Press standard, privacy and libel - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 520-539)


23 APRIL 2009

  Q520  Philip Davies: Can I press you slightly on your point about Max Mosley in one regard in particular? Journalists have said to me that they consider the fact that he was the head of Formula 1, which is an international sport, means he constitutes a public figure and, therefore, his activities should have been exposed on that basis, that he was a public figure, but from what you have said it seems to me that that was not particularly your justification. It was not that Max Mosley was a public figure: it was the activities which he was pursuing. What you seem to be suggesting is that if anybody had been pursuing that particular activity, that would have been legitimate for the press to report.

  Mr Dacre: I think it is much worse if it is a public figure who should be setting a better example to the public. I personally feel that if any figure had done that and paid money to women it is not acceptable behaviour, but that is a personal view.

  Q521  Philip Davies: So, just to clarify the philosophy, if anybody had indulged in it that would have been fair game?

  Mr Dacre: I think it is very important that Max Mosley—by the way, you keep saying "you". The Daily Mail did not—

  Q522  Philip Davies: I mean you as a profession, not you individually.

  Mr Dacre: I think the fact that he was a public figure in charge of a huge multi-million pound sport followed by millions of people gave much greater justification to the newspapers and the News of the World in carrying that story.

  Q523  Paul Farrelly: Again, on Max Mosley, I remember the case in years gone by of the author, journalist, father and husband Paul Johnson who was a prolific columnist and moralizer. After he was "exposed" for similar private activities, did the Daily Mail or Associated Newspapers ever print an article or column by him afterwards?

  Mr Dacre: From memory—and I could be wrong—I think that he had left the Daily Mail by then and worked for the Daily Express, but to answer your question, that fell into my category. I believe this was a former girlfriend of Mr Johnson's, and I do not think it would be of any interest to any newspaper if he went and had an affair with a private lady. As far as I am concerned there was no payment. You know more about this than me—

  Q524  Paul Farrelly: I remember differently.

  Mr Dacre: Payment?

  Q525  Paul Farrelly: I remember the story differently, but the question is did you ever print anything by him afterwards and pay him for anything afterwards?

  Mr Dacre: My honest answer is that I believe he had left the Daily Mail by then. If I have mis-stated that, then I apologise, but it is a very long time ago.

  Q526  Paul Farrelly: We can check the history. I have been a journalist but not with Associated Newspapers. Do you have a moral clause in contracts of employment so that your staff can be dismissed if they are not whiter than white?

  Mr Dacre: No, but the PCC Code is in their contract and—no, of course, we do not have a moral code.

  Q527  Alan Keen: Your objection to Mr Mosley you said was because he was married and also paid money to women.

  Mr Dacre: My main objection was the way he exploited and humiliated and degraded women in this way. Paid women, yes.

  Q528  Alan Keen: Do you think it is right, or is it not right, that you should expose a married man who is a closet homosexual? Would you expose that even if he was not paying money to another man? Do you think that is something that the press should expose? I have known many, many men who were homosexuals but who fitted in with society's demands on them and then later in life found they could not contain their preferences and carried on a homosexual relationship with somebody else. Is that something the press should be allowed to expose?

  Mr Dacre: I do not think they would report that or should report that because of changes in society, firstly, some of the influences of the Human Rights Act, but also I think that would be a justifiable matter of privacy. Now, if that individual was going around willy nilly exploiting rent boys and if he was a Member of Parliament, I suspect a paper like the News of the World would think it was justified in running that story. It is not a story the Daily Mail would carry.

  Q529  Alan Keen: Do you think the public is entitled to any privacy? You have explained one or two examples. Medical records?

  Mr Dacre: Absolute privacy granted, it is part of the PCC Code. No question.

  Q530  Alan Keen: Medical records?

  Mr Dacre: Absolutely.

  Q531  Alan Keen: There was a case where the Daily Mail admitted paying money for stolen records?

  Mr Dacre: I do not know that case. I am not aware of that.

  Q532  Chairman: I think Alan is referring to the Motorman case.

  Mr Dacre: Motorman? Yes. Well, can I just explain what that was? Ten years or so ago data protection was becoming a matter of greater and greater concern. All newspapers in common with insurance companies, law firms, used the services of inquiry agents. Mostly for newspapers it was to act quickly, get hold of addresses, phone numbers and areas like that so they could move quicker on stories. They used these agents who had access to electoral registers and things like that. The Data Protection Commissioner 10 years ago produced a poll of findings of one inquiry agent and we had a lot of inquiries with that agent, in common with all other newspapers, Observer, the Sunday Mirror; I will be very honest with you, I had not been aware they had been that extensive. There was no suggestion that it was used to get medical records or had been used in any ulterior way. I am not saying it was not. The Information Commissioner never told us what was in those inquiry agency's files. What I can tell you, and I want to stress this very loud and clear, was following the concerns raised by the Information Commissioner we as a newspaper tightened up our procedures massively; we banned the use of all these agents; we wrote it into people's contracts of employment that they must observe the Data Protection Act; we held seminars for our staff to alert them to the problems presented by obtaining information that could be covered by the Data Protection Act. The industry itself, the PCC, prepared extensive guidance notes for the whole industry; it changed its code book to inform people and it changed its Code to prevent and ban this kind of thing. So I refute utterly that we have used these methods to find medical records. As I say, my experience was that it was mostly used to get phone numbers and addresses, but anyway it has all changed. I cannot think of more rigorous things we could have done to ensure that all abuses were completely—

  Q533  Alan Keen: Can I turn to a different issue? We have come across it in the inquiry already and some people have agreed, others have said it might be difficult to deal with, but one technique which newspapers use, and you must be very familiar with it, is headlines to attract people to buy newspapers but where the body of the article is often nowhere near as serious as the headline appears to be, and then even further down it might say: "But he did not really do anything wrong." It is a very easy way for a newspaper to mislead the public on a particular issue. Would you clamp down on your journalists and sub editors if they did that sort of thing?

  Mr Dacre: That is a very fair question. I would like to think it does not happen in the Mail, although I would not put my hand on my heart and say that it does not. It does happen in some areas of the media. I think the position of the PCC on that is that it gives a fair degree of latitude on headlines as long as the copy underneath is absolutely accurate and balanced. It is a question of proportion. If they feel the headline has so badly misrepresented the piece they will find against the newspaper, but I think it is a fair question. You have to understand that newspapers in a very difficult market have to persuade readers to buy their papers, pay 50p/70p a pound in the rain, and they use some tried and tested techniques to draw the readers in. I think latitude should be given in headlines: I believe the copy should be absolutely right and fair.

  Q534  Chairman: It is fair to say that the Daily Mail has on a number of occasions been censured by the PCC for running stories with headlines—

  Mr Dacre: I do not think it has. I can check and get back to you. I am pretty sure we have not.

  Q535  Chairman: Can I give you one example?

  Mr Dacre: I am sorry, I am being told that we have a few times.

  Q536  Chairman: An anodyne feature about the biography of Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, who died in a Nazi concentration camp, was transformed by a headline which asked: "Did Anne Franks' father betray her?" The story produced not one single word of evidence to suggest that Otto Frank had betrayed any of his family in any way. The Mail dealt with the problem a week later by publishing a short letter of complaint from the Anne Frank Trust on page 68.

  Mr Dacre: Yes, but they did not adjudicate against us, did they? We put it right, that is what I am trying to say.

  Q537  Chairman: Well, you ran a headline which did not bear any relation to the story, and then carried a letter on page 68.

  Mr Dacre: It is the best read page in the paper, the letters page. I take your point, and I am sorry. At the risk of being pedantic I do not think there have ever been adjudications against us on that. I regret that. If that happened, I regret it. All I can say is if you produce 120 pages every night live on edition which is half as long as War and Peace, we make mistakes. But I accept your point.

  Q538  Paul Farrelly: Just picking up on Operation Motorman briefly, if I might, it would be wrong to categorise Associated Newspapers as the most "prolific" offender, because adding up the table Mirror Group newspapers came in with 300 more than Associated.

  Mr Dacre: I do not want be to overly offensive about but this was one inquiry agent. There are others. You have seen News International, the Sun, and the Sunday Times do not figure on that.

  Q539  Paul Farrelly: I am aware of that. When I was a journalist I would certainly use people to get electoral information, just to check where people lived, and that information was a matter of public record so that is not illegal, but I do remember every time I needed an ex-directory or a mobile telephone number I would painstakingly go and talk to people close to the person to get them to give it to me so I was not doing anything illegal. You mentioned the word "quick" information. It is quick, it is lazy.

  Mr Dacre: Well—

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