Assault on democracy: big banks controlling ‘journalists’

Peter Oborne is a proper journalist. He is the former chief political commentator of the Telegraph and reports for Channel 4’s Dispatches and Unreported World. He has written a number of books identifying the power structures that lurk behind political discourse, including The Triumph of the Political Class. He is a regular on BBC programmes, Any Questions and Question Time, and often presents Week in Westminster. He was voted Columnist of the Year at the Press Awards in 2013. He recently resigned from his position at the Telegraph, and yesterday went public to explain why.

Everyone who values democracy, fairness and civil society has to care that big banks have hijacked once trusted media outlets, both through ad revenue and outright ownership, and have been merrily spinning the content to serve their own best, and often illegal, interests.  See Oborne’s whole important article, Why I have resigned from the Telegraph:

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.

This brings me to a second and even more important point that bears not just on the fate of one newspaper but on public life as a whole. 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.

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…

From the start of 2013 onwards stories critical of HSBC were discouraged. HSBC suspended its advertising with the Telegraph. Its account, I have been told by an extremely well informed insider, was extremely valuable. HSBC, as one former Telegraph executive told me, is “the advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend”.

As you consume media from whatever platforms you do, it is critical to pay very close attention to who is sponsoring and advertising on the source. In most cases today, those same sponsors are heavily shaping the message. Responsible, independent journalism has been increasingly driven out of media. Just as the financial advice market has been mostly hijacked by the financial sales crowd. The outcome is predictably disastrous and a main reason why pensions, governments and individuals are massively underfunded and facing financial peril today.

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