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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 540-559)


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 convinced—and, 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 against both?

  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 with 43—

  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 newspaper?

  Mr Dacre: Certainly not in breach—well, 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 paper—I 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 of all.

  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. Politicians—not all but a lot—personalise 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 story?

  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 interest—by 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 understand—we 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 to—and I know you have read the speech but I want to repeat it—Lord 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."

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