Peter Oborne’s decision to quit his role at The Daily Telegraph is in itself noble. The issue centres around the putative conflict of interest between HSBC’s commercial relationship as a major advertiser in The Telegraph and the freedom & integrity of its editorial output or more accurately that insufficient prominence was given to the HSBC scandal story by the paper.
Given that we have all seen the rather unsavoury underbelly of the British media exposed through the Leveson Inquiry and the subsequent internecine fighting over the structure & scope of media regulation, calling into question the integrity of a newspaper may be naïve and somewhat hypocritical (to paraphrase Buck Murdoch from Airplane II ‘hypocrisy can be pretty hypocritical sometimes’).
Most newspapers in this country have some form of affiliation, whether that is political or commercial. This is usually overt and easy to spot, in which case fine – you pays your money and you takes your choice. What Oborne seems to be protesting at is where this is covert and/or suppressed. That or Oborne’s bosses exercised their management prerogative to disagree with his own view.
The issue that Oborne wants to champion is exacerbated where a newspaper not only doesn’t reveal its position but – more importantly – tries to portray a different position. There is a difference between a newspaper not reporting a story in as much detail as an individual may like or another newspaper has done and reporting it inaccurately or making something up, solely to promote the opposing view and/or preserve a significant revenue stream (in the form of a major advertiser).
The fact that the original HSBC client data was stolen by a third party contractor and then hawked around various countries for sale to the highest bidder is ignored in all this because that was absolutely acceptable. After all, Snr Falciani misappropriated these files back in 2007 so this isn’t exactly breaking news. Where we are now though is in the run-up to a general election so one has to be cynical and suggest that it has come – no, been pushed – to the fore again because of its potential value as political capital.
Whilst the media does like to think of itself as judge, jury and executioner, it is up to the relevant authorities in the respective jurisdictions to take the appropriate action. Resigning simply because your employer has not ‘done its part’ in joining the lynch mob suggests a rather ego-centric view. Unless there is a Twitter campaign, a page set up on Facebook and reporters chasing individuals down the road shouting ‘why haven’t you got anything to say to us?’ it seems that the media just isn’t happy anymore. Don’t report the facts – something that doesn’t take up much space – and allow the readers to make an informed, considered decision: no, report your own opinion and then force action, thereby presenting a fait accompli to the readers who don’t even have to think for themselves. The chorus from Depeche Mode’s New Dress hums to mind;
You can’t change the world but you can change the facts,
and when you change the facts you change points of view.
If you change points of view you may change a vote,
and when you change a vote you may change the world.
If you are going to resign on a matter of principle because you don’t approve of a single action by your employer, than you should be prepared to do the same for every other similar action with which you disagree. If not, you are in effect condoning all other moral transgressions because they are not as bad as the one in question. If every employee resigned their role because they didn’t approve of every action of their employer, the unemployment figures would be going south faster than Sherman. To resign because of the action or inaction relating to one advertiser again implies that you condone the activities relating to all other advertisers.
If you are going to throw your toys out of the pram because you feel your efforts haven’t been appreciated or your personal stance on a story hasn’t been reflected by the paper at large, that is of course your choice. If you want to court some controversy – the lifeblood of the internet – to help propel you into a new job, equally fine. Trying to turn personal dissatisfaction into political capital is perhaps misdirection and is at odds with the very principle of a free press. A free press is a good thing. This is different to presenting personal opinion, special interest & lobby groups’ views, commercial and political bias disguised as a free press.