Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
23 APRIL 2009
Q560 Paul Farrelly: So people have
to take the rough with the smooth, basically?
Mr Dacre: I do not know whether
I would choose those words but roughly, yes.
Q561 Paul Farrelly: I would be interested
in your opinion as to what was wrong with the newspaper reporting
of the McCann case, and whether you think it was a one-off and
Mr Dacre: Firstly, the obvious
point: it was not just the newspapers. The BBC carried live interviews
on the doorstep of one of the witnesses there; BBC talk shows
were full of speculation about this, ITV was equally involved.
Again, let's examine the context. This was a great human story.
Terrible night, parents racked with guilt about should they have
been there when a terrible thing happened to their daughter, but
let's be very, very clear about this: The McCanns went out of
their way to enlist press help. They invited the press into their
livesvery understandably; they wanted to keep the story
going because the more pictures were carried the more the chances
were that their daughter might have been seen if she had been
abducted, but nevertheless, far from shirking the oxygen of publicity,
they sought it. They did endless photo opportunitiesthey
played to the media brilliantly. The trouble is this created a
vortex, I suspect, where some newspapers saw it as open season
to carry stories, if they thought they had the implicit permission
of the McCanns almost to publish any story if it kept the story
alive, i.e. kept interest in the story going so the chances of
spotting the poor child would have been increased. This was compounded
by the Portuguese police who, of course, labelled the McCanns
suspects. They were busy smearing the McCanns. Portuguese newspapers
were carrying many irresponsible stories about this; again, regrettably
in some areas of the press these were picked up too assiduously.
There was war between the British police and the Portuguese police,
both sides furiously leaking against each other, and yes, there
was the issue of circulation. I do not remember a story for some
time now that actually increased circulation like the McCann story.
I remember the furious rows we used to have in our office at time
because other papers, opposition papers possibly, were putting
the McCanns on the front page and you could see the next week
their circulation had gone up that day and there were great recriminations
about whether we should engage in that and carry those kinds of
stories. By and large I think we resisted that temptationby
and largebut what I do deeply regret is that the PCC, I
believe, did contact the McCanns in the early days and offer their
services particularly regarding harassment, and I deeply regret
that the McCanns, if they felt they were being portrayed in such
an inaccurate way, did not immediately lodge a complaint with
the PCC which I believe profoundly
Q562 Paul Farrelly: In shorthand
you seem to be suggesting they were fair game?
Mr Dacre: No, not at all. I am
saying some newspapers did, and wrongly so.
Q563 Paul Farrelly: But when you
are saying "some newspapers and the press" it just reminds
me, and you are talking in the third party, of the famous attribute
attributed to the Royals: "We are not amused". Are you
saying you bore no responsibility for any of the reporting at
Mr Dacre: Of course not. I have
said by and large I hope we resisted the more extreme reckless
behaviour that some newspapers manifested over the McCann story.
Q564 Paul Farrelly: But in inviting
the press to help with their search and publicising the case you
seem to be suggesting they also invited you into their parlour
room to suggest that they were in some way responsible?
Mr Dacre: Not at all. I think
with great respect that is very unfair interpretation of what
I have said. Yes, they sought publicity assiduously very, very
understandably, and I think some newspapers took that as a green
light to carry anything about them. But I do wish they had lodged
a complaint with the PCC. It would have been adjudicated on very
Q565 Paul Farrelly: We have heard
some evidence from Sir Christopher Meyer which was not terribly
persuasive in the way they went about it. But you reached an out-of-court
settlement with the McCanns. Can I ask you what lessons you have
learned and communicated to your reporters out of the affair?
Mr Dacre: You said we reached
an out-of-court settlement. That is slightly misleading. There
was not a writ served and nothing was read out on the steps of
the Court or anything. I believe the McCanns did write to a set
of newspapers. They raised some concerns. They mostly focused
on the Evening Standard. By and large the Mail was
not concerned. There were civilised and positive discussions.
As a result of them the Evening Standard, the Standard,
carried a brief statement expressing regret together with an appeal
for its readers to assist in the search for Madeleine and made
a donation for the purpose. That was the Standard. The
Mail interestingly before all that had been carrying free
adverts in its continental edition for the McCanns which I think
they were very grateful for. Yes, there were intense discussions
in all papers I think about the McCann case afterwards. Not related
to it but as a result of a whole sequence of events we certainly
now hold seminars for all our staff on data protection, privacy,
defamationeverything. It is a matter of great concern to
us that all our reporters understand this.
Q566 Chairman: Did you take any action
against the journalists who wrote the specific stories?
Mr Dacre: On the Standard?
Q567 Chairman: Yes.
Mr Dacre: By and large, I think
it was mostly the Standard, and the answer is no. The
Standard is now owned by another owner, and the editor is
no longer there.
Q568 Paul Farrelly: One of the reasons
to prompt this inquiry, and you may think "Who are we to
judge the press", was that, in any other sphere of life,
if something like this had happened that was a collective failure
of standards there would be demands for an inquiry. The press
jumps up and down for inquiries into the police or social services
when they get things wrong but in this case there has been no
inquiry, certainly not by the PCC, and the press has not jumped
up and down to demand an inquiry. Is that not hypocritical?
Mr Dacre: I make no comment. No
newspaper or television company has a perfect record in this area,
on the McCanns. I am not sure it is a "collective" failure;
I think some newspapers went too far. There was a huge court case,
as you know.
Q569 Paul Farrelly: Was the McCann
case unique in your view? Should no lessons be drawn from this?
Mr Dacre: Oh yes, I think lessons
should be learned from it. It was not unique but it was one of
the greatest human stories.
Q570 Paul Farrelly: And what lessons
should be drawn from it?
Mr Dacre: The lesson should be
learned that however considerable the interest in that story the
correct boundaries of correct newspaper journalism should be observed.
What was unique about it was that those boundaries were transgressed
rather recklessly by some areas of the industry.
Q571 Paul Farrelly: And you would
say that you have not since then transgressed those boundaries
again? Can you think of a case where you might have done?
Mr Dacre: I am sure we have. As
I said, it is a 120-page paper.
Q572 Paul Farrelly: You read every
Mr Dacre: Of course not, no.
Q573 Paul Farrelly: As a good editor?
Mr Dacre: As a journalist you
know that is not possible. I read more words of my paper than
most editors; I do not read every word in the sports pages
Q574 Paul Farrelly: But you read
the lead stories of most interest?
Mr Dacre: I read the features
and the commentary and a lot of the news stories, yes.
Q575 Paul Farrelly: And are there
any examples since the McCann case where you would say yes, in
our heart of hearts we have gone over the boundary this time and
we will not do it again?
Mr Dacre: Mr Farrelly, I will
be very honest with you, there may possibly have been, I hope
we did not do it deliberately or intentionally, but I cannot honestly
Q576 Paul Farrelly: One specific
question. Why on 11 March did you publish the name of the village
where Elisabeth, the daughter of Josef Fritzl lived who was trying
to be resettled to live what you would hope would be a normal-ish
life, given what she has been through?
Mr Dacre: You have caught me absolutely
cold. I am not aware we did
Q577 Paul Farrelly: You did.
Mr Dacre: I do not know the answer.
Did other newspapers?
Q578 Paul Farrelly: You did it first
and they followed you.
Mr Dacre: Could I look into it
and send you a note on that?
Q579 Paul Farrelly: Given that you
did, would you say that was responsible journalism?
Mr Dacre: I do not know the circumstances,
whether it came over from a news agency, whether it was our journalist
who did it. I am very happy to look into it.