Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
23 APRIL 2009
Q580 Paul Farrelly: I am surprised
you do not remember it because it has attracted some comment in
Mr Dacre: In Britain?
Q581 Paul Farrelly: And it was a
story of great human interest.
Mr Dacre: Oh, yes, the Fritzl
case. I am not being evasive, I really was unaware of it. I am
very happy to look into it when I get back and send you a very
full note on it.
Q582 Paul Farrelly: The final question
on this point. You said in your speech that some people revile
a moralising media. Others such as myself believe it is the duty
of the media to take an ethical stand, and the word "morality"
courses through your speech, and I would just like to ask you
whether you feel that publishing the name of a village where somebody
had been resettled who had been through such a horrific experience
was a moral thing to do?
Mr Dacre: I cannot answer you
because I do not know the circumstances. I do not know what the
German newspapers were doing; I do not know what the news agencies
were doing. I can give you this assurance, that I will send every
member of this Committee an answer to that, and if we were wrong
I will apologise.
Q583 Paul Farrelly: If you could,
because if you are saying: "I do not know what the agencies
were carrying, I do not know what the other newspapers were carrying",
it rather sounds like the excuse: We were only following the others
or following orders.
Mr Dacre: No, it does not. You
must know the speed newspapers work at. We come out six days a
week, we print thousands and thousands of words, I do not know
whether it slipped through as an act of calculated irresponsibility
by the journalistsI will look into it and get back to you.
Q584 Paul Farrelly: If you could.
Mr Dacre: Of course.
Q585 Philip Davies: Specifically
on the PCC I think you said in answer to a question earlier that
you regret that the McCanns did not pursue their complaint through
the PCC. In the evidence that Gerry McCann gave he said he had
been advised by both his legal advisers and by the PCC itself
that they were not the most effective route for them to go through.
Furthermore, the nub of the issue seems to me was that he said:
"I did think it was surprising that an editor of a paper
which had so fragrantly libelled us with the most devastating
stories could hold a position on the board of the PCC." Do
you not think that undermines the credibility of the PCC and people's
preparedness to go through that route when they see that the people
who they are complaining about are there to sit in potential judgment?
Mr Dacre: Firstly, he would have
been one of the seven editors on the PCC with a majority of 10
lay members. Secondly, and I was not on the PCC, I do not think,
at the time but my recollection is he left the PCC after the furore
over the McCanns, and all I can say as someone who has sat on
the PCC for many years that the lay members would have had their
say on this and the McCanns would have got justice. What I would
say is that the PCC does not exist apart from the courts, it exists
alongside them, and my only regret was in the early days, when
they thought the newspapers were behaving badly and not observing
accuracy, if they had lodged a complaint then with the PCC a lot
of grief could have been saved. That was the only point I was
trying to make.
Q586 Philip Davies: I would be interested
in your thoughts about what is the right make-up of the PCC. I
think one of the people giving evidence to us earlier this week
said it was like having a jury of twelve and finding if you are
being prosecuted that five people on the jury were members of
the family of the defendant, and the fact that seven might not
be is not really much of a comfort to you. Would you share that
Mr Dacre: I would not at all,
no. This is self-regulation. Obviously you have to have editors
on the Commission; they have to buy into this process. I have
huge respect for you all and I do not want to intrude into grief,
but perhaps it beholds MPs to ask journalists about self-regulation.
At least we have members on our Commission; you have none on your
regulatory body. We have an independent Chairman; we have independent
Appointments Commissioners. It is a much more robust form of self-regulation
than exists in Parliament.
Q587 Philip Davies: You might have
confidence, and you work closely on it so you see it at first
hand, but would you accept that there is a general perception
that newspapers do not really take complaints to the PCC seriously
so the only thing that is really going to get a newspaper editor
to get concerned about something is if Carter Ruck sends a letter
with the potential huge costs that you talked about earlier that
will really make you sit up, but actually a complaint to the PCC
is neither here nor there?
Mr Dacre: I think that is a totally
unfair misreading of the situation. It is a matter of huge shame
if an editor has an adjudication against him; it is a matter of
shame for him and his paper. That is why self-regulation is the
most potent form of regulation, and we buy into it. We do not
want to be shamed.
Q588 Philip Davies: But do you think
that is the general perception of the PCC?
Mr Dacre: I think the perception
of the PCC has improved considerably from what it has been in
the past. What gets my goat a little bit is the refusal of a,
to be fair decreasing, minority to accept that standards have
not improved very considerably in the press since the start of
the Commission. I have been in this business forty years; the
journalistic landscape has changed dramatically since the `80s;
journalists are much better behaved. There is an argument that
the Code and the Commission has toughened things up so much that,
vis-a"-vis the earlier conversation, it is blunting the ability
of some of the red top papers and the red top Sunday market to
sell newspapers. I think it is churlish not to accept there have
been improvements. I think it is counterproductive. Yes, further
improvements could be made; the Code is organic, it is always
changing, we are amending it, but what sickens me, frankly, is
the charge that we are not independent. It traduces the independence
of the Chairmen, who often have been very distinguished people;
it traduces the independence of the Appointments Commissioners
who have to ratify all the Commissioners to the Commission, and
they are most senior people, former Lord Chancellors; it traduces
the integrity of the lay members, the Bishops, trade union leaders,
ex MPs; it traduces the integrity of the Compliance Officer. Self-regulation
works and it would be nice if occasionally that was recognised,
along with the fact that we have continual vigilance, we continually
update things, we change things, we change the Code in response
to public worries. We do not always get it right but we try.
Q589 Philip Davies: I think many
of us would support self-regulation. I am sure everybody would
agree that people want to be as effective as possible and have
as much confidence as possible. Are there any areas where you
yourself think it could be strengthened or improved?
Mr Dacre: Yes. I do not want to
hold any hostages to fortune here but there is a lot of thought
going on about this at the moment on various levels and more thought
needs to go into privacy, and we are grappling with this at the
moment, how we change the Code to tighten up on it because clearly
it is a matter of concern. The problem with the Code is it cannot
be above the law, obviously. I cannot think of any other areas
at the moment but recently we tightened up on things like suicide
reporting and areas like that.
Q590 Chairman: When you have had
an adverse verdict from the PCC, as an editor what do you then
Mr Dacre: What do you do? Well,
you kick the reporters in the head who landed you in it but
Q591 Chairman: Well, without being
too jokey about it, do you take action against the reporter?
Mr Dacre: Oh, goodness me, certainly
disciplinary action, yes. It is difficult to convey this because
it sounds like we are being sanctimonious but there is deep shame
when you have to carry an adjudication, and there is a major investigation.
My managing editor has an office of four or five people investigating
every mistake; we issue official warnings if we think they are
right or the reporter concerned has behaved badlywe want
to get it right. There is no percentage in getting things wrong.
Q592 Alan Keen: What was the reaction
when you realised the anti MMR campaign was wrong? Did you take
serious action then against journalists? Did you agree it was
wrong? You are not running it now.
Mr Dacre: Well, there is a bit
of an urban myth grown up that the Daily Mail was against
the triple jab. All newspapers at the time had deep concerns about
the triple jab. As you know, a senior doctor was leading a campaign
against it; as you know, there was a group of grieving parents
who had formed a class action; there was a great concern they
were being denied legal aid. The Mail's particular gloss
on this was we thought it was deeply hypocritical of the then
Prime Minister not to reveal whether his own child had had a triple
jab because he was such an eloquent advocate for it. Since then
we have carried articles for it, articles against it, but all
newspapers were carrying very rigorous articles at the time questioning
the MMR jab. To this day I accept the science but I still do not
understand why people cannot be given three individual jabs if
they so wish.
Q593 Chairman: We are nearly at the
end but may I just ask you a couple of things? We are very conscious
of the financial climate in which newspapers are operating which
you have highlighted, and it is obviously putting huge pressure
on you. One of the things where there is a perception growing
is that the rigour with which stories are tested and checked prior
to publication has diminished, partially as a result of this.
To what extent does the Daily Mail undertake fact-checking
before you publish?
Mr Dacre: We do not have a fact-checking
process like some American newspapers have, I do not think any
British newspaper does. The cost involved is worrying those American
newspapers all the time. Our reporters are extremely professional
operators; they have all had extensive training on local papers
and provincial newspapers. Accuracy is the most important thing
in their operations. If they get things wrong a most serious attitude
is taken by the paper. We have a very extensive sub-editing process
which is encouraged to check facts where possible. I do not see
what more you can do than employ first rate reporters and first
rate subs who self-evidently are more concerned than anybody to
get things right.
Q594 Chairman: And do you also believe
that, in order that you are able to reflect every side of the
argument or to give an opportunity to somebody who you are going
to write an article about that you should hear their version or
their side of the story, you should inform somebody that you are
going to write an article about them before you publish it?
Mr Dacre: Ninety-nine times out
of 100 yes, I think we always do, and indeed the PCC, although
I do not think it can codify it, will find against the newspaper
if the newspaper has not given space to the other person's side.
Q595 Chairman: You say 99 times out
of a hundred. I retracted my earlier remark and I fully accept
you were not the editor of the newspaper responsible, but in the
case of Max Mosley was that a one in a hundred case where it was
right not to tell him, or do you think he should have been told?
Mr Dacre: Well, this is the age-old
problem. Almost certainly if they had told him he would have injuncted
them. Almost certainly if it had been a Saturday morning you would
have had a part-time judge on who would not be expert in defamation
or privacy. Almost certainly that judge would have granted an
injunction. Almost certainly it would have got bogged down in
the long grass and taken several weeks. The way Strasbourg is
deciding on privacy there is a good possibility that the injunction
might have stuck. It goes across the spectrum of journalism. I
hope I am not talking out of turn but I was talking to the editor
of a paper that carried an article about tax evasion by British
banks and he confessed they were not able to put the charges to
the banks for that very reason, because they knew they would be
Q596 Chairman: But if that is the
consideration then it would suggest to me certainly that it is
not going to be 99 times out of 100 that you notify; there would
be a very large number of times that you do not.
Mr Dacre: With great respect,
Chairman, these stories do not come up that often; they are quite
rare, particularly for a paper like the Mail. We do not,
by and large, go in for that kind of journalism.
Q597 Paul Farrelly: When you were
referring to Nick Davies' book in your speech last November you
did say: "Heaven forbid that its author should have observed
the basic journalistic nicety of checking those facts with the
parties concerned" which seems
Mr Dacre: I cannot see in this
instance why he should not have checked them, do you? I do not
think the Daily Mail is going to injunct.
Q598 Paul Farrelly: In the Mosley
case, had you had that story would you have given him the opportunity
of comment? Would you have said: "Look, Max, we have you
bang to rights, we have video footage, the person who took it
is very well qualified, she is married to a British agent, she
had a camera down her bra, but there is one thing we are uncertain
about, did it have a Nazi theme? Would you like to comment?"
Mr Dacre: Can I just short-circuit
this please? The Daily Mail would not have broken that
story. We are a family newspaper, our readers do not expect us
to print those kinds of stories. This is the irony of the situation.
Q599 Chairman: You did publish quite
a lot about it after it appeared.
Mr Dacre: Of course we did. So
did the BBC and so did the Guardian.