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Wednesday 18 February 2015

Peter Oborne - Last Canary In The Mine

Among all the cynicism, there have always been a few journalists of independent thought with the courage to genuinely speak truth to power, to report without fear or favour, refusing to yield to editorial or proprietorial whim. This set them apart from the placemen, the droids, the crawlers, and others in search of monetary enrichment who had been promoted way beyond their pay grade.
Peter Oborne

Sadly, within the right-leaning part of the press, these individuals have become a scarce commodity of late, and yesterday it was revealed in clear and forthright tones that, at one increasingly troubled title, the last canary had left their mine: Peter Oborne, massively respected across the political spectrum told that he had resigned from the Telegraph after a long struggle with an increasingly out of touch management, and his own conscience.

There was a time when the Telegraph’s journalism commanded respect and could be trusted: news and comment were clearly separated, and even the Guardian reader could comfortably take a Telegraph if their preferred title was unavailable. Not any more: Oborne gives Tony Gallagher great credit, but in reality he infected the paper with the same fact selection and casual dishonesty of the Daily Mail, whence he came.
But it was the censorship imposed over certain subjects that lay at the heart of Oborne’s decision to quit, and especially that over HSBC. While the Guardian led over the bank’s troubles, and other papers and media outlets followed, the Telegraph was for the most part silent. When coverage did appear, it was cursory, almost apologetic. This caving in to one of the paper’s major advertisers Oborne called “a fraud on its readers”.

As far back as April 2010, when the Telegraph carried an HSBC wrap-around specially printed on heavy translucent paper, there was clearly significant advertising revenue being gained from the bank. As to the Tel’s response to Oborne’s resignation, claiming that advertisers do not influence content, this was shown to be false when the Guardian revealed that HSBC had put its advertising “on pause” in an effort to sway coverage.
The Guardian’s David Leigh also knew that the Tel was practising censorship, and said so, noting that when the Tel finally deigned to cover HSBC, they loaded the story to make it look as if it were a failure within HMRC. The paper had also failed to cover the refusal of the Hong Kong authorities to let in a committee of British MPs. The Tel was even cautious in its coverage of the Tesco false accounting story.

As Oborne put it, “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”. He then added a coda which is, sadly, all too true: “It is not only the Telegraph that is at fault here”.

Peter Oborne is right: across most of the Fourth Estate, the idea of a free press is long dead. All too many titles bend to the dictates of owners - few of whom live and pay tax in the UK - or to the tyranny of bullying editors. Journalists routinely sacrifice their ideals on the altar of monetary comfort, writing what they are told, in the style dictated to them, any idea of telling readers the truth having long been abandoned.

What happens when the last canary leaves the mine? You don’t want to go there.


rob said...

"What happens when the last canary leaves the mine?"

Ooooh Miss, I know this one.

There's a bluebird tweeting from Rupert's perch already.

You're right though.

"You don’t want to go there."

Bob said...

Chief political editor to Chief executive:
He had urged MacLennan, in a chance meeting in the queue of mourners at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, not to take the paper’s readers for granted, and said he was told: “You don’t know what you are fucking talking about.”

Andy McDonald said...

Only one small addendum - the vast majority of journalists don't write for financial comfort, but for financial survival.

rob said...

@ Andy

That is almost certainly correct.

But if they only write to order don't they become the proverbial "jobs worth".

And would you say that under "market conditions" the supply (of the work force) is possibly greater than the demand at present leading to attempts to please the editor/owner to maintain that job?