Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)

25 MARCH 2004


  Q140 Mr Liddell-Grainger: When the Opposition is perhaps weaker than it should be in the parliamentary machine, do you not see that by exposing the Ecclestone and the Hindujas and Frankenstein foods, and other things that you have championed—Omaha bombs, you have seen yourself doing perhaps the job of an Opposition?

  Mr Dacre: I hope not. I think this is a beyond pensant myth. We are a newspaper. We reflect the anxieties of our readers; it is certainly not the job of newspapers to be an official Opposition and I think the fact you are saying this reflects more on the weakness of the Opposition, or past weakness of the Opposition, than any claims the Daily Mail might have. Certainly I do not think newspapers should be regarded as the Opposition.

  Q141 Mr Liddell-Grainger: As someone famously said—nothing to do with you, obviously—"It's The Sun what won it", when it came to the election. Do you not see yourself as being able to fill a breach when there are weak positions? Maybe with Labour in '83 and '87 and maybe before now when the Conservatives have been weaker. Do you not think that you have been trying to fill that gap?

  Mr Dacre: It would certainly be wrong if we were, and I have never claimed that. I think you imbue newspapers with far more power than they have, you know, I really do. You can take a horse to water in newspapers; you cannot force him to drink. You can only articulate anxieties and fears that readers already have. Our job, and I do not want to be pompous, is to be guardians of the truth, and if sometimes we are overzealous and hostile in pursuing this then I plead guilty, but that is our role. We certainly should not see ourselves as alternative political parties. It would be preposterous, dangerous and wrong.

  Q142 Mr Liddell-Grainger: On the euro you ran a campaign, you had almost an election where you had ballot boxes where you put out "Do we want to go into the euro or not." Now, that was very much a campaigning newspaper except that all say it was what the Opposition had been saying for quite some time. Do you not think you were leading on in what an Opposition was trying to be or do? You were taking an agenda which was to force the hand of government?

  Mr Dacre: No. It was a dramatic way of highlighting the view that for years our readers, a predominant number of our readers, had held. They were very sceptical about Europe, and were against a constitution. The political party of the day was not listening to it and we carried it out as an exercise. It was overseen by our respected electoral bodies and a couple of weeks previously independent polls reflected exactly the same findings as us.

  Q143 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Do you feel that is your role as well—

  Mr Dacre: If national politicians do not listen to the electorate who put them in power then newspapers should be free to reflect their readers' feelings. Yes, I do feel that.

  Q144 Mr Liddell-Grainger: One of the things that intrigues me is this; how many times have you gone on to defend your position on—and I cannot think of any programme—Newsnight or national television? I cannot ever remember seeing you on anything where you have defended the position of your paper.

  Mr Dacre: I do not know what point you are trying to make.

  Q145 Mr Liddell-Grainger: The point I am trying to make is that you say you are the guardian of the people—

  Mr Dacre: I did not say that. I said "newspapers", not "I", are the guardians of the truth.

  Q146 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Well, do you think Piers Morgan and other editors are—"approachable" is the wrong word—will go on to things to defend their position?

  Mr Dacre: The more Piers Morgan appears to television, the more his circulation seems to go down.

  Q147 Mr Liddell-Grainger: That is an interesting thought.

  Mr Dacre: It is not an interesting thought. My experience over 30 years in Fleet Street is the more editors think they are public figures and the more they become speaking heads on TV chat shows the more their newspapers decline and they do not last very long in their jobs. That is my experience. My job is to edit my newspaper, to have a relationship with my readers, to reflect my readers' views and to defend their interest. It is not to offer myself up to you or television or radio interviewers as some authority on anything. I am not an authority on anything. I am a newspaper editor.

  Q148 Mr Liddell-Grainger: I disagree. I respectfully disagree—

  Mr Dacre: One of many newspapers editors.

  Q149 Mr Liddell-Grainger: I think you are an expert, are you not? You have spent your entire life from the time you were in Leeds and moving down as a newspaper man. You are a family of newspaper people. You are an expert. So is that not the point?

  Mr Dacre: I am an expert in newspapers, in relaying information through typography and headlines and pictures, and I hope I do that rather well relating to my readership. I do not put myself up as a political authority. I am not elected; that is your job. My job is to call you into question if I think you are doing it wrong as far as my readers are concerned.

  Q150 Mr Liddell-Grainger: I reckon if we got between all of us here 2 million people who listened to what we said we would be pretty proud of ourselves. You get that every day of the week—

  Mr Dacre: Six million.

  Q151 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Exaggerated again! Here you are, a profound influence on the British psyche, the British way of life—

  Mr Dacre: But those 6 million readers also watch BBC, listen to ITN, get their news off teletext, they listen to you in Parliament and on the Today programme—

  Q152 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Do they?

  Mr Dacre: Do you not have access to the airwaves? Can you not put your views across? You have a huge majority; you had until Hutton a sympathetic BBC; why are you so obsessed with the Daily Mail view?

  Q153 Chairman: We are interested in your approach to public life.

  Mr Dacre: We are one paper out of 10.

  Q154 Chairman: In answer to Ian you say that you do not speak with any authority and you are not an expert on these things.

  Mr Dacre: I do not think I have the right, you were asking me, on chat shows and news programmes to give my views on given subjects because that is your job. I am an editor.

  Q155 Chairman: The interesting thing, though, is if you are not an authority on anything why do you speak with such declamatory certainty about everything?

  Mr Dacre: I think you are twisting my words.

  Q156 Mr Liddell-Grainger: I do not think we are, I am sorry, Paul. You are an expert. Five days of the week, six days of the week, you put out a newspaper which has profound statements—I am thinking of asylum seekers, the euro and a lot of other things you have championed, the Stephen Lawrence killers—you championed that. Now you are an expert. You may hide your light under a bushel—you are being very modest perhaps. A modest man?

  Mr Dacre: I am not being modest. Take GM foods. I know from hundreds and thousands of letters from our readers that our readership is concerned about that. Clearly I have specialist reporters and writers who have looked into that, and from their views and the feedback I get from my readers we take a position on GM foods.

  Q157 Chairman: But it is the style. I have a quote here from one of your former reporters who says, "The ideal Daily Mail story leaves the reader hating somebody or something".

  Mr Dacre: We can all play that game. I do not know who said it or in what context. It probably occurred in The Guardian media pages.

  Q158 Chairman: No. The charge against The Guardian will not do in relation to this because that is the tone in which you approach stories.

  Mr Dacre: Those are your words. Actually, most of our readers do not see it that way. They see a paper that is very warm, has an immensely supportive relationship with the readership, takes up great campaigns to represent it—it is only the government and politicians whom we criticise.

  Q159 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Paul, we are answerable to the place over there and answerable to our electorate—

  Mr Dacre: Nobody is more answerable than a newspaper editor. Every month the circulation figures go down and every month an editor is removed—

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