By John Donovan
The Sunday Times has today published a whole page news story under the headline:
“READ ALL ABOUT IT”
The article is focused on sensational allegations by Peter Oborne, who has just resigned as the Chief Political Commentator of The Daily Telegraph.
The Sunday Times is understandably delighted to have a poke at one of its rivals, but is it being hypocritical?
Peter Oborne departed on the claimed grounds that the Telegraph has deliberately suppressed news coverage about the HSBC scandal because of concern that it might lose HSBC advertising revenue. The Swiss subsidiary of HSBC has admitted assisting wealthy clients to evade taxes and hide assets.
Oborne alleges that the Telegraph put the interests of its advertising client HSBC, above its duty to report the news. He described the alleged act as a “form of fraud on its readers”.
The Sunday Times says “The Telegraph is accused of kowtowing to advertisers. Has it gone too far…”
This story takes me back to 30 January 2007 when I received an email from a Sunday Times journalist, Steven Swinford, who is now Senior Political Correspondent for The Telegraph.
I saw the piece in Prospect and would love to do a piece with you and your father for The Sunday Times news section. Could you drop me an email with your contact details or give me a call…
The Sunday Times
He drafted a half page article about my involvement in the Sakhalin2 affair, which he described as the “ultimate revenge” costing Shell £11 billion. The article contained quotes from the so-called Kremlin Attack Dog, Oleg Mitvol, who confirmed my key role in Shell losing its controlling stake in the huge project. Mitvol made some very blunt newsworthy comments to Steven Swinford about Shell management.
The £11 billion figure was based on a Shell admission reported in an FT article that the change of ownership of Sakhalin2 had resulted in a loss of 400,000 boe from its reserves (calculated at $56 dollars per barrel). In fact the loss was much greater when other factors were taken into account.
At 11am on the Saturday morning, 3 February, before intended publication the following day, I received a phone call from Steven Swinford. He read out the entire article to check on accuracy, particularly in respect of quotes attributed to me.
He went on to say that the paper would be printed that afternoon. So it seemed certain the article would be published.
However, there was no article in the Sunday Times the following day and no credible explanation for non-publication.
Naturally I speculated whether the influence of Shell had played some part in the cancelling of the story.
A few weekends later a major full colour advertising feature was published in The Sunday Times focused on the “partnership” between Ferrari and Shell.
That heightened my suspicion.
We decided to make a SAR application to Shell under the Data Protection Act. Shell was legally compelled to supply internal emails in which our name appeared.
It included Shell internal correspondence expressing a desire to kill the Sunday Times story.
Sent: 02 February 2007: 16.27
Subject: Donovan – Sunday Times
This is a heads up. I understand from the Group media office that the Sunday Times has picked up the Sakhalin/drilling leaked e-mail story from Donovan’s website.
They are responding with agree Qs and As that have been used previously with the Guardian, but are first trying to kill the story by pointing out that it is old news – slim chance that this will work. They will not comment on Donovan or the website of course.
If I get more detail from them I will forward it.
The fact of the matter is that The Sunday Times story was killed at the last minute. Not a single word was published, even though a significant amount of time had been invested by Steven Swinford, not only in his discussions with me, but in tracking down and interviewing Oleg Mitvol.
The Sunday Times did publish a half page article two and a half years later, but it was not focussed on the Shell Sakhalin2 debacle.