Thursday, September 29, 2011 

The wonderful world of Melanie Phillips, pt. 964.

You might recall that a while back Paul Dacre's lawyers contacted Kevin Arscott of the Angry Mob blog as he'd had the temerity to say some unkind and hurtful things about the greatest newspaper editor the world has ever seen. Admittedly, hoping that someone dies a slow and painful death and that people then queue up to shit on their grave is not very pleasant; it is however certainly not defamatory, as they claimed. Their aim was however achieved: the second result on Google when you search for "Paul Dacre" is now not a post calling for his death. Rather, there are now three separate entries on the first page detailing his legal activities.

Suggesting that resorting to empty threats of legal action is becoming a habit among hacks at the Mail, Angry Mob has since been involved in an interesting exchange of correspondence with everyone's favourite Moral Maze panellist, Melanie Phillips. Having politely suggested in an email that her insistence on continuing to dredge up the "Winterval" myth is misleading her readers, she responded:

Interesting that you think all those people, including Bishops of the Church of England who were so upset by Winterval, failed to understand what you alone apparently understood. In fact, it is plain that you have zero understanding of why this term caused such offence to so many people. Birmingham council’s protestations that Christmas remained at the heart of the Winterval celebrations were disingenuous and missed the point. ‘Christmas’ is a term that does not merely refer to Christmas Day but to the period around it. There was no need for the term Winterval at all — except as a way of not referring to the Christmas season, but instead to provide a neutral term which would enable other faith celebrations around that time to assume equal prominence. That was the objection which was clearly stated at the time by the Bishops and others: Winterval buried ‘Christmas’ and replaced it in the public mind. Your message is therefore as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive.

Melanie

While being told that you're misleading people is never likely to immediately endear you to them, to suggest that disagreeing is arrogant, ignorant and offensive goes beyond sensitivity into the realms of being rude for the sake of it. Rudeness often tends to lead to it being delivered back in spades, and Angry Mob duly delivered:

If you read the essay I think you’d realise that you are quite mistaken. Again, you really need to start engaging with facts, rather than just reverberating around your own blinkered mind.

Your dishonest attack on Rory Weal was a staggeringly embarrassing exercise in how underhand you have to become to even engage in an argument with a 16-year-old.

I’ve responded to you via my blog [http://www.butireaditinthepaper.co.uk ], I prefer to keep such conversations public – as any writer should (although I notice you don’t believe that journalism or blogging is a two-way process, probably because it is easier to write your nonsense trapped in your own blissful bubble of ignorance).

I really think you should take a second look at some of the accusations you made about Rory Weal, because, thanks to your laziness (i.e. not bothering to look into his life situation before starting your rant), you got his situation horribly wrong and you look even more foolish than normal.

To which Mel then responded:

Your blog post about me is highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action. There are many things I could say to point out the gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions in what you have written. I will not do so, however, because you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission. Consequently I will have no more to do with you and any further messages from you will be electronically binned unread along with other nuisance mail.

While Kevin did give in to the temptation to refer to Phillips as "Mad Mel", a term of endearment much used across the blogosphere, and one to which it's known she has not warmed (the tactics of Stalin, she said, when Jackie Ashley suggested without any malice that some of her thinking could come across as "bonkers"), there's little else in his post which could be construed as defamatory, let alone for which he would have to pay out damages. The worst in fact comes in a comment, with Col describing her as a "shit human being". Not very nice, but again, likely to be classed as abuse rather than defamatory. It also seems all the more remarkable considering that it wasn't so long back that the Spectator, the former home of Phillips' blog, had to pay damages to Alastair Crooke after Mel had made err, false allegations about him. This misunderstanding almost certainly resulted in Mel deciding to "expand and develop" her own website. Then again, Mel has never had any compunction about responding in kind.

What's more, as Angry Mob relates, someone had these wise words to say on the subject of libel a couple of years ago:

Because of the difficulty of proving what may be unprovable, those who express such views are intimidated by the prospect of losing such a case – and then having to pay astronomical legal costs to multinationals or wealthy individuals who can afford to keep racking up the final bill.

So scientists, academics, authors, journalists and others are effectively censoring themselves for fear of becoming trapped in a ruinous libel suit – or are being forced to back down and apologise for statements they still believe to be true.


Wealthy or at least comfortably off individuals like Melanie Phillips perhaps, the author of the above. A statement she doubtless still believes to be true.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011 

Scum-watch: The libelling of Sylvia Henry.

For those of you who want to cast your minds back to the deeply depressing days of late 2008 and the furore following the conviction of the three individuals found guilty of causing the death of Peter Connelly, you might remember that shortly afterwards the then Sun editor Rebekah Brooks gave the Hugh Cudlipp lecture, in which she defended her paper's "campaign for justice". She certainly had no regrets:

Campaigns provide a unique connection to the public especially when the subject matter is of a serious nature. For me, nothing can illustrate this connection better than our recent Baby P campaign.

The public outcry was deafening. And we began our fight for justice with a determination to expose the lack of accountability and responsibility for Baby P’s brutal death.

...

We received many many thousands of letters at The Sun about our Baby P coverage.

I’d like to read you one: ‘I have never been a huge fan of The Sun, however I thank you for the coverage of Baby P. I am so grateful for the campaign. This is not a modern day witch-hunt but a petition for justice. Please, please do not relent.'

In contrast, I’d like to quote from an article in... The Guardian.

“Full of fury and repellent hysteria, but isn’t that part of the game? This is less about the creation of public emotion and more about its manipulation."

This knee-jerk tabloid kicking reaction is just dull.

But total disregard and respect for public opinion never ceases to amaze me.

They demanded accountability.

And as a result of the campaign, some, just some, of those responsible were removed from office without compensation.

Or as this Sun reader wrote: ‘The tabloid press, which the arty-farty press like to look down on so much, has shown that it prides morality over political correctness.’

Brooks is now spending most of her time as chief executive of News International trying desperately to contain the ever growing phone-hacking scandal, having first claimed with a straight face that it was all lies and that the Guardian had likely deliberately misled the British public. Even then though her approving quoting of a reader who described her campaign as "morality over political correctness" was questionable: she knew full well that her determination to target not those genuinely responsible for Peter Connelly's death, who couldn't at the time be named, but instead the social workers at the centre of the case had led to two of them becoming suicidal. Her paper's website had allowed readers to leave comments encouraging Maria Ward to take their own life, such was the hatred the paper was well aware it was helping to whip up.

Today in the High Court the Sun had to admit that its targeting of Sylvia Henry, one of the Haringey social workers who had worked on Connelly's case, was based on completely inaccurate information. Henry was one of the five individuals the paper demanded be immediately sacked for having failed to prevent Connelly's death. The paper's campaign continued even after the BBC's Panorama had disclosed that Henry had wanted Connelly taken into care in 2006, following his admission to hospital with what she suspected was non-accidental injuries. She was overruled, and had no further role in Connelly's case after that point.

The paper however was absolutely certain of her culpability. In around 80 separate pieces over four months she was described as "grossly negligent", "shameless", to "blame for his appalling abuse and death", "lazy" and that she had "generally shown an uncaring disregard for the safety of children, even in cases where they obviously required urgent protection". It really doesn't get any more potentially libellous but the paper couldn't have cared in the slightest, not only of the damage to Henry's reputation, but also of the potential danger their vituperative articles posed to her personally: both Sharon Shoesmith and Maria Ward received death threats, with Shoesmith advised to avoid tube stations in case someone recognised her and pushed her under a train.

For once, the paper's apology is about right, both in length, its clarity and hopefully also in prominence, although it will be interesting to see where it appears in tomorrow's paper. She should never have had to pursue such a lengthy libel action though: if the Sun had bothered to investigate the case anything approaching properly in the first place they would have found, like Panorama, that she had worked conscientiously and with Connelly's best interests at heart throughout. Instead it was far too concerned with painting a picture of Haringey as a whole as out of touch and unaccountable. As the paper's leader had it at the time, "a price must be paid for his little life". That price could well have been paid in blood. Morality never even began to enter into it.

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Friday, October 22, 2010 

The real shame of England.

Forgive me for not plunging straight back into wholesale blogging, which I'll leave to Monday, as I'm sure you're spending reviewed out in any case (these two posts summarise it fairly succinctly). Instead here's something I and I suspect almost everyone else missed from before I went away (it was on Have I Got News for You last night, incidentally):

Two Sunday newspapers have quietly apologised to a woman who was the subject of a tabloid feeding frenzy earlier this year.

Vanessa Perroncel was alleged in several papers to have had an affair with the Chelsea and England footballer John Terry. All sorts of personal and private information about Perroncel was published at the time, much it (sic) false.


The News of the World's apology has since disappeared behind their hastily established paywall, although the apologies by the Mail on Sunday and the Screws were almost identical:

On January 31 and afterwards we published some personal information about Vanessa Perroncel in articles concerning an alleged affair with the footballer John Terry.

Miss Perroncel has since informed us that she would have preferred her personal information to remain private and it was untrue in any case. We apologise to Miss Perroncel for any distress caused.


As Roy Greenslade points out, these apologies are absolutely remarkable. They suggest, although it's difficult to be certain, that almost every single thing printed about the apparently non-existent affair between Perroncel and Terry was wrong. It suggests that Terry was potentially in the right in seeking the super-injunction in the first place, both to stop a story which was untrue, and even if not his prime motive, to protect Perroncel from having every single aspect of her life splashed across the tabloid press, something which happened regardless. By the same token, there was no reason for Terry to be stripped of the England captaincy, and also no reason for Wayne Bridge to decline to be a part of the England team which went to South Africa.

Many will reason that's there no smoke without fire. Where did the story come from in the first place? Pure rumour based around the fact that Perroncel and Terry had been seen together, how they were "just friends" as Perroncel herself has put it? It wasn't clear in the first place, and clearly doesn't seem likely to be explained now. Was Wayne Bridge convinced of Terry's betrayal purely by the press? Again, we don't seem to know.

Something that is certain and is just as remarkable has been Perroncel's dignity and quiet determination ever since the super-injunction failed and the story broke. She has maintained from the very beginning that there was no truth to the allegations, despite doubtless having numerous cheques waved under her nose. She could have quite easily sold a completely spurious story for an obscene amount of money, as countless others would have done in her situation, or alternatively have accepted money from Terry to keep her silence, as was also allegedly offered in what could now be equally inaccurate accounts. She could also have sued for libel, and considering the more outlandish claims made, including that she had slept with almost half of the Chelsea team, it seems likely it could have been more than easily proved such allegations were lies. Instead she simply pursued apologies from the newspapers held most responsible, something that she achieved, with the predictable outcome that those apologies were buried respectively back on page 18. At the time the Daily Mail thanked Fabio Capello for getting rid of the captain who had "shamed" England; it has never been more clear just what it is that truly shames England.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010 

Fits of morality (as well as hypocrisy and cant) part 2.

Attacking the cant of the Daily Mail might be the equivalent of drowning a kitten in a bag, both sad and easy, but the paper really does seem determined to wind itself up to ever greater levels of phony indignation, not since Sachsgate having been able to ride the high horse of morality in such an absurd and precious fashion. When the BBC was forced into acting over Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross's prank phone calls to Andrew Sachs, the Mail screamed that it had "woken up to decency". Today it bellows its thanks to "Signor Capello", having taken just ten minutes to sack the man "who shamed England". That, as the Guardian reports, this "family man" never did anything similar while he managed teams in Italy despite his players acting in a similar fashion to John Terry only ever so slightly damages the image of this new moral colossus, his compass working to the order deemed righteous by Paul Dacre.

And as could have been predicted, the paper's already got the first hits in on Rio Ferdinand, bringing up more of his past than even I did, who doubtless will now have to watch his every step between now and June lest he trespass against the peccadilloes of those without sin, willing as ever to cast not just the first stone, but to desecrate the corpse afterwards as well.

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Friday, February 05, 2010 

Fits of morality (as well as hypocrisy and cant).

One of those wonderful quotes which will never lose its sparkle was the observation by Lord Macaulay that "[W]e know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality". These days, it's more accurate if corrected very slightly, exchanging public with media. It's difficult to feel any sympathy for John Terry, yet his deposition as England captain sets a truly ridiculous and regrettable precedent: a role which should be all about what occurs on the field and Terry's ability to lead his team, one which no one questions he would have been able to continue to do regardless of his antics off the pitch has suddenly become a question of morality rather than of who is best for the job. It's not even as if Terry would have been required to work with Wayne Bridge, the man caught in the middle of the faux-outrage: only if Ashley Cole is injured is it likely that his services will be required.

Terry though didn't have anything approaching a chance. As Tabloid Watch notes, Terry or a story connected with his alleged infidelity has appeared on the front page of the Mail every day since last Saturday, as compared to the number of times it featured the earthquake in Haiti (0). The decision was made not so much by Fabio Capello as by the nation's tabloid editors, who made it next to impossible for him to come to any decision other than stripping him of the captaincy. If he hadn't, you can bet that the issue would never have been dropped and would have overshadowed everything else in the build up to the World Cup in South Africa.

Still, at least we now have a captain with a truly spotless reputation. Rio Ferdinand has never been accused of being unfaithful; that he's been banned from driving on four separate occasions, including for being over the legal drink-drive limit, not to mention that time he "forgot" about his drug test and instead went shopping is clearly on a completely different moral plane to Terry's playing away from home (groan). It does though never cease to amaze just how powerful the press remains in this country, even as sales apparently inexorably decline. Those adding another notch to their bedposts tonight will not be footballers, but those other dashing, completely incorruptible and always faithful figures: journalists.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010 

Modern media values.

Not going to bother with a weekend links post this time round; not much on the blogs to link to, the papers aren't much better, and I'm sure you get tired of me linking to the same shit every Saturday anyway.

I do think though that nothing quite sums up the modern media's values as much as today's front pages. On all the tabloids, and even the Telegraph, footballer shags other footballer's ex-girlfriend. The others, oh, some bloke called Tony Blair was before some panel preaching.

Naturally, it's an important victory for freedom, according to the Sun: you have the right to know when a man with all the charm of a house brick turns out to, well, have all the charm of a house brick. What a breathtaking revelation. To quote the paper:


But if, as a married man, he is behaving in a manner many might find unacceptable with his position, the public has the right to know.

Didn't the public then have a right to know that ex-Sun editor Rebekah Wade's relationship with her then husband Ross Kemp was either breaking or had broken down? Well no, because then News International executive Les Hinton phoned round all the papers begging them not to mention it, which they duly abided by. The only freedom which the tabloid press recognise is the freedom to make money, regardless of the facts and regardless of the morals which some attempt to shove down the throats of their readers.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009 

The BBC is spineless, yet again.

The one thing it seems you can rely on the BBC to do, especially post-Sachsgate, is to fold completely when challenged by almost anyone on almost anything. It decides it can't broadcast Javier de Fruto's dance tribute to Diaghilev, supposedly because they stupidly agreed to transmit it pre-watershed before they discovered it contained a deformed pope, pregnant nuns and "wild sex", but also you suspect because of the outcry which would have naturally followed had they decided to do so even after 9pm; apologises for asking a stark but legitimate question concerning Ugandan legislation against homosexuality on its notorious Have Your Say boards; and now, and most, pathetically, has settled the libel claim from Trafigura over Newsnight's original broadcast on the toxic waste dumping by a contractor of the company in Ivory Coast.

The BBC report claimed that the toxic waste had caused deaths, something which the company has ferociously disputed, and it admitted no such liability when it settled with either the Ivory Coast government for $200 million or the 31,000 personally exposed to the waste, who were bought off for a pitiful £30 million. That there were deaths, contrary to Trafigura's claims, represented by the egregious Carter-Ruck, was supported by the investigation by the United Nations Special Rapporteur Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu:

"On the basis of the above considerations and taking into account the immediate impact on public health and the proximity of some of the dumping sites to areas where affected populations reside, the Special Rapporteur considers that there seems to be strong prima facie evidence that the reported deaths and adverse health consequences are related to the dumping of the waste from the Probo Koala."

Supposedly terrified of the cost of defending the reporting, with the Guardian claiming that Carter-Fuck could at the end of the action leave the BBC with a bill for £3,000,000 (or half a Jonathan Ross), as well as the prospect of it being heard by Mr Justice Eady, the corporation caved in. Trafigura's director Eric de Turckheim meanwhile is still maintaining that the dumping of the waste was "a deplorable action which Trafigura did not and could not have foreseen", even after emails between company executives showed that they knew full well of the toxic nature of the slops they were seeking to get rid of and the specialist cleaning which was required.

Quite where this leaves the BBC's increasingly rare investigations is anyone's guess. What it does clearly do is further embolden Carter-Fuck, a law firm it seems which truly has no shame when it comes to those it chooses to represent. It failed to gag parliament and the Grauniad, but the BBC was an easier target. The question of just what the BBC increasingly is for also remains unanswered.

The original Newsnight report is still incidentally available on YouTube:


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Wednesday, December 16, 2009 

Barry George and the News International smear merchants.

Once you've been fitted up by the police (sorry, I remember, the case was "fit to be put before a jury"), being fitted up by the tabloids is probably something to be expected. In the case of Barry George though, the way in which three major outlets of Murdoch media attempted to cast doubt on his innocence was quite something. After having received a "six-figure sum" in damages today at the High Court from News Group Newspapers, along with the now customary confidentiality agreement (hopefully one which the Guardian will be able to breach like it did the one that Gordon Taylor signed after his massive pay-out over the Screws' phone-hacking), it's worth reflecting on just how they did it.

A classic of the genre is making someone comfortable, thinking they're going to be given a soft soap, friendly interview and a sympathetic piece, as you might expect having it just been confirmed that you were the victim of one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice of recent times, and then either going on the attack or, as in this case, making the quotes up. The News of the Screws, which bought George's story, today admitted that George had not told the paper that "he couldn't have murdered Jill Dando, as he was stalking someone else at the time". Unlike most made-up quotes in the tabloids, which you can spot a mile off, this was an actually believable one, especially when the tabloids had painted a picture of George as a notorious oddball that spent all his spare time following and frightening women. Along with the Screws interview, George also went under the forensic gaze of the ever fragrant Kay Burley on Sky News, which was probably the biggest mistake of the lot. Burley it seems decided that George, on the basis of possibly asking for her phone number and contact details after the interview (it's unclear how much of what was reported at the time was true, now that so much has been retracted) and cycling to the Sky News studios to ask for a copy of it was either stalking her or about to start, her fears of which, as well as being reported to the police, were also published in all the nation's leading titles. Whether they began in the Murdoch titles originally or not is now difficult to ascertain, but it wouldn't exactly be surprising.

Those attempts at casting aspersions on his innocence were however nothing compared to the treatment he got in the Sun the day after he was acquitted. Mike Sullivan, the paper's crime editor (featured previously here on a number of occasions) drew up a list of 10 "facts" which the jury didn't hear, a run-down which had quite obviously been provided by the police and which was in any case just as the flimsy as the case which was presented against him, as I detailed on the day. Also published that day, and still available on the Sun's website, was a "warning" from the woman George raped in 1982, of which these three paragraphs stand out:

"I was angry that despite what happened to me, Barry George had been left alone. No one had seen the signs or done anything about it.

"I have seen George portrayed as some kind of harmless eccentric. But he is far from benign.

"He knows how to work the system and look like a sad case. I think he always craved notoriety."


He knows how to work the system, a rather dubious claim about someone with a personality disorder and an IQ of 75, who in the words of Paddy Hill you wouldn't trust to go to Tesco - but not one that the Sun felt like tempering. Over a month later and the paper was still at it, making an issue of George sharing a hotel with mainly women, along with quotes which look highly suspect. Around the only piece that was even sympathetic towards George was a comment from the Scottish Sun columnist Martel Maxwell, and even that emphasised that George could still be a "nasty piece of work".

Whether George will be having the last laugh, having received between £50,000 and £100,000 from the Screws and Sky for the original interviews, and with now a likely further £100,000 for what was to all intents and purposes a smear campaign is unclear. It is however beyond low, and shows that the media has learned absolutely nothing from the way it went after Colin Stagg in similar circumstances, motivated then as now by the exact same police force which had brought the ridiculously dubious prosecution in the first place. George, you get the feeling, will also not be the last to be subject to similar treatment.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009 

How very cosy.

Nadine Dorries, that noted flag carrier for lying and libel, has managed to wring a whole £1,000 from Damian McBride over the supposed libels he sent to Derek Draper while they were considering the setting up of the now infamous "Red Rag" website. McBride, fairly enough, decided it wasn't worth the potential cost of going to court, even though these remarks about the sainted Ms Dorries were never actually published, were private remarks sent from one person to another and which would never have entered the public domain had Derek Draper's email not been "hacked" by persons unknown and sent to Guido Fawkes. It would have been fun of course for McBride to argue in court that Dorries had no reputation to defend, and considering that Dorries' lawyer has turned out to be Donal Blaney, hardly the most feared silk in the libel capital of the world, you would have rated his chances.

Alas, it was not to be. It is of course completely irrelevant that Dorries spent that weekend herself making clearly libellous accusations that Tom Watson knew about McBride's behaviour and did nothing about it, something which both the Mail on Sunday and the Sun have now paid far larger sums out in damages to Watson for repeating. It is also by no means hypocritical that Guido, a person who laughs at libel laws and declares that he is above such things, has profited from delivering the writ to McBride. Fawkes is also, of course, a libertarian blogger and in no way associated with the Conservative party, despite the fact he has earned from delivering a letter on behalf of a Conservative MP, the other of which was also delivered by a piss-poor Tory blogger, and which was from the offices of the equally piss-poor Donal Blaney, a Tory blogger. Is that clear? Good.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009 

The rise and fall of Richard Desmond.

In the world of catastrophic legal cases, Richard Desmond's humiliation in the High Court must rank up there amongst the very top. Last year's disaster for the News of the World at the hands of Max Mosley seems to be the only really apposite comparison, but the key difference is that was a case brought by Mosley; here Desmond has brought the entire thing upon himself.

Quite why Desmond brought what was such a trivial claim for libel against Tom Bower remains unclear. Bower's QC, Ronald Thwaites, who has somewhat acquitted himself after his disgraceful performance representing the Met at the Jean Charles de Menezes health and safety prosecution, said in court that the real reason was because Desmond's ego couldn't allow him to described as a wimp, "ground into the dust" by Black, even if it was in a book that was unlikely to be read by many in a passage that was hardly remarkable. Others however believe the real reason was to ensure that Bower never had a chance of publishing a supposedly finished manuscript on Desmond himself, provisionally titled Rogue Trader. If it's as damning as Bower's other works, and when you have such a target it's hardly likely not to be, Desmond has far more to fear from that than from claims that Conrad Black had "ground him into the dust".

Surely the only thing that ensured Desmond had anything approaching a chance of victory was our ridiculous and damaging libel laws, where the defendant has to prove their case rather than the accuser theirs. Everyone in the media world knows how Desmond operates: he is a bully, a born liar and someone who surrounds himself only with sycophants and those he has total trust in. Only someone with a personality like Desmond, where the slightest insult can result in a feud lasting for years, could be thin-skinned enough to take offence at being described as a pornographer. Desmond made his money in softcore pornographic magazines, having obtained the licence to publish Penthouse in the UK in 1983. From there he built an empire thanks to his diversifying into most of the more acceptable fetishes, with among his more famous titles the likes of Asian Babes and Skin and Wriggly. This led inevitably to satellite and cable channels broadcasting much the same content, although his channels show the softcore variants of the produced smut; whether he actually owns the companies which produce the hardcore versions is unclear.

For a man who yearns for respectability and to take his rightful place amongst the establishment, owning wank rags and jazz channels is usually a no-no. While decidedly last century, one way to acquire that sort of status is to purchase a newspaper, and while the Daily Star is hardly what most would describe as an educational read, and the Daily Express has been in decline for half a century, his purchase of both ensured that he had finally entered the world of not just business but also political power. Some of course at the time questioned whether such a man should own a newspaper which used to be the biggest seller in the world; happily, a donation by Desmond of £100,000 to the Labour party ensured that no obstacles were placed in his way.

Desmond has since behaved exactly as you would expect a man of his stature to: he has made hundreds of journalists redundant from both papers, turned them even more than they already were into celebrity rags with a side-serving of news, the majority of which is inflammatory and bordering on the openly racist, and paid himself vast sums of money in the process, anything up to £50m a year.

Most modern proprietors of newspapers, like Desmond, deny that they would ever influence anything which their employees write, let alone tell them what to. In court, Desmond's QC Ian Winter said that it was "difficult to think of a more defamatory allegation to make". Most proprietors of course don't have to tell their journalists what to write, for the simple fact that they already know how they think, what their interests are and how to defend them, as Rupert Murdoch's editors do, although Murdoch at least admits that the Sun and News of the World's editorial line is directly influenced by him. Desmond, while also using that kind of influence in the newsroom, is both more brutal and direct. David Hellier, a former media editor on the Sunday Express, described how Desmond was seen in the newsroom "virtually every day between five and seven o'clock" and would regularly demand editorial changes. Any casual reader of Private Eye will have noted down the years Desmond's regular appearances in the Street of Shame, often ordering journalists around and insulting them on their appearance. One more memorable episode was when Desmond apparently told Express editor Peter Hill that his current front page was "fucking shit". Hill, fed up with Desmond's constant interference, finally lost his temper and left, leaving the deputy to redo the paper. Most notoriously, Desmond punched the Express's then night editor, Ted Young, in the stomach after his failure to run an article on the death of an obscure 60's musician. Desmond settled with Young the day before the case was due to go to an industrial tribunal for a six figure sum. Young was prevented from giving evidence in the High Court by Justice Eady, but thankfully his testimony was not needed.

Perhaps the most damning evidence however was given by the person who wrote the offending article which led Black to sue Desmond and consequently "ground him into the dust". Anil Bhoyrul, one of the former Mirror journalists involved in the Viglen shares debacle which was another stain on Piers Morgan's character, wrote the "Media Uncovered" column in the Sunday Express between 2001 and 2003 under the pseudonym Frank Daly. Despite supposedly being a witness for Desmond, Bhoyrul made clear that he was directly influenced in what he wrote by what Desmond "liked and disliked", which was made clear to him by the editor Martin Townsend in phone calls on a Tuesday. Bhoyrul boasted of how he "got a pretty good feel for who, you know, to be positive about and who to be negative about. The impression I got over time was that Conrad Black and Richard Desmond were not the best of friends." Bhoyrul was hardly exaggerating: he wrote around 27 hostile pieces about Black, and attacked the owner of the Independent, Tony O'Reilly, in much the same fashion when Desmond was in dispute with him.

Then there was just the sort of in the public domain knowledge which made Desmond look like an idiot. Three days after Desmond had threatened a business contact down the phone, telling him "[he'd] be the worst fucking enemy you'll ever have", the Sunday Express ran a defamatory article about the contact and his hedge fund, Pentagon Capital Management. When Desmond had to settle the libel claim from Pentagon, a statement was read out in open court that "Mr Desmond accepts that it was his comments in the presence of Sunday Express journalists that prompted the Sunday Express to publish the article." Yet Desmond denied when questioned by Thwaites that he had complained to the editor about his predicament, or in front of the journalists. Unless Desmond was committing perjury, he presumably only agreed to that statement in the libel settlement to get it over with.

Whether in the long run much will come of Desmond's humiliation, apart from the possible publication of Bower's biography, is difficult to tell. Undoubtedly his enemies at the Mail will tomorrow have a field day, as will the others that despise Desmond, but readers of his own papers would never know that he had even lost his claim. The article in the Express doesn't so much as mention it, merely setting out that Desmond "set the record straight", while even more mindboggling is his claim to that it was "worth it to stand up in court". Certainly, the estimated costs of the action, £1.25m, is only about a week's wages to Desmond, but to someone with his sensitivity to criticism and determination to be seen as a honest, generous, philanthropic businessman, he must be secretly devastated. Most damaging to Desmond though is certainly Roy Greenslade's conclusion that he is an even worse newspaper owner than Robert Maxwell was. Greenslade should know: he was Mirror editor under Maxwell (His book, Press Gang, is also a fine post-war history of the British press). Although Desmond has clearly not defrauded the Express in the way which Maxwell did Mirror group, he has stripped it of assets in a similar fashion. The Guardian describes how while Greenslade was giving his evidence, Desmond gripped the table in front of him tightly, while his wife asked whether he was OK. That might yet be nothing on what he does tomorrow when the papers quote Greenslade in an approving fashion.

(Other sources for this apart from the links include the latest Private Eye, 1241, and its report on the trial on page 9.)

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Monday, November 10, 2008 

The Daily Mail in the flesh.

Andrew Neil once wrote that if you want to know what Rupert Murdoch thinks, you should read the Sun's editorials. Not the Times', the Sun's; Rupert doesn't really do subtlety. It's much the same with Paul Dacre. The Daily Mail after all couldn't really be a person writ large, could it? There's too many contradictions, too much foaming hatred, so much casual cynicism combined with values that went out with rationing. No one could be like that, could they?

Dacre's latest extended utterances prove drastically otherwise. Having previously, and somewhat hilariously, delivered the Cudlipp lecture, the late great editor that Dacre doesn't deserve to even lick the boots of, railing against the "subsidariat" and the BBC, he was given the lectern at the Society of Editors bash. Clocking in at just over 7,500 words, it covers more or less everything that Dacre and by extension the Daily Mail loathes. First though he goes through what originally inspired him:

Hugh Cudlipp’s “Publish and Be Damned”, and Arthur Christiansen’s “Headlines All My Life” were my much-thumbed bibles. All those glorious memoirs by James Cameron, that brilliant reporter, were my text books.

And yet you still turned into the man you are today.

Before we've even got anywhere, he's straight in with the out and out bullshit:

I am, however, delighted, over the years, to have made my own small contribution to the chattering classes’ dyspepsia with the Rothermere press – but then no day is too busy or too short not to find time to tweak the noses of the liberalocracy which effectively run Britain.



Ah yes, the "liberalocracy" which effectively runs Britain. Fact of the matter is, like with Murdoch, no government could ever be right-wing enough to satisfy Dacre or the Mail, just as there'll probably never be a government left-wing enough to satisfy me.

How Dacre became the man he is today:

At university, I edited the student newspaper. I’m afraid I took a product that looked like the then Times on Prozac and turned it into a raucous version of Cudlipp’s Mirror complete, I shudder to admit, with Page 3 girl students whom I dubbed “Leeds Lovelies”. 

We mounted an undercover investigation, complete with photographers, into seemingly respectable pubs that were putting on strip shows. Family entertainment it wasn’t.

His hypocrisy then was already fully in action. Leeds Lovelies on one page, investigation into strippers doing the same thing on the next. Brilliant!

Open sentimental twaddle about the old Sunday Express follows:

So what was the editorial formula identified originally by the brilliant Scottish editor John Gordon and followed with ruthless will by John Junor? Firstly, the paper never, ever, forgot who its readers were and what interested them and their families. Secondly, it told everything through the prism of people. 

Page 3 of the Sunday Express said it all. The lead article under the title “Meeting People” was an interview - not with the kind of half-baked trollop who passes as a celebrity these days, but with, say, the mother of a newly chosen British Nobel Prize winner.

 Next to it was a large cartoon by Giles whose genius for clean, gloriously warm family humour is matched today only by the Mail’s magnificent Mac. Why this genre of cartooning - which combines superb draftsmanship with a timeless universal humour that often contains great truths - is dying out is a subject for another speech. Anyway, underneath was the “You the Lawyer” column addressing the problems of every day life such as fencing disputes and dog bites. What paper today would have such a low-key, non-newsy page 3. Yet all human life was on that page.

All human life, as long as it was suitably middle class, obviously.

Skipping a whole load of nonsense about the good ol' days, how columnists these days don't know their born, how it's all the fault of the state and some justified poking at Richard Desmond, he gets to the start of his main points.

Donning my hat as Chairman of the PCC’s Editors’ Code Committee, I would like to talk to you a little about where we are on regulation and press freedom issues. 

About 18 months ago, I, Les Hinton of News International and Murdoch MacLennan of the Telegraph, had dinner with the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

How very cosy. Ignoring the first two concerns he raised, which were reasonably noble, it's his last two which are the interesting ones:

Thirdly, there were the very serious financial implications for newspapers of the Conditional Fee Arrangement, the no win, no fee legislation. Introduced as a well-intentioned measure to help the poor have access to the courts, it was being ruthlessly exploited by unscrupulous lawyers who were ramping up their costs in media cases. Publishers were being faced with huge bills, sometimes running into millions, to defend even the most simple, clear-cut cases.

 Costs in CFA cases, as many of you here know, can be almost infinite with lawyers entitled to “success fees” of up to 100% on top of their actual bills. This gives them a positive financial incentive to take relatively straight-forward cases, worth just a few thousand pounds, and run them as long as possible. Adding insult to injury, CFA claimants can take out very expensive ATE (after the event) insurance policies to protect themselves against costs. If they win, the paper has to pay the claimant’s premium, but if they lose - and this is the cynicism of it all – the insurer rarely enforces the charges because the claimant invariably cannot afford to pay. 



Let me give you an example: Martyn Jones, an utterly inconsequential MP, sued the Mail on Sunday over their claim that he had sworn at a Commons official. The Mail on Sunday believed it had rock-solid witnesses and decided to fight the case. In the event, they lost and were ordered to pay £5,000 in damages. The MP’s lawyers claimed costs of £388,000 – solicitor’s costs of £68,000, plus 100% success fees, barrister’s costs of £63,000, plus 100% success fees, VAT and libel insurance of £68,000. Associated’s costs were £136,000 making a total of £520,000 costs in a case that awarded damages of just £5,000 in a dispute over a simple matter of fact.

 Can it really be right for a QC in a libel case to be paid £7,000 for a day in court whilst the same QC, prosecuting or defending a serious case at the Old Bailey, may receive less than £600 a day – less than a tenth?

Perhaps predictably, Dacre leaves some crucial facts out of this recounting of the libel case involving Jones. The trial was held in front of a jury, although Justice Eady was the judge in charge, and it reached a majority verdict in favour of Jones. The Mail on Sunday claimed that he had told a House of Commons security guard to "fuck off"; Jones claimed that he had in fact said to the security guard that "I don't give a shit what you are, you should know who MPs are." The jury sided with Jones, and presumably also with the claim from Jones's lawyers that there were "at least a dozen untrue assertions" made which had been "cranked up, spiced up and sexed up" so that it became a "grotesque distortion" of what really happened. Perhaps if the MoS had settled it might not have had to pay such costs, hmm? In any event, what Dacre is describing is extraordinarily rare. As has been well documented, only the rich and famous can usually afford to bring libel cases, with there being very few law firms that will contest cases on a no-win no-fee basis. Jones was lucky; the MoS was not. Boo hoo, isn't the world awful?

The result is that today, newspapers – even wealthy ones like the Mail – think long and hard before contesting actions, even if they know they are in the right, for fear of the ruinous financial implications. For the provincial and local press, such actions are now out of the question. Instead, they stump up some cash, money they can’t afford, to settle as quickly as possible, to avoid court actions – which, if they were to lose, could, in some case, close them. Some justice!



Dacre wilfully exaggerates. Even costs of £520,000 to the Mail group are relative peanuts, and that was about as most extreme a case as you can imagine. The reality is that most who think they have been treated unfairly go to the Press Complaints Commission - where their treatment is often not much better.

The fourth issue we raised with Gordon Brown was a truly frightening amendment to the Data Protection Act, winding its way through Parliament, under which journalists faced being jailed for two years for illicitly obtaining personal information such as ex-directory telephone numbers or an individual’s gas bills or medical records. This legislation would have made Britain the only country in the free world to jail journalists and could have had a considerable chilling effect on good journalism.

 The Prime Minister – I don’t think it is breaking confidences to reveal – was hugely sympathetic to the industry’s case and promised to do what he could to help.

 Over the coming months and battles ahead, Mr Brown was totally true to his word. Whatever our individual newspapers’ views are of the Prime Minister – and the Mail is pretty tough on him - we should, as an industry, acknowledge that, to date, he has been a great friend of press freedom. 



Again, Dacre exaggerates completely. The amendment to the DPA was to stop the sale to journalists via private detectives of information obtained from companies' and sometimes government databases. This information was and is hardly ever, if ever, used to uncover genuine scandals, and even if it was, the journalists in those cases would be protected as usual under a public interest defence. What the DPA amendment would have helped put a lid on was the casual obtaining of information on anyone who crosses the media, almost always either celebrities or those accused of crimes outside the realm of the political sphere. At the trial of Stephen Whittamore, the prosecution alleged that some of the material they delivered to journalists was on two actresses then in EastEnders, the family of Ricky Tomlinson, and a former Big Brother contestant. Quite a chilling effect the amendment would have had on good journalism, I'm sure you'll agree.

In any event, the government quickly backed down, especially in the face of private lobbying by Dacre, Hinton and MacLennan, as Dacre goes on to boast:

Thirdly, there is to be action on the “scandalous” greed of CFA lawyers. That adjective is not mine, by the way, but Justice Minister’s Jack Straw’s in a recent speech on the subject. For following Number 10’s intervention all those months ago, there have been many constructive meetings between the industry and the Ministry of Justice on what to do about CFA.

A few weeks ago, I, Rebekah Wade and Murdoch MacLennan saw Jack Straw who assured us that, in the next few months, he is set to unveil proposals to reform CFA, including capping lawyers’ fees.

...

It was agreed that the Data Protection Act should be amended so that journalists would have the right to seek out protected information if they had a “reasonable belief” that their actions were in the public interest.

 And, more pertinently, the Act was amended so that the jailing clause cannot now be implemented unless the Secretary of State seeks approval from Parliament to activate it.



That they already had that "reasonable belief" obviously didn't matter. With the jailing clause unimplemented, the industry can carry on in exactly the way it was doing before.

So that is where we are. The industry has been warned. We must make sure our house in order. Under the auspices of PressBoF, we have produced a guidance note on DPA that has been sent to every paper in Britain. Now it is up to all of us to ensure that our journalists are complying with the Act. At Associated, we are holding seminars on the subject and have written compliance with the Act into our employment contracts. 

At the Editors Code Committee, we are considering whether the current provisions of the Code on data protection and our Guidance Notes, as well as the wording in the Editor’s Codebook, can be strengthened.

Why is it that I don't believe a single word of this? Probably because it was the Mail itself, without even including the MoS, that made the most use of Whittamore, with over 952 transactions. Dacre must have known and sanctioned every single one of them, and then he is one of those responsible for updating the current PCC code! The same newspaper which rages against misuse of government data and the loss of it broke the law in numerous instances and has got away with it. No wonder Dacre is so triumphant.

The parts on Justice Eady now come into view:

But there is one remaining threat to press freedom that I suspect may prove far more dangerous to our industry than all the issues I have just discussed.

 Put to one side the United Nations’ recent attack on Britain’s disgracefully repressive libel laws that have made London the libel capital of the world – something that should be a bitter source of shame for our judicial system. Concentrate instead on how inexorably, and insidiously, the British Press is having a privacy law imposed on it, which – apart from allowing the corrupt and the crooked to sleep easily in their beds – is, I would argue, undermining the ability of mass-circulation newspapers to sell newspapers in an ever more difficult market.



Here then is Dacre's thesis. He doesn't really care, when it comes down to it, about who he and his friends in the media expose in three-in-a-bed sex romps; what he cares about is that the exposing of the rich and the famous is in his view what makes people buy newspapers. Without it, the industry will be further damaged, and the state will have to step in. To suggest this is nonsense would be to give it too much respect: it is crap of the highest order. The Sunday tabloid press, which delivers the scandals and the sex in spades, is already falling of a cliff circulation wise. By contrast, the broadsheets, both daily and weekly are holding up fairly well. The tabloids have to face up to the fact that their readers are increasingly being lost to the internet, where no holes whatsoever are barred. The broadsheets on the other hand are doing OK because they rely on their quality: something which the tabloids simply do not provide, and that includes Dacre's paper, which most agree is the best tabloid regardless of the politics. Would a privacy law further heighten the drops? Probably, but it probably wouldn't make much difference.

In any event, we are not having a privacy law developed in front of our eyes - yet. That might depend on the verdict in the upcoming trial involving Sienna Miller and the Big Pictures photo agency. Just to emphasise how the tabloids don't learn, the Sun and News of the World today settled with her over the publication of nude photographs, awarding £35,000 plus costs, or a pittance as it is to News Corp. Miller has been serially offended against: the Star paid her £15,000 in September over similar photographs and the Sun and News of the World paid her £37,500 last December over, you guessed it, naked photographs. Some will hardly be predisposed to Miller because of her alleged behaviour, but surely the right not to be effectively stalked by paparazzi to the extent where you fear for your life, which is what Miller has been, is one which the law should recognise.

This law is not coming from Parliament – no, that would smack of democracy – but from the arrogant and amoral judgements – words I use very deliberately – of one man. 

I am referring, of course, to Justice David Eady who has, again and again, under the privacy clause of the Human Rights Act, found against newspapers and their age-old freedom to expose the moral shortcomings of those in high places. 



Two cases in particular underline this threat. 

Two years ago, Justice Eady ruled that a cuckolded husband couldn’t sell his story to the press about another married man – a wealthy sporting celebrity – who had seduced his wife. 

The judge was worried about the effect of the revelations on the celebrity’s wife. Now I agree that any distress caused to innocent parties is regrettable but exactly the same worries could be expressed about the relatives of any individual who transgressed which, if followed to its logical conclusion, would mean that nobody could be condemned for wrongdoing. 

But the judge – in an unashamed reversal of centuries of moral and social thinking – placed the rights of the adulterer above society’s age-old belief that adultery should be condemned.



Because Dacre cannot dispute Eady's rulings in a legal sense, he instead turns to morals to try to traduce him. The problem with this is obvious - the country has moved on. Unless hypocrisy is involved, or those involved are mega famous, no one really cares any more. We still disapprove of adultery, but we don't think those involved should be shamed just because they're famous. Dacre however thinks this is exactly the way it should be, that shame is what newspapers are meant to provide, but it isn't. They're supposed to inform, educate, and entertain. Shaming celebrities does none of those things.

The other problem is that the Mail is hypocrisy on stilts itself. The paper is wholly immoral - it thinks nothing of accusing innocent people of terrible crimes with no evidence, such as Robert Murat, who unsurprisingly doesn't warrant a mention in this speech, not to mention Colin Stagg. While it defended the McCanns to the hilt, because they were "its people", the second that Fiona MacKeown came to public attention in a similar plight she was smeared, her home broken into and pictures taken of her dead daughter's bedroom, and attacked by the same columnists who cried fake tears of sympathy for Kate McCann. It ran the most vicious and mendacious campaign possible against the MMR vaccine, now responsible for increased cases of measles up and down the country. It breaks the law with impunity, as we have seen. And then it imagines that it has the right to deliver lectures on what is and what is not moral, as Dacre goes on to do:

Recently, of course, the very same Justice Eady effectively ruled that it’s perfectly acceptable for the multi-millionaire head of a multi-billion sport that is followed by countless young people to pay five women £2,500 to take part in acts of unimaginable sexual depravity with him. 

The judge found for Max Mosley because he had not engaged in a “sick Nazi orgy” as the News of the World contested, though for the life of me that seems an almost surreally pedantic logic as some of the participants were dressed in military-style uniform. Mosley was issuing commands in German while one prostitute pretended to pick lice from his hair, a second fellated him and a third caned his backside until blood was drawn. 



Now most people would consider such activities to be perverted, depraved, the very abrogation of civilised behaviour of which the law is supposed to be the safeguard. Not Justice Eady. To him such behaviour was merely “unconventional”. 

Nor in his mind was there anything wrong in a man of such wealth using his money to exploit women in this way. Would he feel the same way, I wonder, if one of those women had been his wife or daughter? 

But what is most worrying about Justice Eady’s decisions is that he is ruling that - when it comes to morality - the law in Britain is now effectively neutral, which is why I accuse him, in his judgments, of being “amoral".

Dacre then is the only one who can decide what is and what is not moral. The whole point of the Mosley case was that the News of the World claimed it was a Nazi orgy; it was not, as Eady painstakingly pointed out. If it had been a Nazi orgy, the News of the World would have had a public interest defence; it wasn't, so it didn't. Fact is, Dacre thinks that what goes on in other people's bedrooms is his business; it isn't, and it is no business of the government's either. If Dacre really thinks that some mild BSDM is "unimaginable sexual depravity" he has a very very poor imagination. As for his comments about the way Mosley "exploited" the women who were more than willing to take part and who subsequently testified for his defence, with him suggesting that Eady might have been more concerned if they had included a daughter or his wife, that says far more about Dacre's own insecurity than it does about anything else.

In the sporting celebrity case, he rejected the idea that adultery was a proper cause for public condemnation. 

Instead, he declared that because family breakdown was now commonplace, there was a strong argument for “not holding forth about adultery” or, in other words, attaching no greater inherent worth to marriage than to any other lifestyle choice. 

Thus no moral delineation was to be made between marriage and those who would destroy it, between victim and victimiser, between right and wrong.



We're talking about three people's private affairs here, not the breakdown of society as we know it. One person's infidelity is not about to bring this country down; Dacre's sophistry has to be seen to be believed.

In the Mosley case, the judge is ruling that there is no public interest in revealing a public figure’s involvement in acts of depravity.

 What the judge loftily calls the “new rights-based jurisprudence” of the Human Rights Act seems to be ruling out any such thing as public standards of morality and decency, and the right of newspapers to report on digressions from those standards.

Except Mosley was not a public figure. He was not a hypocrite. He was just someone who the News of the Screws could make money out of. They couldn't care about the morals involved, as you'd expect; that was the excuse, just as it is here with Dacre. Or perhaps it isn't; maybe he really cares about morals whilst being completely immoral himself.

But most worrying is that when it comes to suppressing media freedom, the good Justice Eady is seemingly ubiquitous.... 

It was he who was going to preside in Tesco’s libel case against the Guardian, which was, in the event, recently settled out of court. 

It was the same Justice Eady who, in Lord Browne versus the Mail on Sunday, ruled that BP’s shareholders had the right to know that Browne had lied to the court – but did not have the right to know details of his conversations with his boyfriend, despite the paper’s case that they had serious public-interest implications. 

Again, it was Eady who found in favour of a Canadian folk singer called Loreena McKennitt, who had objected to the publication of a book about her by a former adviser, Niema Ash. Ms McKennitt did not claim that the book was in any way untrue, merely that it infringed her right to privacy. Never mind Ms Ash’s right to freedom of expression.

Except Eady was more than fair to the Guardian, despite his reputation. Browne's case is difficult, but in the main he came down on the side of the media. In the case of McKennitt, Eady's original ruling was then backed by both the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. Hardly all the blame can be placed on his shoulders in that instance.

And it is Eady who, almost unnoticed here, has the distinction of having provoked the US Congress – in what’s dubbed the Libel Tourism Bill – to consider making English libel judgments unenforceable in America. This follows the judge’s decision to allow a Saudi banker to sue a New York author in the London courts even though she hadn’t published her book in Britain. Not for the first time, it seems that our colonial cousins can teach us a thing or two. 

But surely the greatest scandal is that while London boasts scores of eminent judges, one man is given a virtual monopoly of all cases against the media enabling him to bring in a privacy law by the back door.

Dacre makes about his only salient point here. This was a disgraceful decision by Eady, but is all about our libel laws, not the unwritten laws on privacy. The best course of action would be a re-writing of both: removing only the rich and famous from being able to sue for libel, whilst ensuring London cannot be used to silence critics worldwide, whilst protecting individual privacy against press intrusion. Neither though is about to happen, as, although newspapers complain about both, for the most part they are thoroughly happy with the situation. Their belief in freedom only extends as far as their wallets.

English Common Law is the collective wisdom of many different judges over the ages. The freedom of the press, I would argue, is far too important to be left to the somewhat desiccated values of a single judge who clearly has an animus against the popular press and the right of people to freedom of expression.

This is another fair enough point, but it's not as if Eady is purely making it up as he's going along: he's drawing extensively on past rulings and interpreting Articles 8 and 10 of the HRA; if he wasn't, he would be subject to far more criticism than just from those concerned with libel tourism and tabloid editors.

I personally would rather have never heard of Max Mosley and the squalid purgatory he inhabits. It is the others I care about: the crooks, the liars, the cheats, the rich and the corrupt sheltering behind a law of privacy being created by an unaccountable judge. 

If Gordon Brown wanted to force a privacy law, he would have to set out a bill, arguing his case in both Houses of Parliament, withstand public scrutiny and win a series of votes. Now, thanks to the wretched Human Rights Act, one Judge with a subjective and highly relativist moral sense can do the same with a stroke of his pen. 



All of those adjectives, apart from corrupt, could be applied to Dacre just as much as they could those he attacks. He describes what Gordon Brown would have to go through, but he doesn't mention another trial he'd have to pass: the opprobrium of the media, and that is not covered by public scrutiny. Put simply, the unaccountable media with all its power would not accept it, and they would ensure it would never pass, even though their actions have led to its effective creation. Here exposed then is why the likes of the Mail and Sun so hate the HRA; not because it's a criminals' or terrorists' charter, but because it directly affects their business models. They have to remember that the HRA was passed by parliament, that they had the opportunity to oppose it then and failed, and that it was the HRA that has helped to establish the Reynolds defence.

All this has huge implications for newspapers and, I would argue, for society. Since time immemorial public shaming has been a vital element in defending the parameters of what are considered acceptable standards of social behaviour, helping ensure that citizens – rich and poor – adhere to them for the good of the greater community. For hundreds of years, the press has played a role in that process. It has the freedom to identify those who have offended public standards of decency – the very standards its readers believe in – and hold the transgressors up to public condemnation. If their readers don’t agree with the defence of such values, they would not buy those papers in such huge numbers.



This may as well be Dacre's justification for the witch-hunt against Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. It doesn't matter that the Mail has its own individual view of what public standards of decency are, as long as people keep buying the papers that justifies support. This is abject nonsense - people buy the newspaper they do for numerous reasons, not just for its political or moral outlook. This is simply the fig-leaf which those who think they have a right to decide what's right and what's wrong cover themselves with.

Put another way, if mass-circulation newspapers, which, of course, also devote considerable space to reporting and analysis of public affairs, don’t 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.



This is nothing more than blackmail covered with eye-watering cynicism. The same person who goes on to lionise the press and how wonderful it is is here suggesting that the gutter press needs scandal to survive. Nice little free press you've got here, be a shame if something was to happen to it. The proles need scandal, whilst we provide them with the finest news coverage in the world at the same time. What isn't there to like?!

Now some revile a moralising media. Others, such as myself, believe it is the duty of the media to take an ethical stand.

Did Paul Dacre just claim to have ethics? No, seriously, Dacre's taking an ethical stand? If he ever genuinely did, the ethics would snap beneath him in an instant. Not satisfied with descending into parody, Dacre then further suggests just how completely mad he is:

Why does not half an hour go by that the high priests of the subsidariat, the BBC, can’t resist a snide reference to the popular press, again blissfully oblivious that all too often they are following agendas set by those very popular newspapers whose readers pay their salaries.

Yes Paul, the BBC is always sneering at the "popular press". Please, keep taking the medicine.

He warms to this further theme by attacking Flat Earth News and Nick Davies without so much as mentioning the name of either:

Again, blissfully oblivious to the need for self-criticism of their own papers – the sine qua non of such pages is, by and large, that the liberal media can do little wrong while the large-circulation press is invariably scurrilous, malign and beyond all salvation. 

There was, of course, that recent book that savaged the behaviour of virtually every national newspaper. The book, which began with a presumption of guilt, was itself a pretty sloppy piece of journalism, full of half-truths, anonymous sources, gossip and urban myths presented as facts, and the very selective reporting that it accused papers of employing. And heaven forbid that its author should have observed the basic journalistic nicety of checking those facts with the parties concerned.

Could it possibly be because the liberal media is that which is also the least complained about, the least likely to have to settle damages out of court, and the least likely to be taken to court, and when it is, it's also more likely to win, as the Guardian did twice during the 90s? The tabloid press meanwhile continues to show itself invariably up as it is, as during the Mosley trial: unaccountable, lazy, disreputable, and downright nasty. It would be nice also if Dacre bothered to bring up examples of just where Davies was wrong in Flat Earth News, although I suspect it's because the book dedicated a whole chapter to the Mail, whilst the Mail itself has mentioned it twice, and that was prior to actual publication, even while the "liberal" press which he so disdains discussed and argued about its findings at some length. Half of this is because the tabloid press presents itself as infallible; the broadsheet media does not.



Fair enough. Newspapers should be constantly criticised. If you dish it, you should take it with bells on. The problem, I would argue tonight, is that this unrelenting and corrosive drip, drip, drip of criticism of the press does huge harm to our standing in the eyes of the politicians, the regulators, the judges, the public and, most pertinently, I suspect, to newspaper sales.

 In good times, such a poisoning of the well is unhelpful, to say the least. Today, with large parts of our industry fighting to stay alive, it is damnably, unforgivably and depressingly damaging. 

I am not a Jeremiah. I passionately believe that Britain has the best newspapers in the world and – indeed, our papers today are as good as they’ve ever been. Nostalgia be damned.

Gosh, anyone feel deja vu after Hazel Blears' similar rave last week? It couldn't be that the tabloid press gets everything it deserves could it, when it demands accountability at the BBC over authorised comedy pranks and then no one resigns when dozens of stories about Robert Murat result in huge payouts? In Dacre's eyes though there's nothing wrong with it, and after all, who are we to argue? He's the Daily Mail in the flesh, and the Daily Mail can never be wrong.

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