such prominence partly because of their deep-seated hostility to business and partly with the intention of doing political harm to the current government and the Conservative Party in particular.
As we have reported extensively, Ed Miliband has missed no opportunity to use this case as a weapon against the Conservatives and their supporters, an attack that he has broadened to take in anyone who takes perfectly legitimate and legal measures to reduce their tax bills.
For the avoidance of any doubt, we have no regard for the opinions of rival media organisations. None is the paragon of moral or journalistic virtue that their criticisms this week might suggest. All have their own self-serving agendas, both political and commercial.
However, we care profoundly about our readers. There is indeed a bond of trust between a newspaper such as The Daily Telegraph and its readers. We take that bond very seriously indeed.
So today we restate one of the fundamental principles that will always underpin our work. No subject, no story, no person and no organisation is off-limits to our journalists. They will follow the facts without fear or favour and present the results of their work to you solely on their journalistic merits, according to their sound editorial judgment and no other consideration. That is the process that revealed the MPs’ expenses scandal, the allegations against HSBC in Jersey and countless other stories of the greatest public interest. That is how we will continue to serve our readers.
Given the importance we attach to that bond with our readers, we are today going further. We are drawing up guidelines that will define clearly and openly how our editorial and commercial staff will co-operate in an increasingly competitive media industry, particularly in digital publishing, an area whose journalistic and commercial importance can only grow.
We believe that this step makes us different from our rivals in the British media industry. Or rather, even more different. For The Daily Telegraph and its owner, Telegraph Media Group, are significantly unlike other media organisations involved in this debate. Unlike the BBC, we receive no support from taxpayers. Unlike the Guardian, we are not cushioned from commercial reality by a generously-endowed charitable trust. Unlike the Times, we receive no subsidy from tabloid stablemates. Unlike all three of those, we must generate a profit in order to remain in business and provide our readers with the world-class journalism they expect and deserve. Despite the ever-growing pressures on the media industry, we do produce that profit and, as a direct result, that journalism.
We are proud to do that which our critics cannot or will not do: to combine journalistic excellence with commercial success. We do so for you, our readers. We will continue to do so.
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