Newspaper headlines: HSBC grilling, and a Helmand hero

The appearance of two of banking giant HSBC's top executives before MP leads many papers to comment on banking, tax avoidance - and precisely what constitutes a "fat cat".

Chief executive Stuart Gulliver, and chairman Douglas Flint faced questions from the Treasury select committee about the activities of the group's Swiss bank, which has been accused of encouraging wealthy customers to dodge tax.

Image copyright Reuters

The Guardian leads on the story, highlighting Mr Flint's admission that he felt "very ashamed" of what went on at the Swiss bank, but denied any personal culpability.

The paper says anger at the banking group stretched to more than just the Swiss subsidiary's activities, but included "interest rate derivative selling, Libor manipulation, Eurobor manipulation, mis-selling mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Forex rigging, weakness in money laundering, credit default swaps and rigging precious metals", according to the committee's chairman.

Mr Gulliver was quizzed about his personal tax arrangements, which saw his salary paid in Hong Kong before being transferred to a Panamanian bank.

He told the MPs he made no tax benefit from this arrangement, the Guardian reports, but admitted: "I can understand how people find these kind of arrangements unusual and rather strange."

The paper's sketch writer John Crace characterises the Parliamentary appearance as "Gulliver's travails".

He says the bank head kept "an expression as opaque as his tax affairs" while facing a grilling from irate MPs.

Crace says Mr Flint was less reserved, telling his inquisitors , "You know what's the scandal here? It's that all our data was stolen."

The paper notes that this assertion made Labour MP John Mann counter: "You mean that the whistleblower who handed over the tax files was in the wrong?"

The Times highlights that Mr Gulliver enjoys "non-dom" status in Britain, avoiding most personal taxation here, despite having lived in the country for more than a decade and having had his children educated here.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Douglas Flint arriving at Parliament

The paper adds that a separate committee questioned the role of the recently appointed head of the BBC Trust in the scandal.

The Trust was told to "look at" Rona Fairhead's role in HSBC, by Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the public accounts committee.

The Times notes she sat on the HSBC board for more than a decade.

The Daily Mirror's editorial brands Mr Flint and Mr Gulliver "fat cats" and says, "the more we see bankers grilled by MPs... the less confidence we have in banks to make the right decisions for customers, businesses and taxpayers."

The Financial Times editorial says Mr Gulliver had "failed to explain convincingly" his Panama banking arrangements, and Mr Flint had dodged questions about how personally accountable individual executives should be for failures at a bank.

In a feature, columnist John Grapper suggests many of HSBC's problems dated to the period between 1998 and 2006, when it expanded rapidly and almost trebled its workforce.


Behemoth

Another committee's report into an institution is Thursday's other major broadsheet story.

The culture committee's report, the Future of the BBC, criticises aspects of the corporation's governance and spending, and suggests the licence fee is replaced by a household levy.

Image caption The BBC's Broadcasting House headquarters

With many papers considering themselves commercial rivals of the broadcaster, there is no shortage of comment.

The Daily Mail says the BBC was "mauled" in the report, which it says painted the organisation as "profligate and inept".

Its editorial says the report was MPs "final warning to a bloated behemoth".

"In devastating language, they highlight the broadcaster's vices, whether its wildly over-generous pay-offs and allowances, its practice of crushing media plurality by crowding out commercial providers or its titanic incompetence in wasting hundreds of millions on vanity projects," the paper says.

"The case for a radically slimmed-down BBC, concentrating on what it does best, is now unanswerable," it concludes.

The Daily Telegraph's opinion column says the "German-style broadcasting levy" proposed by the committee as a replacement for the licence fee "does not on the face of it look like a sensible alternative".

The paper thinks a "subscription model" is a "better way forward", adding that the BBC "uses its position to sustain an online news operation that competes with undermines commercial news media organisations".

The Sun says the report was a "pathetic whitewash" which would impose a "TV poll tax".

It accuses the corporation of a "pro-Labour" bias and says the issue is not addressed because of the political make-up of the culture committee.

Image caption Rod Liddle was editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme from 1998 to 2002

The paper's Rod Liddle, a former editor in the BBC, writes that while "the BBC is great", he also has some major reservations.

He writes that he thinks the BBC is "cringingly political correct"; "hates the working class"; "has too many useless middle managers"; "spends money chasing ratings"; "spends money like there is no tomorrow"; puts adverts for its own programmes on constantly; pays its stars too much and ignores things it does well, like local radio and children's TV.

Jane Martinson, the Guardian's head of media, says the report was "the starting gun in the [licence fee] charter battle".

She says that although "Daily Mail headlines" suggested "a death knell for the licence fee" was imminent, the fact is a committee "headed by a Thatcherite" decided that it would be hard to change the existing arrangements until the next decade.

Martinson adds that a household levy as suggested by the committee "makes more sense" than a television licence.

But she says the most important conclusion of the report is that the "public service broadcasting delivered by the BBC and reaching 96% of the British population should be paid for by a universal tax".


'Another bloke'

The award of a Victoria Cross to a 27-year-old paratrooper gets much newspaper coverage.

L/Cpl Joshua Leakey's award, only the 15th VC since the end of World War Two, was for valour in Helmand province, Afghanistan, in 2013.

He is the only soldier to personally receive the military's highest honour for service in the recent Afghanistan campaign; two other VCs were awarded posthumously.

Image copyright PA
Image caption L/Cpl Leakey was praised by the Chief of General Staff, Gen Sir Nicholas Carter

The Daily Telegraph says L/Cpl Leakey single-handedly turned the tide of a Taliban attack and rescued two machine-gun teams who were pinned down by heavy fire.

The paratrooper said the only thing he was scared of in the battle was letting the regiment down. "That's why I joined the army, to be a paratrooper" he is quoted as saying.

The Sun is one of many papers that note that L/Cpl Leakey is not the only member of his family to win a VC: a distant cousin, Sgt Nigel Leakey, received the medal posthumously, fighting against Italian forces in Ethiopia in 1941.

The paper notes L/Cpl Leakey is from a military family: his father is an RAF wing commander and his first cousin, Lt Gen Sir David Leakey, is Parliament's Black Rod.

The Times says the paratrooper, who is from Hampshire, takes a modest view of his achievement.

"It is very flattering that people would think I am worthy of this. I am humbled by it.

"It's a little bit of feeling... why me? I am just another bloke who was on another patrol in Afghanistan."


Flamethrowers

Wednesday's big entertainment story was the Brit awards and the big story within that big story was Madonna's tumble from the stage during an elaborately choreographed musical number.

The Daily Mirror says she looked a "Ma-gonna" after apparently being yanked off the stage by a lengthy cape which was meant to come unfastened when her male dancers - inexplicably dressed as goats - tugged at it.

But the paper says the singer, 56, was unhurt and proved herself "the ultimate pro" by continuing to belt out her new single Living for Love.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Madonna: midway through her bruising entanglement with a cape and a dancing goat-man

The Mirror notes its final line is "lifted me up, and watched me stumble. After the heartache I'm gonna carry on."

The Independent says that apart from the "epic stumble" the rest of the evening "passed off with predictable smoothness with Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith scooping the biggest awards".

"Sheeran's rise from pub backroom singer to multiple Wembley Stadium headliner was confirmed when the Suffolk strummer took the British Male and Best Album awards," it adds.

The Times says the Brits took "a walk on the mild side" with "inoffensive singer-songwriters" dominating proceedings.

Bucking this trend, in a very major way, was rapper Kanye West who - according to the Daily Star - "exploded on stage" with a "performance TV viewers hardly heard".

The lack of hearing was because "nervous TV bosses" muted his "expletive-strewn" song All Day, 13 times.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Kanye West, complete with his posse and one of his flamethrowers

West performed flanked by what looked like a gang of ageing hoodies and two men firing flamethrowers at the ceiling.

Music critic Alex Petridis argues in the Guardian that "the Brits don't matter".

"Twenty-six years after they changed their name from BPI awards, the Brits still carry no weight at all, not even of the millstone-around-the-neck variety sometimes associated with the Mercury prize.

"If you wanted to set a particularly tricky round in a pub quiz, you could fill it with questions about Brit winners of years past.

"If the ceremony proved anything, it was that the Brit awards themselves are substantially less interesting than watching someone fall over."

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