LONDON (AP) — The chief political commentator for The Daily Telegraph has resigned over the British newspaper's coverage of the HSBC scandal, alleging Wednesday it was part of an effort to downplay critical coverage of the bank to preserve lucrative advertising contracts.
Peter Oborne accused the newspaper of carrying out a form of "fraud on its readers" by burying coverage of leaks showing that the bank helped wealthy clients evade taxes, which has drawn massive attention from the rest of Britain's media.
"You needed a microscope to find the Telegraph coverage," Osborne said in a commentary explaining his decision. "Nothing on Monday, six slim paragraphs at the bottom left of page two on Tuesday, seven paragraphs deep in the business pages on Wednesday."
The Telegraph countered that the "the distinction between advertising and our award-winning editorial operation has always been fundamental to our business. We utterly refute any allegation to the contrary."
HSBC declined to comment.
The Guardian newspaper, one of the publications that helped break the story on the leaked documents, has alleged that HSBC put its advertising account with the newspaper "on pause" amid discussions over last week's series on the activities of HSBC's Swiss private bank.
"HSBC did the same thing with the Telegraph," Oborne told the BBC. "There's a pattern developing here that when HSBC was being investigated, the advertising dries up."
Oborne alleged that the newspaper avoided critical coverage of HSBC after the bank pulled advertising from the paper following a series of stories in late 2012 on HSBC's branch in Jersey, an island in the English Channel that is often seen as a tax haven.
"This was the pivotal moment. From the start of 2013 onwards stories critical of HSBC were discouraged. HSBC suspended its advertising with the Telegraph," Oborne alleged. "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.' "
The allegations come at a time that many newspapers in Britain and elsewhere are struggling financially amid loss of advertising revenue and competition from Internet platforms.