Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

3. Memorandum submitted by the Daily Mail

  I recognise the importance of reporting terrorist activity and community unrest accurately and fairly.

  The balance between frightening the public and informing them is constantly on my mind and in the forefront of thinking among my senior executives, as is the possibility of copy-cat action on the part of extremists or those of unsound mind.

  However, I do not subscribe to the view that it is necessary to soft-pedal the news. In a democratic society it is the task of a free Press to tell it as it is, not tell it to some politically correct agenda which would sweep either tacit or violent dissent under the carpet.

  It is worth noting that it is frequently in the political interests of the police or the Government that the media reports arrests of terror suspects and our attention is deliberately drawn to such activity.

  I also realise that some people, often in local and central Government, find it only too easy to "blame the Press" for increasing community divisions when in fact the Press is reporting the consequences of the failures of those organisations to deal with the root causes of racial tension on the ground itself.

  It would be too facile to pick on any one story or one headline on one day as an example of imbalance. It is fairer to look at the overall picture and the balance that is achieved over a period of time.

  I am thinking here, for example, of the way the Mail covered the recent story of the Sikh riots which stopped the play Behzti being staged by the Birmingham Repertory theatre.

  The news of the riots was reported accurately and fully, with reaction from various sources. That news was then commented on in a variety of ways. We ran a feature spelling out the strength of the Sikh feeling and contrasting it with the weakness shown by the Church of England in defending its beliefs.

  But we also condemned the violence shown by the rioters and the attempts to condone it while pointing out the need to maintain freedom of expression and the need to resist censorship by blackmail.

  Looking further back the Mail was among the first newspapers to warn of the dangers of confusing the terrorists of the 9/11 horror with the many ordinary peace loving Muslims in our midst and elsewhere.

  This was what we said in the Mail:

    "The enraged impotence many in the Muslim world now feel in the face of American support for Israel and the suppression of Palestine, the Indian suppression of the Muslim majority in Kashmir and their own corrupt and despotic governments, has produced a perversion of Islam in which the old teaching of jihad—holy war—has been transformed into an excuse for murder.

    And the fact is that most religions, including Christianity, have always been manipulated by the unscrupulous for power and revenge. The manipulative extremists of the Muslim world show little true respect for the traditions of Islam, its spirit or its Founder."

  While a newspaper has responsibilities so, too, do immigrant communities and their leaders. Sometimes, perhaps understandably, they are over-sensitive to criticism and that places even greater onus on an Editor to be both fair and firm.

  While I do not lay down any special arrangements for reporting either terrorist activity or examples of racial tension all my journalists are under instruction to acquaint themselves with the PCC Code of Practice and to work within its provisions. Indeed that is a condition of their contracts and any deliberate breach of the Code would be followed by disciplinary action including dismissal.

  I would, however, argue that the Mail can be proud of its contribution to good community relations in Britain. This newspaper, as you will be aware, was in the forefront of the campaign to bring to justice the murderers of the young black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1997.

  Our exposure and campaign not only brought about a revolution in the way in which the police in this country regard ethnic minority groups, but has, over the last seven years, probably done more to improve the trust of law abiding ethnic minorities in British community policing than any other single act. This, of course, impacts on the police's relations with those community groups when terrorist issues arise.

  We continue to support the Stephen Lawrence Trust and to be active in many other aspects of community and racial harmony. The Mail has co-operated and assisted with the investigation into the causes of the race riots in several Northern towns. We subscribed to the report on Community Cohesion.

  One of my most senior executives sits on the Media Emergency Forum which meets in the Cabinet Office to discuss a number of wide ranging initiatives where co-operation between Government, the emergency and social services, the police and the media is seeking to protect and inform the public in the face of the serious threat of terrorist attack. He reports back to me on a regular basis.

  In any event it would be a foolish and probably unsuccessful Editor who did not recognise the advantages of promoting safe and harmonious communities.

  There are many ethnic minorities in the country and they are all our readers or our potential readers. Many such minorities are characterised by the words "aspiration" and "family values", the very words that are at the heart of the Mail's core philosophy.

  Indeed I believe the Mail has more Asian readers than any other national daily newspaper and we sponsor an annual award for the Asian media personality of the year. This is designed to find rising journalistic talent and help our recruiting.

  I am also able to draw upon a diverse selection of contributors who can write for the Mail's main feature pages thoughtful and well-informed articles about the subjects you are examining. To name but a few who have appeared recently: Sarfraz Manzoor, a young Muslim writer born in Luton, Manzoor Mogal, Chairman of the Muslim Federation in Leicester, Lord Ahmed, well-known columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, distinguished author Ziauddin Sardar among others.

  While the qualifications for our staff journalists are entirely professional ones and we make no distinction as to ethnic origin we currently employ more than a dozen who are from those ethnic minorities.

  On the wider spectrum of immigration, while regularly reminding our readers of this country's debt to immigrants and our traditional welcome to genuine refugees, we have been unflinching in exposing how the asylum system is being exploited, how Britain is losing control of her borders, and how ruthless gangsters were exploiting this trade in human misery.

  While we were the first paper to champion the case for genuine economic immigration, our criticisms have been reserved for the authorities who have lost control of the situation and who have failed to handle immigration in a controlled and fair way, for those who exploit the trade in illegal immigrants, and for those who set out deliberately to cheat the welfare system and abuse our traditional hospitality.

  Long before the rise of extremism on the continent we warned that a failure to deal with such issues could fuel the rise of the contemptible far right.

  I repeat, however, this paper is committed to good community relations. One of the most telling initiatives under my editorship has been the launching of our campaign for justice for the families of the victims of the Omagh terrorist bomb outrage. This was a campaign across the religious divide since the victims came from both the Catholic and the Protestant residents of Omagh. The campaign was not without risk, both to the families themselves and to the owners and staff of the Mail, since it sought to bring to court some of the most violent men who are members of the Real IRA.

  Nevertheless Mail readers poured money into the fighting fund, showing just how fair minded and abhorrent of terrorism they are. The campaign has succeeded and those who we believe are responsible for that act of terror are on trial today. The Omagh families acknowledge that without my newspaper and my readers that blow against terror would never have been struck.

  I am proud of the Mail's record in these areas. That does not mean I am complacent. I and my staff continue our efforts to reflect the positive sides to all sections of our diverse community.

  I would only add that the facile view of a small and narrow bien-pensant class that the Mail is xenophobic flies in the face of the fact that our readers, while I have been Editor, have raised record amounts of money to alleviate the plight of the Kosovan refugees during the conflict there and rescue thousands of Romanian orphans left behind by the retreating despots of Eastern Europe.

  Even as I write this the Mail is devoting far more energy than any other paper to help the child victims of the tsunami disaster in Asia where the majority of the victims are of diverse ethnic origins and religions. In 48 hours alone our readers contributed some £2 million to the aid fund.

  To conclude, as an Editor I am always mindful of our readers' views—whatever communities they come from—and, indeed, value their feelings more highly than those of self-aggrandising quangos, self-appointed media critics, and even parti-pris politicians!

Paul Dacre, Editor

5 January 2005

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