04March2015

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'Corrosive, Shallow, Herd-Like And Gross' - Peter Oborne And The Corporate Media

 

Last week, Peter Oborne resigned as chief political commentator at the Telegraph, writing:

'The Telegraph's recent coverage of HSBC amounts to a form of fraud on its readers.'

And yet Oborne is no radical. He describes how, five years ago, he was invited to join the newspaper:

'It was a job I was very proud to accept. The Telegraph has long been the most important conservative-leaning newspaper in Britain, admired as much for its integrity as for its superb news coverage.'

Our perception is very different. Whenever we have researched media reaction to the West's numerous wars, bombing campaigns and other 'interventions', the Telegraph's position has been wearily predictable. We know, even before we fire up the Lexis newspaper search engine, what the Telegraph's response will be to government claims that 'we' need to 'intervene' in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq (again). See here.

Worse still, the Telegraph has the ugliest record of all UK media on arguably the most important issue of our time – the business-led suppression of the truth of imminent climate disaster. Research on climate scepticism published in the journal Environmental Communication found:

'The Express and the Telegraph accounted for over half the articles with skeptical voices within them (43 out of 79)... the Telegraph had the highest presence of skeptical voices of any newspaper at 13%.'

Oborne, by contrast, perceives 'a formidable tradition of political commentary' in a newspaper that 'is confident of its own values'. The Telegraph explains:

'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.'

This leaves Oborne's view far behind, taking us closer to US journalist Glenn Greenwald's description of the UK media as 'corrosive, shallow, herd-like and gross'.

Oborne began his criticism of the Telegraph by lambasting the publishing of a story, known to be false, about 'a woman with three breasts', included because it would boost 'the number of online visits'. But he went far beyond the problem of silly 'churnalism':

'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.'

Specifically:

'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.'

Oborne added:

'From the start of 2013 onwards stories critical of HSBC were discouraged. HSBC suspended its advertising with the Telegraph... HSBC, as one former Telegraph executive told me, is "the advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend".'

And so, naturally enough:

'Winning back the HSBC advertising account became an urgent priority. It was eventually restored after approximately 12 months. Executives say that [Telegraph Media Group CEO] Murdoch MacLennan was determined not to allow any criticism of the international bank. "He would express concern about headlines even on minor stories," says one former Telegraph journalist. "Anything that mentioned money-laundering was just banned, even though the bank was on a final warning from the US authorities. This interference was happening on an industrial scale."'

Crucially, Oborne made 'a second and even more important point that bears not just on the fate of one newspaper but on public life as a whole':

'It is not only the Telegraph that is at fault here. The past few years have seen the rise of shadowy executives who determine what truths can and what truths can't be conveyed across the mainstream media.'

As we will see, this 'second and even more important point' has been almost completely ignored by journalists commenting on Oborne's resignation.

Read more: 'Corrosive, Shallow, Herd-Like And Gross' - Peter Oborne And The Corporate Media

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