The Daily Telegraph has rejected suggestions it held back comments made to its reporters about Rupert Murdoch by Vince Cable for commercial reasons.
A spokesman for the paper dismissed the claim as ‘utter nonsense’adding that an editorial decision had been taken to instead focus on the business secretary’s comments about the Coalition as they were ‘of wider interest to our readers”.
The Telegraph published details yesterday of how the business secretary told its reporters he had ‘declared war on Rupert Murdoch’only after the BBC business editor Robert Peston made the comments public.
The paper’s decision to leave out Cable’s comments about Murdoch from an earlier story detailing remarks made about the Coalition led to the suggestion that commercial factors had been at play. The Telegraph also left the comments off a transcript of the interview which it published online yesterday morning.
Peston blogged yesterday afternoon that he had been passed a full transcript of a clandestine recording taken during a surgery in Cable’s Twickenham constituency by a whistleblower ‘who is upset that the Telegraph chose to omit these remarks”.
Telegraph Media Group, which is wholly owned by the Barclay Brothers, had been spearheading an unprecedented alliance of seven leading media businesses against News Corp‘s plan to take control of the 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not already own.
TMG – and other media organisations – may have been in a position to benefit should News Corp’s deal run into difficulty over media plurality issues.
Cable, who had the power to veto the deal on media plurality grounds, indicated to the paper’s reporters he would seek to block the BSkyB deal. However, publication of his comments had the reverse effect as the decision was taken out of his hands and passed to the Tory-controlled Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
A spokesman for The Daily Telegraph said: ‘It is utter nonsense to suggest that The Daily Telegraph did not publish the comments from Vince Cable on the Rupert Murdoch takeover of BSkyB for commercial reasons.
‘It was an editorial decision to focus this morning on Cable’s comments on the Coalition because they were of wider interest to our readers.
‘We have made it clear, in the paper, online and in broadcast interviews today, that we would be publishing further comments in the forthcoming days.
‘In the event, the story was put on the Telegraph website shortly after 3pm this afternoon.”
The actions of the Telegraph reporters, who went undercover posing as constituents, also raised a number of ethical questions – specifically whether they infringed parliamentary privilege and whether they were right to use subterfuge to report on a private conversation.
Ivor Gaber, City University professor of political journalism, said: “There are serious issues of journalism ethics raised by the Telegraph’s conduct.
“First, was it justifiable to use subterfuge against Cable when there was, and is, no evidence of wrongdoing?
“And second, was it right to miss out undoubtedly the most important part of the story because it could, potentially, adversely affect the Telegraph’s business interests?
“This development could also potentially seriously damage MPs preparedness to talk with their constituents, for fear that they might be secretly recorded. Who gains?
“Certainly not the constituents who will now be fobbed off and probably only get to meet with MPs’ staff. Likewise, MPs will increasinly loose touch with ‘real people’.”