Examination of Witnesses (Questions 89-99)|
25 MARCH 2004
Q89 Chairman: Good morning, everybody.
Welcome to our witness this morning, Paul Dacre, editor of the
Daily Mail. Would you introduce your colleagues, please?
Mr Dacre: Robin Esser, the executive
managing editor, and Eddy Young, one of our senior lawyers.
Q90 Chairman: As you will know, the purpose
of this session is that this committee has a longstanding interest
in issues of accountability in government and has taken various
initiatives over the years on that. It has also been concerned
with the integrity of government communications and it recommended
in the wake of the Jo Moore business, which I am sure you will
remember, that there should be a radical external review of government
communications which is called the Phillis review, and it is arising
out of that and the issues identified that we are taking some
evidence and that is why we have asked you here. We are delighted
you are able to come. Would you like to make an opening statement,
or for us to kick off with our questions?
Mr Dacre: I am very happy just
to answer your questions.
Q91 Chairman: Thank you. Can I take us
back to the report that this Committee issued which called for
the establishment of a review of government communications in
the wake of the Jo Moore affair, a report that we called "These
Unfortunate Events", just to the final paragraph which
says: "We offer one final comment. The issue of spin has
dogged the life of this government. There is a terrible predictability
about the fact that the events discussed here arose in the area
of news management and involved a special adviser employed for
this purpose. Yet this is part of a wider picture in which sections
of the media engage in systematic spin and news management of
their own. The result of this mutual spinning war is immensely
damaging to public life and to trust in the political process.
The remedy is a simple one: Government should play it straight,
and the media should play it fair". Is that an analysis that
you would share and a proposition that you would subscribe to?
Mr Dacre: Not totally, no. I think
you have to set this thing in an overall context. The Daily
Mail is a conservative newspaper; it is one of 10 national
newspapers in a country of immense diversification of news; we
are very lucky in that sense. The Daily Mail has always
been conservative and readers who buy it and whom it represents
are obviously of a conservative mindset. It is the job of a national
newspaper to be hostile and aggressive in an atmosphere where
politicians often misrepresent things. I just need to clear my
mindI am sorry, you have caught me slightly off balance.
Originally when the Labour government came into power, the Daily
Mail was not unsympathetic to the government. We then saw
systematic evidence of a spin machine that misrepresented truth,
that manipulated the media, and in those years were very successful
in doing that, but the more they did that the more arose a suspicion
in newspapers that they were being used by the Labour spin machine
and its apotheosis was the very sad day of the Jo Moore affair,
so if the Daily Mail as a right wing newspaper overreacted
to that, was in turn cynical about the government's press manipulation,
you have to place it very firmly in that context.
Q92 Chairman: So rather in the way that
Alastair Campbell now goes around saying, "We could have
done things better and differently," you are saying, "We
could have done things better and differently"?
Mr Dacre: I think the press has
lessons to learn and I think Alastair Campbell's departure has
drained quite a lot of the poison from the No.10 media operation.
It might be helpful if I just read something out to you, if I
may: "As for the cancer of spin, I think we are in remission
but it has been very damaging. I am amazed that Alastair Campbell
tours the nation, spitting bile at journalists and journalism
generally without in any way being able to comprehend that if
anyone poisoned this well, it was him. In any political environment
in the modern world, you will have professionals trying to put
across the best of the government in office and, indeed, the Opposition
but I think that basic premise was distorted in the first Labour
term in government in such a way that deep and mutual suspicion
flourished in a way that would be almost impossible ever to eradicate.
It is too late for this government. Nobody fully believes anything
they say any more and I think that is a major catastrophe for
our form of democracy. Nothing was pristine under the Tories or
previous Labour governments but, by and large, they knew just
how far they could go without lying directly or as frequently.
The thing we have to remember about the Labour media machine is
that they do not put out stories that are stories in the real
sense; they put out propaganda. I think it will take a PM
and his team in the future of unimpeachable and demonstrable integrity
to restore credibility". Now the significance of that statement
I have just read out, although I agree with every word of italthough
it is slightly apocalyptic in its tone, comes from Trevor Kavanagh,
the political editor of The Sun in an interview with the
United Kingdom Press Gazette, the Bible of the journalist trade
in February of this year, and the significance is that the Daily
Mail is an unashamedly conservative newspaper; The Sun
is a Labour supporting paper. So it is not just my view; it is
right across the spectrum.
Q93 Chairman: No. We were getting worried
about your source, but we are relieved to discover it! That is
all very interesting but you have a licence daily to engage in
systematic propaganda, do you not?
Mr Dacre: No. You have a four
year office in which you are in power. I am judged every day.
Q94 Chairman: We get elected.
Mr Dacre: And people do not have
to buy my paper and on a rainy day pay 40p for it.
Q95 Chairman: This is not equivalence,
Mr Dacre: I think you have four
years in office; I am in office for a day at a time and if the
Daily Mail is unfair to politicians, you should trust its
readers. Its readers are your voters and if the Mail is
seen to be unfair, they will not buy it.
Q96 Chairman: Do you think it is unfair?
Mr Dacre: The Daily Mail?
Q97 Chairman: Yes.
Mr Dacre: No. I think it is aggressive,
more searching than some papers; I think it has a viewpoint; by
and large its news is accurate and, if you have complaints about
it, you can resort to the courts or the PCC, both of whom we have
a pretty good record with.
Q98 Chairman: This comes directly out
of the Phillis analysis when he talks about the breakdown of trust.
You do not think a newspaper that tells people every day that
public life in this country is a cesspit of
Mr Dacre: If I may say so, those
are your words not mine.
Q99 Chairman: No. They are the words
of your parliamentary sketchwriter, who uses them regularly, but
you use them regularly in your editorials too.
Mr Dacre: I do not think I have
ever used them.