LONDON: One of Britain's most prolific columnists has resigned as the chief political commentator for The Daily Telegraph, alleging that the newspaper buckled under management pressure to block coverage of the HSBC tax scandal.
Peter Oborne accused the leading daily of "fraud on the readers" by deliberately suppressing stories about the banking giant and called for an independent review of the newspaper's guidelines over its coverage of a series of revelations surrounding HSBC's Swiss banking arm in the last few days.
"There are great issues here. They go to the heart of our democracy, and can no longer be ignored," he said in an article on the 'Open Democracy' website.
He specifically referred to a BBC Panorama investigation into HSBC aired last week which was "hardly mentioned" in the 'Telegraph' compared to other papers where it got "enormous play".
He told the BBC: "The 'Telegraph' must now call an independent review."
"It can't be done by the chief executive, he has been running the show, we need an independent outsider to come in and do a full assessment of the relationship between advertising and editorial.
"A fraud is being perpetrated on 'Telegraph' readers who buy the paper expecting to get the news and instead get something that gives the impression it is vetted by the advertising department," he said.
Oborne, also associate editor of 'Spectator', alleged the paper had discouraged stories critical of HSBC since the start of 2013, when the bank suspended its advertising with the paper following a Telegraph investigation into accounts held with HSBC in Jersey.
He said a former executive from the newspaper had told him that HSBC was "the advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend."
The Telegraph in a statement countered the allegations, saying "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."
It added: "We utterly refute any allegation to the contrary. It is a matter of huge regret that Peter Oborne, for nearly five years a contributor to the Telegraph, should have launched such an astonishing and unfounded attack, full of inaccuracy and innuendo, on his own paper."
A joint investigation into HSBC by the Guardian, the BBC, Le Monde and other media outlets had revealed earlier this month that its Swiss banking arm had helped wealthy customers dodge taxes and conceal millions of dollars of assets.
"Before the latest HSBC revelations were published, and while discussions were continuing over the material, the bank put its advertising with the Guardian's parent company, Guardian News and Media, 'on pause'," the Guardian claimed in a report today.