Thursday 23 December 2010

Vince Cablegate: 'Betrayal at the Daily Telegraph'

Ian Burrell in the Independent today, commenting on how the Telegraph's scoop that Business Secretary Vince Cable had "declared war on Murdoch" ended up being broken by the BBC, says at the paper: "The overwhelming sense was one of betrayal."

He writes: "A small hand-picked team had pulled off a coup, only for a treacherous colleague to carry their doubloons to a rival. Telegraph sources were adamant that the Cable recording had not been allowed to leave the building.

"Having distinguished itself with its tightly-managed operation to reveal the expenses details of MPs – in spite of attempts by rival media organisations to prise the story away – the Telegraph thought it had honed its approach to such big stories. In fact, the team handling the undercover stings on a series of Liberal Democrat politicians was much smaller than that deployed on MPs’ expenses, and the information gleaned was deliberately withheld from the news lists circulated among the paper’s executives.

"Telegraph sources were adamant that Peston’s “whistleblower” could be nothing of the sort, because he or she would have not been included in discussions on how the paper would use Mr Cable’s sensational comments that he had “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch’s media empire."

Burrell also says there are concerns about the undercover methods used by the Telegraph. "The Press Complaints Commission, which has previously stated that subterfuge cannot be used as a fishing exercise but only when investigating a prima facie case in the public interest, said last night that it has received a handful of complaints about the reporting from the public but none from the MPs themselves."

Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford has a conspiracy theory on his blog about how the Cable quote got into the hands of the BBC's Robert Peston: "One intriguing theory put to me by a well-placed source is that the Telegraph high-ups themselves were behind the leak to Peston.

"My understanding is that there is no sign of a major mole-hunt going at the Telegraph, and some insiders wonder why any journalist would want to scupper their career by giving the story to Peston?

"The theory goes that the Telegraph-owning Barclay brothers have changed their mind and now back a full News Corp BSkyB merger – because the signs are that if such a deal took place, Murdoch would have to sell off some of his newspaper assets. A less powerful Murdoch in the newspaper market would be great news for the other major newspaper proprietors.

"Thus it might have suited them for Peston to wield the knife and publish the comments which have led to Vince Cable being demoted, lest the fingerprints were traced back to them when it came to bidding for some former Murdoch assets further down the line."

MediaGuardian commentator Roy Greenslade has come out against the conspiracy theories. He writes today: "Though TMG [Telegraph Media Group] is part of the group fighting against Murdoch's move, Gallagher [Telegraph editor] has given the story little space, if any, outside the business pages.

"So, when it came to deciding on how to run the story that emerged from his reporters' sting on Cable, he saw Cable's comment on Murdoch as a secondary issue.

"For him, the fact that Cable had threatened to pull down the coalition if pushed too far was THE story.

"The intention, therefore, was to run the Murdoch comments on the second day. You could call this a cock-up rather than a conspiracy."

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