Oborne, honour and HSBC

The wires and waves are full of the story of Peter Oborne’s resignation from the Daily Telegraph.

I admire his integrity; he will find work, but whether he ever again finds such work is moot: not because he will not be in demand, but because the economics of news and comment is dramatically changing. That change is part of the problem with the Telegraph.

Oborne’s tremendous departing salvo is published on Open Democracy; if you haven’t read it, do so.  Paraphrasing, it is clear that he  regrets the passing of integrity in news journalism and exposes particularly egregious changes under the current management. Regrettable though they are, I think these changes are inevitable. The economics of online are different. Today, evidence of the Telegraph’s fall is clear to see; that its magnificent coverage of the MPs expenses was its swansong. The Times fell decades ago. The Mail has succeeded online only by peddling as click-bait soft porn and celebrity tittle-tattle.  The BBC lost its edge after the Hutton report; it has not since dared challenge government policy outside the Radio Four evening comedy slot. The Guardian is struggling, hoping that its membership scheme will help maintain its independence – pursuing a business model not unlike that adopted by Open Democracy.

But the Oborne story is important too in that it reveals even more of the disgraceful behaviour running through what was once a highly respected bank.

I suspect that certain residents of the island of Brecqhou have been making use of HSBC’s offshore banking services, provided on an island mere minutes by helicopter from their home, the reporting of which had been pulled from the Telegraph in 2012 and which started the train of events leading to Oborne’s resignation.  Of course I have no evidence; it is mere conjecture. And I am quite sure that nothing that the said islanders have been doing is in any way unlawful. After all they are quite rich enough to be able to afford the lawyers and advisers whose deft touch is enough to turn evasion into avoidance.  That is  in addition to the clear and disgraceful breach of editorial ethics over the paper’s reporting of HSBC.

The values that Oborne cherishes have been eroded at every level of the British establishment.  In the management of banks, in the administration of government departments and major companies, and particularly in the City of London. It is futile to try to repair the damage; the world has moved on – but there is an alternative. That alternative is transparency. That means that we should be able to see how the different trusts and companies that link the Telegraph to the Barclays and their other business interests are operated, where and how the money flows, and what tax is paid on it.


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