Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
23 APRIL 2009
Q540 Paul Farrelly: You have been
quite specific about contracts but are there any circumstances
in which now you can say that the Daily Mail would use
such services to get a number?
Mr Dacre: Well, there is a very
strong public interest, of course, and if we were convincedand,
by God, we have put in place a structure whereby they have to
clear it with the news editor
Q541 Paul Farrelly: And there would
be a certificating procedure?
Mr Dacre: It is not certificated
but it is laid down that if you want to do this you have to go,
and it has to be given and put in writing.
Q542 Paul Farrelly: So it does happen?
Mr Dacre: Yes, and long may we
be free to do that.
Q543 Paul Farrelly: And the kids
do not have access across the board to the cookie jar any more?
It has to go through a procedure?
Mr Dacre: Yes. I do not want to
tell any tales out of school but we had to let someone go recently
because we found they had offended against this.
Q544 Alan Keen: You have campaigned
against intrusion by government into people's ID cards. Should
not individuals be protected also against newspapers? What is
the difference between a newspaper and government? We all appreciate
newspapers and the freedom of the press in order to expose government,
but to a private individual what is the difference between government
probing and a newspaper probing? Should not the citizen be protected
Mr Dacre: I could not agree with
you more; the Code is very strong on this. People are entitled
to their privacy, their family and their health, their children,
and I hope that a newspaper is not failing if it had a good public
interest reason to do so. If it did not it is a cause of complaint
to the PCC.
Q545 Alan Keen: It is hard for newspaper
readers, whether members of Parliament or not, to think that your
decision is better than a judge's decision. It is very difficult.
Whatever you say about the headline not misleading, or you do
not agree with that sort of journalism, it is very difficult for
us as ordinary people to think: "Well, I trust Mr Dacre more
than I trust a judge."
Mr Dacre: But you do not have
to trust me. If I get it wrong you can take me to court, or stop
buying the newspaper.
Q546 Alan Keen: Well, not if the
last sentence of the article says: "But he did not do anything
wrong". Who reads that? We all know that people do not really
read every word. They love to see the salacious
Mr Dacre: I think you make a reasonable
point. I hope that journalism does not go on as much as you imply.
I think the PCC would find against that newspaper if it was literally
the last sentence which refuted the rest of the story. I really
do believe that.
Q547 Chairman: Can I move on to journalistic
standards? You may be aware that the day before yesterday the
Committee took evidence from Mr Nick Davies, the author of Flat
Earth News. Now he said that your newspaper is the most successful
and probably the most powerful in the country, but he also goes
on to say that it is characterised by a level of ruthless aggression
and spite which is far greater than any other newspaper in Fleet
Street. He also points out that the Daily Mail time and
again has had to pay damages in cases where it was shown that
there was no truth in what was written, and that the Daily
Mail has had a number of findings against it from the PCC,
something like three times greater than any other newspaper. How
do you respond to those charges?
Mr Dacre: Firstly, I do not know
whether that is correct about the number of adjudications. I think
there have been a number of complaints that have come out but
I do not think it is correct, no.
Q548 Chairman: To give you his specific
allegation, he says he drew up a league table of complaints
Mr Dacre: Complaints?
Q549 Chairman: which have
succeeded, either because the PCC have eventually adjudicated
against the newspaper, or because the paper had agreed some kind
of resolution to satisfy.
Mr Dacre: I think that second
is rather important. If it had been resolved then I do not think
it is fair
Q550 Chairman: He goes on to say
that only four newspapers had suffered more than 50 successful
complaints, and that the Daily Mail was at 153 compared
Mr Dacre: Successful adjudications?
No. They are complaints, you see. There is a big difference.
Q551 Chairman: He says successful
complaints, in that you had accepted
Mr Dacre: But he is defining a
successful complaint there as it was resolved by conciliation
and the newspaper either clarified it or not. That is not an adjudication
against that newspaper.
Q552 Chairman: So your answer to
him is that actually the Daily Mail has not suffered or
been shown to be in breach of the code any more than any other
Mr Dacre: Certainly not in breachwell,
we have not been adjudicated against more than any other newspaper.
After this I can send a note to the Committee to give you the
exact figures, but I do not have them at my fingertips. I just
want to say that Nick Davies is a brilliant reporter, I have paid
him very well to appear in the Mail in the past, but he
is one of those people who sees conspiracy in everything. Like
many people who write mainly for the Guardian he believes
that only they have the right to claim the moral high ground,
and that the popular press is blind, irresponsible and beyond
salvation. His book does not do himself or our industry justice.
Parts of it are a mish-mash of innuendo, gossip, smear and half-truths
masquerading as truths, the very thing he accuses newspapers of
indulging in. It was written without affording the basic journalistic
courtesy of checking his allegations with the newspapers concerned,
and to take Paul's case nor did he allow us to put our answers
to his allegations. I regret all that. The Daily Mail is
a strong and powerful paper; it has more pages than most papers
and more stories; it is an aggressive paperI plead guilty
to all those charges. I do not believe it is a spiteful paper;
I believe it is a very compassionate paper that has fought very
hard to represent its voices, readers, interests and anxieties
and represent those interests and anxieties; I think we are very
aggressive on politicians and the famous and rich, and therefore
I think we sometimes get a reputation of being too hard in that
area. All I can say is if we are too hard our newspaper readers
will let us know very, very quickly and they are the best judges
Q553 Chairman: Can I ask you whether
you agree with the central thesis of his book, which is not directed
at the Daily Mail but is a more general concern, that due
to the financial pressures which you recognised in your opening
remarks which are now on all newspapers that the level of investigative
journalism is declining and more and more we are seeing what he
has termed "churnalism", a simple reproduction of press
releases received by spin doctors?
Mr Dacre: I accept the case he
makes applied to some newspapers, particularly, sadly, the provincial
press because they have such extraordinarily small resources these
days and I fear they have sometimes no alternative but to put
council press releases in their papers and that is very sad and
regrettable. I accept it is happening to one or two national newspapers
who, again, do not have the resources. Sometimes they do and they
are owned by people who hold journalism or journalists in contempt
despite the heroic efforts of journalists in those papers, and
standards have fallen very badly on those papers. I do not want
to sound arrogant but I refute that charge for the Daily Mail.
I would suggest to you the Daily Mail is both famous, and
infamous indeed, in the context of your earlier remarks for taking
Whitehall and government press releases and going behind them
and finding the truth behind the spin and propaganda. Certainly
our reporters when they get freelance copy should and are encouraged
to make their own inquiries, to check them and take them further.
I refute that we have cut back on spending on journalism. Our
spending on journalism today is as great as ever, despite the
recession, so I think Mr Davies makes a valid point about some
areas of the media. I think the strong areas of the media, and
I include some of our very worthy competitors, are not guilty
of this charge.
Q554 Janet Anderson: Mr Dacre, I
wonder if I could press you on what is in the public interest
and so on. Do you believe that newspapers should be free to publish
stories about individuals in which the public are interested,
ie which the public want to read, rather than just those that
are in the public interest? Could you give us some examples of
when you believe a story is in the public interest and when it
is not, and whether you would publish in both cases?
Mr Dacre: Forgive me, I do not
mean to be aggressive but I think there is a rather patronising
element in this question. I passionately believe in popular newspapers;
I believe they do a very good job giving voice to their readers'
interests, anxieties and concerns. There is an over-pejorative
use of the word "tabloid" particularly by the BBC which
invariably refers to the "tabloid press" and then tells
the whole story itself, and, of course, it is a nonsense. the
Times and the Independent are tabloids, and tabloids
are read by most of the people, and indeed the Mail has
more ABC1 readers than all those papers put together but that
is another matter. The word "personal" confuses me.
All stories are personal. Most stories are told through people,
particularly in the popular press. Telling stories through people
is a very effective way of getting across dry and complicated
stories. Celebrities personalise their lives. They do it to put
their image more in the public's eye and they make a lot of money
out of it. Politiciansnot all but a lotpersonalise
their lives; very understandably they want to identify with the
voters and gain their voters' support, so yes, I plead totally
guilty to personalising stories. If you want a paper dominated
by issues you would probably buy the Guardian, circulation
250,000, subsidised to the tune of £30 million by the Scott
Trust. If you want a story about people, gossip, and news is people
and gossip, but to also get across serious analysis of politics
and news, you will buy the Sun, circulation 3 million.
The Sun uses much more sensational methodology to do that;
I would defend that and die in a ditch to defend it. They get
a lot of the stuff that happens in this building to their readers
by inducing them to read their paper through the methods I have
just described. Does that answer your question?
Q555 Janet Anderson: So really your
answer to my question is yes, you would publish both types of
Mr Dacre: Well, the Mail
publishes lots of human stories, yes, and personalises a lot of
its journalism and I have tried to explain why. You will not probably
agree with this but I actually believe that what interests the
public is by and large in the public interestby and large.
Of course I accept there are exceptions, and if we go too far
readers put it correct. What slightly concerns me, and of course
I accept judges' integrity, is that it is very difficult for judges
to define what is in the public interest. One judge's interpretation
of that would be that an article in the Guardian is in
the public interest, and a horrible sensational story in the
Sun is not. I do not agree with that.
Q556 Janet Anderson: And if you had
a story that you were going to run and you thought to yourself:
"Actually we might get sued if I publish this story, but
it is going to do so much to boost sales that I am going to go
ahead with it anyway", would you run that risk?
Mr Dacre: That, with the greatest
possible respect, is balderdash. It is almost a Mosley suggestion
that we have accountants on our floor working out what the circulation
increase versus the costs of a legal action would be. Nonsense.
I have never allowed an accountant on the floor of the Daily
Mail and I am not going to start right now.
Q557 Chairman: Obviously he is not
your responsibility in the very least but Piers Morgan, of course,
did say he did precisely that.
Mr Dacre: Well, I am not going
to speak on behalf of Mr Piers Morgan. I think that is a very
unfair question! He is a television star now anyway. He was sacked
from two newspapers, and I think that speaks for itself, although
I think he contributes to the sum of human fun. No, that is kamikaze
journalism. You have heard the costs I described to you earlier.
You do not understandwe print a story because we believe
it is right, we believe it is true, and we believe it interests
our readers. If we get it wrong and the readers do not like it
they do not buy our paper. They pay 50p for each day in the rain
and if we go over the top we get sued and the sums of money are
absurd. No, no. I hope that is clear!
Q558 Paul Farrelly: You said in your
now famous speech, Mr Dacre, that if mass circulation
Mr Dacre: I had not realised it
was so read.
Q559 Paul Farrelly: If you do it
on Clicks and Links you are top of the Google list! You said:
"[...] if mass-circulation newspapers, which also devote
considerable space to reporting analysis of public affairs, do
not have the freedom to write about scandal, I doubt whether they
will retain their mass circulations with the obvious worrying
implications for the democratic process". That seems to say
in shorthand that if we do not run tons of titillating stuff we
cannot afford to carry the staff to do the occasional serious
stuff. Can you explain what you mean?
Mr Dacre: Look, you may not approve
of the News of the World; I do not particularly approve
of the News of the World but I would die in this ditch
to carry the tittle tattle and the scandal and the sensation it
does because in the middle of the News of the World is
some very serious political analysis. The News of the World
in its time has broken some very important stories. They have
to be free to interest the public to get the large number of readers
they do which also communicates the serious news that you need
as the life blood of democracy. But that is not just my view.
Could I refer toand I know you have read the speech but
I want to repeat itLord Woolf in the 2002 Appeal Court
Judgment? "The courts must not ignore the fact that if newspapers
do not publish information which the public are interested in,
then there will be fewer newspapers published, which will not
be in the public interest", and Baroness Hale in another
famous hearing said: "One reason why freedom of the press
is so important is that we need newspapers to sell in order to
ensure that we still have newspapers at all. It may be said that
newspapers should be allowed considerable latitude in the intrusions
into private grief so that they can maintain circulation and the
rest of us can continue to enjoy the variety of newspapers and
other mass media which were available in this country."