Two days ago, we wrote about the dramatic resignation of The Telegraph's chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, who quit accusing the newspaper of a “fraud on its readers” over its coverage, or rather lack thereof, of the HSBC money-laundering and tax evasion scandals. In a blistering attack on the paper’s management and owners, the Barclays brothers, Sir David and Sir Frederick, Oborne claimed the paper deliberately suppressed stories about the banking group in order to keep its valuable advertising account. He said it was a “most sinister development” at the paper, where he claimed the traditional distinction between the advertising and editorial department had collapsed."
Owners of the Daily Telegraph, Frederick and David Barclay
Oborne claimed that HSBC had suspended its advertising with the Telegraph after it ran an investigation in November 2012 based on leaked details of personal accounts held with HSBC in Jersey. He also claims that reporters were ordered to destroy all emails, reports and documents related to the HSBC investigation. “This was the pivotal moment,” Oborne wrote.
A few hours ago, The Telegraph responded with its own blistering retort, saying that it "makes no apology for the way in which it has covered the HSBC group and the allegations of wrongdoing by its Swiss subsidiary." It then promptly changes the topic and deviates away from the facts with what is an ideological ad hominem against those who cast the "allegations that have been so enthusiastically promoted by the BBC, the Guardian and their ideological soulmates in the Labour Party."
The Telegraph continues:
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.
It gets better as the editorial author is eager to engage in a flame war with its biggest competitors thereby once again diverting from the topic at hand:
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.
And the dramatic crescendo of the conclusion:
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.
A profit... and perhaps the occasional loan from a conflicted party in question.
Because the ink had not even dried on the emotional monologue, when none other than the abovementioned Guardian "cushioned from commercial reality by a generously-endowed charitable trust" or whatever, appears to have discovered the reason for the Telegraph's editorial intervention on the topic. In "Telegraph owners' £250m HSBC loan raises fresh questions over coverage", we learn that "the owners of the Daily Telegraph secured a £250m loan from HSBC for a struggling corner of their business empire shortly before the newspaper’s reporters were allegedly “discouraged” from running articles critical of the bank, the Guardian has learned."
As they say: "Oops."
Where this is headed is clear from the onset: "The timing of the loan deal for Yodel, a loss-making parcel delivery firm owned by the Barclay brothers, raises fresh questions over the influence of commercial considerations on the Telegraph’s editorial coverage of HSBC. The deal was completed on 14 December 2012, company documents show. The paper’s former chief political commentator Peter Oborne alleged this week that there was a sea-change in its editorial treatment of the bank from early 2013. "
The documents show that Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay had to formally give a personal financial guarantee as additional security for the loan facility.
Yodel refinanced in mid-December 2012 with Europe’s biggest bank. As security, the bank took a charge over almost all the Yodel business - meaning the bank could take control of the parcel delivery group should the latter breach its borrowing commitments.
The new HSBC loan was used to repay previous borrowings from Lloyds Banking Group. The Yodel business made a loss of £112m for the year to 30 June 2013. Yodel filings show an outstanding amount of £242m was due on the HSBC loan at the end of June 2013 and there are no filings since then suggesting the debt has been repaid.
When the Barclay family was contacted by the Guardian, declined to comment on the loan, but a source close to the family dismissed suggestions that the Telegraph’s coverage could have been influenced by a loan from HSBC. The source also pointed out that the family’s businesses had borrowings with many other banks.
Which begs the question: how many of those "other banks" also advertise on the Telegraph, and how many "world-class journalism" exposes on said banks which the Telegraph's readers "expect and deserve" have been provided in the area of digital publishing, an area whose, as the Telegraph op-ed noted, "journalistic and commercial importance can only grow." Well, maybe if not journalistic then certainly commercial.
That said, the Telegraph was spot on about one thing: it is "an age of cheap populism and corrosive cynicism about wealth-creating businesses."