Thursday, February 18, 2010 

A questionable, but ultimately correct decision.

There was almost never any danger of the Press Complaints Commission deciding that Jan Moir's piece of heartless, discriminatory grief intrusion breached their code of practice. The very first thing that mitigated against it was the fact it was a straight-up comment piece, rather than an actual piece of news which took it upon itself to offer an opinion as well, and the PCC has in the past been loth to decide what columnists can and cannot offer as their view, regardless of whether or not their article is factually inaccurate.

There have been a few recent cases where there has been a retraction, such as when Amanda Platell claimed that the tragic death of Rachel Ward was a direct result of equality and blamed her friends for not going home with her, resulting in the Mail "noting" the father of one of her friends' concerns and removing her article from the website, but with no actual apology forthcoming. There was also the attempts by one persistent individual who complained to the PCC about the ludicrous claim by Carole Malone in a column in the News of the World that immigrants were being given free cars, which Tabloid Watch documented, finally resulting in the paper printing this incredibly terse statement:

"On July 26, our columnist Carole Malone claimed illegal immigrants receive "free cars". We now accept illegal immigrants do not receive such a benefit and apologise for the error".

Something that was definitely worth all the effort involved. Both of these though are examples where either what the columnist had wrote was patently false, or where the newspaper decided not to put up any fight, with the complaint coming quite some time after the original article was published. The Mail knew what a potential precedent the Moir article could set if it decided not to defend itself; as the PCC's lengthy adjudication sets out, it offers no apology whatsoever and defends every aspect of Moir's comment, as was its right. It is also though another indication of just how far removed the world of tabloid newspapers is from that on which they comment: they seem to inhabit a completely different moral sphere when it's them expressing their opinions on someone; when either rivals do it, in the case of "Sachsgate", or when a footballer supposedly brings his entire country into disrepute, then it's perfectly legitimate for them to act as judge, jury and executioner.

If any ruling had set this complaint up to fail, then it was a recent one involving that distinguished inventor of political blogging, Iain Dale, which the adjudication indeed references. In this instance, Dale was for once on the side of the angels, complaining about an almost overt piece of homophobia which appeared in the Ephraim Hardcastle diary column in, naturally, the Mail:

The piece reported that the complainant was on the shortlist of people applying to be the Conservative candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Bracknell. It described him as ‘overtly gay', and referred to an interview he had given to Pink News in which he encouraged its readers to attend the open primary, saying it was ‘charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause'.

Dale felt, quite reasonably, that this breached clause 12 on discrimination. The PCC however has other ideas:

For instance, the newspaper had used no pejorative synonym for the word ‘homosexual' to describe the complainant: this would certainly have been a breach of the Code. Neither had the complainant been outed as gay by the column - which would also have been a breach - as he had frequently and publicly referred to his sexual orientation. Rather, the complaint seemed to be that describing him as ‘overtly gay' at the same time as saying it was ‘charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause' was spiteful to the point of homophobia. This was a more subtle and subjective charge against the newspaper.

In other words, in order to breach clause 12, you essentially have to call a gay person either a faggot, a poof, although considering how relatively soft that term is that might not even not, or a bent cocksucker. Jan Moir was far more subtle, if just as knuckle-headed: Gately was the "Posh Spice of Boyzone", he "couldn't carry a tune in a Louis Vuittion trunk" and "the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see". In line with the PCC's view of how Dale was described, it found:

it was not possible to identify any direct uses of pejorative or prejudicial language in the article. The columnist had not used pejorative synonyms for the word "homosexual" at any point.

What then about accuracy, also complained about by Gately's partner? How could Moir possibly have not breached Clause 1 with her claims that:

The sugar coating on this fatality is so saccharine-thick that it obscures whatever bitter truth lies beneath. Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again.

Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered.

Despite these assertions, Moir had also covered herself. She also wrote that:

All the official reports point to a natural death, with no suspicious circumstances.

A post-mortem revealed Stephen died from acute pulmonary oedema, a build-up of fluid on his lungs.

Despite therefore successfully contradicting herself, considering the post-mortem found that it was indeed a natural death, this was all she needed to do. Hence the commission found:

In the Commission's view, it was important to recognise that the article had clearly referred to the official verdict on the cause of death that was available at the time ("all the official reports point to a natural death, with no suspicious circumstances"; "acute pulmonary oedema, a build-up of fluid on his lungs"). It was against this context that the columnist had stated her views on the matter. In her opinion, the events leading up to the death were "sleazy" and showed a glimpse of "a very different and more dangerous lifestyle"; it was also her view that Mr Gately's death was "lonely". The complainant may have disagreed with these claims, and many readers had objected to them, but the Commission felt that these individual judgments did not constitute assertions of fact.

Andrew Cowles also complained under clause 5, intrusion into grief, which although the most obvious and most despicable thing about Moir's piece, was also the least likely point on which the PCC was likely to intervene. It would be ridiculous for a regulator to decide when and when not someone can say something that might cause suffering or pain; instead it ought to be apparent to both the writer and the newspaper itself that doing so when grief is likely to be so raw is far more likely to be intrusive and felt to be unacceptable. To do so the day before the funeral, and less than a week after the death was crude, cruel, unkind and downright ignorant, just as much as Moir's actual article was. For the Mail to so often invoke morality when it clearly cannot even understand such basic human emotions or simple matters of taste, or rather does but nonetheless feels no wider responsibility when it attacks individuals in such a way just shows up its values for what they truly are.

Moir's article, as alluded to above, was actually far cleverer than the views it expressed. It hedged its bets; it covered itself; and most of all, it hid behind innuendo rather than outright accusation. All of this ensured that it didn't breach the PCC's code, whilst also distinguishing it as far worse than just the ravings of a bar-room bigot. It's not a completely apposite comparison, but it reminds me somewhat of Enoch Powell's infamous "rivers of blood" speech; not in the actual outrageousness of the views expressed, in which Powell's were far worse, but because of how Powell hid behind the supposed opinions of others throughout. Moir didn't hide behind the ignorance of others, she instead attempted to hide her own by not being prepared to wrote what she really thought. These are the actions of a coward, not a writer. The tagline on her column, which asks whether you're thinking what she's thinking, is doubly apt, appealing to the lowest common denominator whilst also portraying herself as an ordinary reader holding forth over the topics of the day, something which couldn't be further from the truth.

Despite all this however, I actually agree with the overall conclusion of the PCC. It should not be the job of a regulator to decide what a commentator can and cannot say, as long they do not directly breach the rules on accuracy, as Moir just managed not to. As the Graun's C.P. Scott had it, comment is free, but facts are sacred, or as the PCC say:

Individuals have the right to express honestly-held opinions, and newspapers have the right to publish them, provided the terms of the Code are not otherwise breached.

Moir instead, and the Mail as well, can be held to account in other ways. It's fair to say that Moir is never going to live her column down, and her reputation has been permanently sullied. The Mail has been shown up for the hypocrisy sheet which it is, governed only by what it think will sell rather than what its thundering leader columns and editor actually say it stands for. Finally, despite the sneering of the Mail, it's also shown that Twitter and Facebook can as much be forces for good as they can for bad and general frivolity. Never before have newspapers been held up to such scrutiny as by actual individuals who do have a voice, even if only to those who tend to share their opinions, and this is only going to increase. Will the paper think before publishing something like Moir's column again? Probably not, considering the values by which the Mail lives by, but when it does, and it will, the storm will only likely be even more fierce.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010 

Extracting rafters.

Reminded of how much I adore Marina Hyde by this wonderful paragraph out of a generally superb column:

The micro-managing parallels with New Labour are so striking that we must assume Cameron genuinely intends to reprise the shtick which made Blair's lot so uniquely loathsome to the public. It is history lacking the decency to repeat itself as farce. It is merely history ­repeating itself.

Equally reminded of how much I abhor Amanda Platell by her attack on supposed prospective WAGs, one of those loathsome modern abbreviations. She might have something approaching a point, but it's buried beneath venomous, visceral loathing for young, naive women, and intertwined with what it's difficult to describe as anything other than the green-eyed monster:

These long-legged fillies excitedly clatter down the stairs from pavement level, their hooves shod mostly in cheap stilettos so high they make them look ridiculously tall, slightly deformed, like creatures from Avatar.

And they all have the Victoria Beckham stoop that comes with such ridiculous shoes.

The girls' legs go on for ever; as do their dreams of pulling a footballer or a millionaire.

They sway suggestively to the blaring music, drinks clutched in by acrylic-tipped fingers, waving their bottoms at passing boys, thrusting their pert breasts, stroking their bare thighs, licking their lips, tossing their hair extensions.

I am witnessing the mating ritual of the Wannabe WAG. It's a sight worthy of a David Attenborough documentary. Think of a herd of frisky wildebeest stampeding through the Serengeti plain, stopping only to drink and procreate.

The skirts are so short they leave nothing to the imagination. I swear there is only one pair of undies in that club - and I am wearing them.

I know I'm one to talk, but the writing in places is also frankly abysmal:

They behave not so much like Stepford wives, as Stepford tarts, unabashed that they are using sex to procure designer clothes, utterly complicit in the cattle market that unfolds before me wherever I go.

It goes without saying that calling them Stepford tarts doesn't even make any sense, it's just the snatching of a lazy cultural allusion: as Platell elaborates elsewhere, these young women are not submissive and docile as the Stepford wives were, they know what they want and how to get it. They're using the men they're trying to attract just as much as the men are using them.

Any wider significance of what goes on in a tiny number of exclusive London clubs is completely buried under a layer of invective that says as much about Platell as it does about the women she followed for one night. It's also the usual hysterical Daily Mail hypocrisy: as
Hagley Road to Ladywood notes, it's the likes of the Mail that help to perpetuate the false notion that there's something glamorous about hanging onto the arm of a footballer or dumb rich boy by their constant and consistent coverage of them, which is far from always being sneering or hectoring in tone. Someone once said that you should extract the rafter from your own eye before attempting to to extract the straw from someone else's eye, advice that our glorious modern media will never even begin to take.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010 

Unsuper Mac.

You've probably all seen this superb, straight to the point Mac cartoon. I can't help but wonder though whether everyone so far has approached it from the wrong angle; what if in fact it's the sheep speaking the lines underneath and not the man? That would explain the rather blank expression on the man's face, while the sheep on the other hand looks bright and intelligent. Frankly, it looks like the sheep is marrying beneath her, which is why the vicar is so startled. As for the multiculturalism aspect, well, there's always a downside to it, and religion is usually it. Perhaps the man's side insisted on a church wedding, and anyway, if the clergy wish to wear dresses, as long as they're happy, who cares?

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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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Monday, October 19, 2009 

A truly amoral newspaper.

It just had to be, didn't it? The week I'm dragged away turns out to be the week when two of the biggest media stories of the year break. First Trafigura and Carter-Fuck try to censor parliament, never a wise thing to do, even when MPs were more concerned about their expenses, then the Daily Mail does what the Daily Mail does best and publishes an utterly heartless piece of grief intrusion masquerading as a columnist attempting to articulate what the readers are really thinking.

At long last the Mail chose to attack someone so completely harmless, so apparently lovable and so popular that even it couldn't manage to brush the outrage under the carpet. As it is, compared to the Mail's past record and other similar articles, Jan Moir's screeching on Friday was almost tame. Sure, it has the blatant homophobia, the knowing better than everyone else what the two men were doing that night, and the gratuitous, ignorant insults, such as Moir's claim that he "couldn't carry a tune in a Louis Vuitton trunk", when he could in fact sing perfectly well, unlike numerous other members of boy and girl bands and doubtless Moir herself. It has the same "I know best" attitude, ignoring point blank the actual facts of the case while relying entirely on her own prejudices; a 33-year-old man can't possibly die of "natural causes", especially a gay 33-year-old man who had invited another man along with his civil partner back to their holiday apartment, most certainly not a gay 33-year-old man who had been smoking the devil weed cannabis. Yet, it still feels by the Mail's standards to be not harsh enough, not as completely without redemption as it should be.

You can't after all really compete with the utter heartlessness, the downright beastliness of describing the murder of five young women as "no great loss", as Richard Littlejohn did back in December 2006 after Steve Wright had killed 5 prostitutes from the town of Ipswich. That piece of nastiness made very few ripples, except for becoming part of a Stewart Lee comedy sketch which finishes with Littlejohn being described as a part of the female anatomy. Moir's attack on Gately wasn't close to being as vindictive and shameless as Allison Pearson's description of Scarlett Keeling, the 15-year-old raped and killed in Goa, as a "ripe peach", and who variously blamed her mother for leaving her behind with friends while she travelled further on in the country while also noting that she was in "a culture where Western girls are all too readily viewed as sexually available", meaning that brown people just can't wait to get their hands on the white women. It also wasn't as so utterly without dignity or research as Amanda Platell's assault after Rachel Ward tragically died whilst on holiday. To quote myself:

According to Platell, rather than this being a tragic accident, it's instead indicative "of the lives of many middle-class young women". Variously, her death seems to have been down to the following facts: firstly, that she was middle class, and therefore should have known better than to have been taking part in such working class pursuits as going on a skiing holiday and drinking whilst on it; secondly, that her friends abandoned her when she decided to go back to where she was staying on her own, therefore it's their fault too; and finally, that it's actually neither her own fault nor her friends' fault, but rather the fault of equality:

Sadly, in a world where women have fought for generations for equality, where they insist on their independence, where drunkenness and debauchery are actively encouraged, you can’t really blame a young man for failing to act chivalrously.

Yes, Rachel’s death was tragedy — but it was an accident waiting to happen.

There you are then girls - you weren't fighting for equal rights, you were in fact fighting for the right to die alone in a freezing river, because Amanda Platell says so.

As far as I'm aware, the only complaint made about any of these grief intruding attacks was on the latter, by the father of Haydn Johnson, which resulted in the Mail noting that the piece was inaccurate and removing Platell's viciousness from the website. No apology, no thoughts about whether attacking the grieving is ever justified, just an article flushed down the memory hole with no repercussions.

Whether the difference this time was because Gately was a celebrity, while all those mentioned above were just commoners, with only family and friends to be angered and shocked by their treatment at the hands of the press doesn't really matter in the end. The most significant factor to my mind is most likely the obvious culture clash, a mirror image culture clash to that which took place over "Sachsgate". Then the Mail was the ringleader in getting its readers and others to complain to both the BBC and Ofcom over the humiliation of a much-loved actor by two arrogant bullies, one of whom was and is on a vast salary. As offensive, unfair and low as the abuse masquerading as humour was in that case, it was still blown out of all proportion. Those who complained were the Mail's target market, the older, the more middle class, and overwhelmingly those who would have never listened to Russell Brand's show and so only complained after they were alerted to it. Who knows this time how many actual Daily Mail readers have complained about Jan Moir's article, but I doubt it's higher than a few hundreds out of the 22,000 complaints which the PCC has now received. This isn't to suggest that Daily Mail readers want and expect the kind of thing which Moir delivered; far from it. It is however what the Daily Mail thinks that its readers want. The editor is a man who believes that the bedroom door should be wide open when the activities within it pass outside the "norm", as they did in the Max Mosley case, and that Justice Eady's ruling, that the NotW infringed his privacy, was in effect, "amoral".

All newspapers make mistakes. All newspapers misjudge the feeling of both the public and their readers at times. Only the Daily Mail however has repeatedly and consistently attempted to intrude into grief, regarding the death of almost anyone as fair game. Some might believe that the truly amoral in this instance to be those who have got it so horribly, terribly wrong on so many occasions, and who will doubtless continue to get it wrong in the future.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009 

The banality of evil part 2.

How dare he?! That's our job!

Meanwhile, the Sun is so flush with cash thanks to its witch-hunt against social workers (which today agony aunt Deidre Saunders describes as a "perilous" job, and that they shouldn't be tarred with the same brush) that it's bought another headstone, this time with Baby P's full name in gold lettering, having previously bought the old memorial slab which featured in so many photographs of the tributes left to him, without it being made clear that a newspaper was attempting a land grab on his memory. As Anorak suggests, it's almost as if the newspaper wants to own him personally - we brought the fury, he's ours. Get your tanks off our goddamn lawn.

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Friday, March 27, 2009 

An interesting set of priorities.

It's interesting and perhaps informative to note that on the day that there was another case which showed the deficiencies and incompetence which often dogs police investigations into accusations of rape, both the Daily Mail and Express decided that a man cleared of rape after 45 minutes of deliberations was far more worthy of going on the front page than the conviction of Kirk Reid, who raped or indecently assaulted as many as 71 women before finally being caught.

The acquittal of Peter Bacon predictably touches all the issues which the Mail and Express love to highlight. His accuser admitted that she was drunk and couldn't remember what happened. She claimed that because she couldn't remember what happened, the sexual intercourse the pair apparently had must have been non-consensual, in line with an appeal court judgement from 2007 which adjudged that a woman who is drunk may well be unable to give her consent, but the decision is still ultimately left up to the jury to decide whether the man had a "reasonable belief" that consent had been given. For a paper that continues to take a highly moralistic line when it comes to sex, Bacon gets off remarkably scot free from criticism, especially considering his comment that he was aiming to try to get a one-night stand legitimately", with predictably the woman copping it instead. She was a self-confessed "recreational binge drinker", had not a boyfriend for a number of years, "was close to her mother", had been suffering from depression, "was known for flamboyant outfits in court" during her work as a lawyer, and had had another one night stand with a different man when Bacon and the woman had previously crossed paths. Bacon, instead, is "a very kind and caring individual, and would never speak badly of anyone", was holding down two part-time jobs, and also studying sociology at Canterbury university.

All of this is with a contrast with the Kirk Reid case, which you might have thought was more newsworthy. The second case within a month concerning police incompetence and repeated attacks on women over a number of years, the conviction of John Worboys being the other example. Reid had first entered the police's inquiries in 2004, and came into contact with the police 12 times before a detective inspector who had just been handed the case joined the dots in a matter of days. Both Worboys and Reid targeted women returning from nights out, often the worse the wear from drink, which Worboys then compounded by offering the women who entered his cab a drink, claiming that he had a major betting or casino win. The drinks were spiked; the women often woke up unable to remember what happened, but knowing that they had been sexually assaulted.

The obvious point to make is that despite improvements over the years, women are still all too often completely disbelieved or not taken seriously when making rape allegations, especially when drink has been involved. This is further not helped by surveys which routinely return results that up to a third believe women are partially responsible if they flirt with someone who subsequently rapes them, with around the same number also thinking the victim should accept some of the blame if she was drunk. As potentially irresponsible as getting drunk on your own is, with no one to take care of you while you get home, all the blame has to lie with the person who takes advantage of it - not the victim.

As much as Peter Bacon has undoubtedly suffered since he was accused, the end result shows that the system has worked. There is an argument to be made for the accused in rape trials to be given the same protection as the victim until conviction, but that then raises implications for those accused of other crimes. Why should those charged with murder or child molestation/possession of child pornography for example not also claim they should be protected until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt? Bacon couldn't really have asked for a better confirmation of his innocence than for him to be splashed across the front page of the second biggest selling newspaper in the country, which will hopefully be some kind of recompense, however slight. A far bigger travesty would be if the wide publication of his case was to further damage the belief in those who have been assaulted and who have never faced a greater challenge in bringing their attackers to justice.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009 

Another diamond in the rough.

After the Sun Lies comes along the new revamped and improved Daily Mail Watch, again masterminded by Tim from Bloggerheads. Do at least go and read Jamie and 5cc's opening messages: both are great arguments for why challenging tabloid bullshit is worthwhile.

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Friday, December 19, 2008 

Still weird and still never wrong.

You won't be surprised to learn that despite the quite possibly unprecedented apology made to Colin Stagg by the Metropolitan police yesterday, not a single one of the newspapers which played just as significant a role in ensuring that he became a social pariah could find it within themselves to admit that they might have something to be sorry for also. After all, that sort of thing doesn't sell newspapers and it might make some of their readers question the integrity of both the journalists themselves and the paper they read as a whole. No, the story's moved on; now it's about the police incompetence, the paranoid schizophrenic with Asperger's syndrome who was able to kill again and the fact that he lives a so-called "cushy" existence in the highest security mental hospital in the country.

Stagg's tormentor in chief isn't quite finished with him yet though. The Daily Mail can't break out of a habit of a lifetime, so even as it grudgingly admits that he wasn't a killer, it just has to get in a few digs to the ribs:

£706,000, an apology from the Met and Colin Stagg is still bitter

Yes, how dare someone that's just "won the lottery" be "bitter"? After all, it was only 16 years of being suspected of one of the most notorious crimes in recent history despite being completely innocent; anyone else would be satisfied with their lot in life and glad that it wasn't longer.

He issued a statement of thanks for the ‘grovelling’ apology - and posed with a brand-new £27,000 Toyota Rav4 he bought himself as a ‘present’ with his compensation.

Ah yes, a 'present'. Only in the Daily Mail could something so innocuous be sneered at.

Inside were books on witchcraft, an altar and a black-painted wall decorated with chalk drawings of horned gods. Pictures from pornographic magazines adorned other walls. Books on the occult are still on the shelves, but a 50-inch plasma TV now dominates the living room and a new flameeffect fire adds a homely touch.

You really would think the Mail could lay off the snobbery for just one time, but no, apparently not.

Stockier now than when he was arrested, Stagg added: ‘I never want to talk about the case again as long as I live.’

He is not quite as media-shy as he claims, however. He wrote a book about his experiences, has given interviews for cash - and has just spent months with a BBC film crew. But his girlfriend - for whom he has bought a new patio, and lavished presents on her children - insisted to the Daily Mail yesterday: ‘Colin just wants to get on with his life like a normal Joe Public.’

What a hypocrite - how dare he make some more money when he's already won the lottery? He might not have kept his promise to stop talking to the media - but why shouldn't he when he's finally got what he wanted and when a high profile BBC documentary might also help put the record straight?

And still it goes on:

Miss Marchant confirmed that Stagg retained his interest in the occult, ‘but not in an evil way’ and said he was an extremely intelligent self-taught individual who ‘flies through the Times crossword’, but at heart is just ‘a normal regular guy’.

In other words, he's still weird, and we were completely justified in repeatedly suggesting he might just have been the sort of twisted psychopath that could carry out such a horrific crime. Oh, and he reads a rival newspaper.

The Mail's entire coverage is a catalogue of archetypal sensationalism, reflection completely absent from it, with the contempt for Stagg still apparent. The intro to this particular article is almost pornographic and wholly unnecessary, especially after Nickell's own family called for an end to the pain they suffer when the case is constantly recalled:

He probably watched her for a little while.

Almost certainly, he would have walked towards her at first, just to check her face. Maybe he even smiled.

This was the way Robert Napper stalked his prey before turning back to pounce on them from behind, usually with a knife at their throat.

Sometimes, in the dark, he would spy on them for hours in what they assumed was the privacy of their homes.

But here on Wimbledon Common, he selected his victim in the full glare of a summer day. Rachel Nickell was 23, blonde and beautiful, an ex-model and devoted young mother.

The whole cache of photographs of the young Napper the Mail has seems to have been handed to them by his father, whom the paper interviews. As a result, it's remarkably coy about his father's own apparent role in Napper's descent into mental illness, which the Guardian fills in:

During his first 10 years of life, he witnessed brutal violence meted out by his father, Brian, against his mother, Pauline. Such was the trauma suffered by Napper and his siblings that when the couple divorced, all four children were placed in foster care and underwent psychiatric treatment.

It seems Napper suffered more than his siblings, undergoing treatment for six years at the Maudsley hospital. As he reached puberty, he was psychologically damaged further when a family friend assaulted him on a camping holiday. He was 12 years old.

Another article summarising the police blunders opens thus:

The story of how one of Britain’s biggest murder inquiries descended into a disgraceful shambles which wrecked reputations starts on Wimbledon Common shortly after 10.30am on July 15, 1992, when Rachel Nickell’s body was found by a passer-by.

The Mail of course had no role in this disgraceful shambles which wrecked reputations. They just published what the public wanted, or even when their writers were sympathetic towards Stagg, they still had to write about how unpleasant he was, John Junor going beyond mealy-mouthed in writing that:

it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was indeed innocent.

Even in the Mail's main article, despite all the evidence now showing how Stagg was almost certainly completely fitted-up by a desperate police force that was under pressure from the likes of the Mail, it still uses weasel words and quotation marks, all to suggest that perhaps it was justified after all, such as here:

Their misguided ‘obsession’ with Stagg was compounded by what one senior legal figure described yesterday as the ‘mesmerising’ influence of Paul Britton, the controversial forensic psychologist who compiled a profile of Rachel’s likely killer.

Yes, it was misguided, but it obviously wasn't an obsession. If it was, surely the Mail's coverage down the years was as well. Perhaps it's just covering itself. Perhaps the Mail's journalists are just heartless bastards. Who knows? Still, obviously Rachel's parents deserve the same treatment given to Stagg:

Senior officers were forced to make an unprecedented public apology to Stagg, currently enjoying a £706,000 compensation payout.

Astonishingly, there was no such apology to Rachel’s family - even though detectives were compelled to admit that had Napper been apprehended back in 1989, Rachel need not have died.

"Currently enjoying"; says it all, doesn't it? There was in fact such an apology to Rachel's family, delivered at the same time as John Yates said sorry to Stagg, and in any event, at least publicly neither Rachel's parents nor her partner appear to blame the police to any great extent, her father in his statement saying in effect that the benefit of hindsight was a wonderful thing. Likewise, there was no apology from them to Stagg over how down the years they had urged a change in the law so that he could be tried again, although they have undoubtedly suffered just as much at the hands of the media as he has.

The Sun, thankfully, is much fairer in its treatment of Stagg, its article on him without any of the sneering of the Mail's. It even nicely skewers Keith Pedder, who always believed in Stagg's guilt sudden Damascene conversion to his innocence, without an extra word:

“I do feel sorry for him. He has paid a terrible price for a man found not guilty of murder.”

It would be nice to imagine that Pedder is genuinely sorry for what he inflicted on Stagg, but the money made from his books, now if not already heading straight for the pulping plant, probably means that he's in a decent enough position to be able to now feel contrition.

The Sun can't of course keep such fairness going; it simply isn't in its nature. Instead then yet more photographs of Nickell's son Alex are published, whilst the chutzpah of the Sun's story is almost sick inducing:

Reclusive Andre, 46, moved with Alex to a remote Mediterranean town to rebuild their lives — keeping their past a secret from locals.

But obviously not from the hacks which have plagued them both ever since Nickell's murder.

For sheer tastelessness, the Sun's main article on Napper's crimes wins the award. Headlined:

Ripper loved to butcher blonde mothers in front of their children

It attempts and completely fails, except in the exploitative sense, to compare Napper's crimes to Jack the Ripper's. Never mind that Jack's victims were prostitutes and Napper's weren't, and that the only thing that really connects them was the ferocity and savageness of their attacks, it takes the analogy to breaking point and beyond.

The Sun's overriding concern though is attempting to create outrage over Napper's so called "cushy" existence in Broadmoor, underlined by how he's allowed to feed the chickens and rabbits within view of a long lens. That he is criminally insane and such a danger that he will spend the rest of his life in mental hospital is obviously not enough of a punishment for his horrific crimes; after all, Philip Davies MP and Shy Keenan say so.

And the Sun's leader, naturally:

And the question The Sun asks today is this: Can it be right that a man who has so savagely taken the lives of others is allowed to live such a cosy life himself?

The Sun of course doesn't know whether his life is cosy or not; it just knows that he's allowed outside to feed farmyard animals. It doesn't matter that as well as a place for those convicted of crimes, Broadmoor also holds those convicted of none, who through therapy might eventually be released; Broadmoor ought to be the equivalent of Alcatraz, purely because of the nature of the crimes that some of those held there have committed.

Common decency demands that the way our justice system treats him reflects his crimes.

Should we let someone come in and rape him every so often, then? What is to be gained from locking someone so obviously damaged by his upbringing up all day and all night until he finally expires? Should his mental health be allowed to deteriorate even further, making him even more dangerous, as such treatment will almost certainly result in? The Sun doesn't say. Our rights just aren't being served by him seeing the light of day at all.

The Sun knows best, just as the tabloid media as a whole did. It knew then that Stagg was guilty and it knows now that it was the police blunders that doomed Nickell. It can never be wrong; it can never admit that it was just as mistaken, just as complicit as they were. And they accuse others of being totalitarian.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008 

Callous, mercenary and unfeeling scum.

At long last, Colin Stagg has finally received what he always wanted: an apology from the Metropolitan police for their twisted and cowardly pursuit of him. Convinced that he was the killer of Rachel Nickell, mainly because he fitted the psychological profile drawn up by Paul Britton, they took advantage of a vulnerable, lonely sexually inadequate man and attempted, through what Mr Justice Ognall described as "positive and deceptive conduct of the grossest kind" to get him to incriminate himself. Despite their complete failure to get him to do that, with Stagg in actuality denying repeatedly that he had killed Nickell to "Lizzie James", the Met's undercover officer, he was still charged with murder and held on remand for 13 months.

This is not just a story about a miscarriage of justice, of police incompetence and arrogance, although that is there in abundance, it's also a damning indictment of the vast majority of the press in this country. Through open collusion in some cases with the police, they too decided that Colin Stagg was Rachel Nickell's killer, despite the complete lack of evidence. Instead they focused on the fact Stagg was "weird", that he had a couple of books on the occult, that one of his rooms was painted black, that he had "paper knives". They salivated at how he had been found guilty of indecent exposure, despite the fact it had happened at a known part of Wimbledon Common where nudists sunbathed as the result of a misunderstanding, meaning they had an excuse to call him a "pervert", that catch-all term which instantly damns anyone in the tabloid press to instant penury. Most of all, they believed the police themselves, so certain were they of Stagg's guilt, the back-scratching which at the time went on as one journalist freely admitted, resulting in the sort of witch-hunt more associated these days with when social services fail to save the life of a child.

Right up until Robert Napper was charged with Nickell's murder, with him today pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, they hounded Stagg with a vehemence which ought to shock us, but which doesn't because we're so used to the denizens of the tabloid press demonising and smearing individuals even before they have been convicted of any crime. The Daily Mail was one of the biggest culprits, year after year featuring the familiar hatchet job articles about how Stagg had evaded justice through a technicality, on how he couldn't be tried again if new evidence emerged because of the double jeopardy rules, since changed by New Labour, featuring the demands of Nickell's grieving relatives, and then the serialisation of the open profiteering by Keith Pedder, the officer in charge of the original investigation, who wrote at least two books about how Stagg had got away with murder. The People republished the letters which Stagg exchanged with Lizzie James, sexually explicit as Stagg hoped to appeal to the officer who was the first to suggest pain and humiliation, upping the ante each time. As the BBC special Innocent: The Colin Stagg Story just made clear, James' claims got ever more ridiculous, including that she had been groomed by a Satanic-type group that eventually resulted in group sex and the sacrifice of a woman and child, but Stagg, desperate to lose his virginity, kept going along with it, a woman for the first time showing interest in him. That epitome of tabloid television, the Cook Report, was similarly determined that Stagg was guilty, ignoring a lie detector test that he took that showed he was telling the truth, instead demanding he take a "truth drug" as well. When he refused, it obviously proved that he was the murderer after all.

Let's not pretend though that Stagg was the only victim of the media frenzy which has continued to this day. What had started as the media helping to find the person responsible for a horrifically violent and shocking crime became instead a story that sells newspapers: the continuing tragedy of the beautiful murdered part-time model, further sentimentalised through the son that had clinged to her, even putting a piece of paper on her almost severed head, apparently as a makeshift plaster. Whereas in some cases the victim and the media join forces, in this instance it instead appears that the contact between Nickell's relatives and gutter press was always grudging. In a statement read to the court, Nickell's father Andrew gives some insight into what they went through:

The next loss is your anonymity. Your life is trampled on by the media. You are gawked at in supermarkets. You are avoided by so-called friends who think some bad luck will rub off on them.


You become ever more wary of strangers. You reveal nothing because they might be media or have contacts with the media. Copies of your phone bills are obtained and friends abroad ring up to try to discover where your grandson lives.


Every day Rachel's name is mentioned, her photograph published or her home videos shown, everything comes flooding back.

In a further statement outside the court, although also thanking the media for their continued interest, Andrew Nickell also requested that after today the media stop republishing her photograph or using the wearingly familiar home videos, one that seems unlikely to be granted.

As also alluded to in the court statement, Rachel's partner also became deeply disillusioned with the persistent media attention, taking their son and going to live in France partially as a result. Writing in 1996, he described the media in the following terms:

Callous, mercenary and unfeeling scum ... you've got people on your doorstep every day, people following you around in cars taking pictures of you, people peeping over fences and Rachel's face appearing in the paper every day with any tenuous link ... it's one of those stories that's become part of British culture."

Almost unbelievably, despite knowing full well that Andre Hanscombe left the country to try to get his son away from the consistent media attention, the Sun recently published a photograph of Alex obtained while he was walking his dog. His feelings and those of his relatives have always played second fiddle to the story itself, and the media's own profit from it.

How then has the media itself so far responded to today's events? Has it, like the Metropolitan police, got down on its knees and begged forgiveness from Colin Stagg for helping to ruin his life, making him unemployable, vilified, insulted, attacked, spat on? Of course not; doing that might hint towards their own fallibility, and besides, it might set a precedent. Only when ordered to by the courts or forced to by the Press Complaints Commission do the tabloids say they got it wrong. No, instead they've now got a new story: the Met's incompetence and their failure to catch Napper before he killed again. This is a story they've known about for years, and one which a truly investigative media might have pieced together themselves. Indeed, they almost did. The Daily Mail, chief amongst Stagg's tormentors, even splashed the day after Napper was convicted of the murders of Samantha Bissett and her daughter Jazmine with the headline "DID HE KILL RACHEL TOO?" Yes, as it turns out, but they instead turned their attention back to Stagg and their belief that he was the guilty party. It was left to Paul Foot in Private Eye, who always believed Stagg's innocence, to link more clearly Napper to Nickell. In fairness, both Pedder and Britton dismissed the similarities, Britton writing in his book "The Jigsaw Man" that it "was a completely different scenario", despite the extreme violence in each case and the child being present, even if Nickell's son was not killed as Bissett's daughter was. Britton, like the media, seems completely remorseless about how his profile destroyed Stagg and also resulted in the real killer escaping justice for almost two decades.

Amidst all the screams about the "SEVEN blunders that let Rachel Nickell madman kill and kill again", the real story here is of the media's abject failure both to hold the police to account themselves and also to investigate the other possibilities. By coincidence, two other miscarriages of justice were also resolved today. Suzanne Holdsworth, found guilty at her first trial of the murder of a two-year-old boy in her care, was cleared, partially as a result of an investigation by John Sweeney for Newsnight, the second miscarriage of justice he has been involved in resolving, while Barri White, convicted at his first trial of the murder of his girlfriend Rachel Manning, was also cleared of any involvement in her death. His case was featured on the BBC programme Rough Justice, as well as appearing in the back pages of Private Eye. In both of these cases it was the media so loathed by the gutter press that helped to prove their innocence. The really sad thing is that they might be the last of their kind: Rough Justice has been cancelled while Newsnight's resources are being continually slashed. The so-called popular media, the one which is supposed to give the people what they want, which in Paul Dacre's words will cease to exist if it cannot report on scandal, cannot or refuses to report on the real scandals. Wedded to churnalism and journalism which is cheap, fast and easy to produce, they claim to be the voice of the people while repeatedly failing them. If the tabloids and those who produce them have any conscience, they too tomorrow will apologise to Colin Stagg. Instead they'll already be on to the next nearest scapegoat.

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Friday, November 21, 2008 

Last words on Sachsgate.

What was all that about then? Already the furore over Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand's insulting remarks about a Satanic Slut to her grandfather seem like ancient history; we have, as Tony Blair so often urged us to do, moved on. The new pastures are much greener. Not content with just creating a moral panic, in all senses of the term, over Baby P, while making the lives of those involved with his case a living hell, we also have John Sergeant and Strictly Come Dancing to be aggravated about! Did he jump or was he pushed? Did the maniacal BBC step in end the tyrant's defiance of the judges and save their blushes? Complain to Ofcom about it! A whole collection of other people taking a shallow television contest too seriously already have!

The publishing of the BBC Trust report (PDF) into "Sachsgate" or fuckedyourgranddaughtergate or aren'tweabunchofhypocriticalcuntsgate has then turned out to be rather underwhelming. Oh, the Mail still had to splash Ross's face on this morning's front page just to keep up appearances, but even it seems to have lost heart in it.

While the report does show some fairly damning editorial failures, with it turning out that the Director of Radio 2 hadn't listened to the show before it aired and that the Head of Compliance had only listened to the part where Ross blurted out the "fucked your granddaugter" line, with them deciding that it was OK to go out as they thought Sachs had agreed to it, resulting in broadcasting a caution before the show went out, what really seems to have turned the whole thing is a misconstrued conversation between the producer Nic Phelps and Andrew Sachs himself, when Phelps contacted him to ask if what had been recorded could go out:

The Producer also telephoned Andrew Sachs. Their accounts of what each took from the conversation differ and Mr Sachs believes it may have taken place on Wednesday afternoon rather than Thursday, although the time difference does not appear material and on either account no proper consent was obtained such as to justify transmission of the material in question.

The Producer said the conversation was cordial. He asked whether Mr Sachs had heard the messages and Mr Sachs said that he had, adding words to the effect of ‘they’re a bit wild, aren’t they’. The Producer asked whether the programme could use the recordings and he recalls Mr Sachs saying ‘Yes, as long as you tone it down a bit’, or words to that effect.

The Producer said there was then a discussion about Mr Sachs appearing on a future edition of the programme and the conversation ended amicably with the Producer agreeing to contact him again about a date for his appearance.

Andrew Sachs, for his part, confirmed that the Producer sought his consent but says he demurred. He recognised, however, that he did not do so in strong terms and he agreed that he said that the content needed toning down. He added that he would have reacted more strongly had he heard everything that had been said on the programme.

Mr Sachs also agreed that the conversation went on to discuss his possible future appearance on the programme which by now he knew had been pre-recorded that week. Mr Sachs understood this future appearance was to be instead of using the material which had already been recorded.

Mr Sachs was prepared to accept that it was possible the Producer had taken away the view that his consent had been obtained and that the future appearance was in addition to the transmission of the existing material, but in his view that would, at best, have been ‘wishful thinking’.

Sachs it seems, despite listening to some of the messages left, did not hear Ross swearing or the sung "apology" song, but came away with the impression that the material regarding Georgina Baillie was to be cut. Phelps, for his part, felt that Sachs had given his permission for some of it to broadcast as long as it was, in Sachs' words, "toned down a bit". He did subsequently cut some of it, as newspapers nonetheless rejoiced in reprinting, but large parts of it did go out.

The report goes on:

The Producer did not check what Mr Sachs had actually heard on his voicemail, made no record of his conversation with Mr Sachs and no file note was made afterwards. Even if one accepts the Producer’s account, it remains clear that no proper consent was obtained. Consent in these circumstances would depend on ensuring that Mr Sachs was properly aware of what the programme intended to say about him and his family and what was to be edited out in order to tone it down. Nor could Mr Sachs consent on behalf of his grand-daughter whose separate consent would also be required. However, other than a voicemail that Russell Brand is said to have left for Ms Baillie, no steps appear to have been taken to obtain informed consent from Ms Baillie.

The BBC Trust seems to be going out of its way here to declare its independence, as it also has by rejecting the plans for the ultra-local news video sites, which will delight its competitors. A misunderstanding results in a mistake which could have been sorted out, but there was no real malice to any of the comments. Ross apparently told the Trust that he was only happy for the material to go out as long as Sachs and Baillie had given their consent, and Brand told him that they had. Brand had left a message on Baillie's own voicemail which described the messages and apologised for what was said, but not sought actual consent. Only 2 people complained about the show over the weekend. It was when the Mail on Sunday hack got involved that the story itself was set in motion. Even then the BBC could have prevented some of the fallout if the Radio 2 Director, Lesley Douglas, had responded to the request for an apology from Sachs's agent. As it was, she was on holiday, and didn't see it until Sunday evening when the MoS had already splashed on it. She had wanted to apologise as soon as she knew about the MoS story, but the BBC had wanted to do things officially, through their own Corporate Press Office. As a result of doing things "properly", the apology wasn't made until Monday, by which time Paul Dacre had apparently been enraged by Brand referring to the Mail's support for the Nazis during the 30s when he "apologised" on the follow-up show. It was somewhat slow in reacting, but not overly so considering.

Consequently, the Head of Compliance and Radio 2 director resigned, Brand quit his show, and the puritans that had been so losing the battle over what can and cannot be broadcasted have chalked up a massive victory, almost all down to the BBC's own pusillanimity and self-harm on a grand scale. Newspapers are again running campaigns against swearing on TV, as we simply can't have what we watch reflecting reality, and the Sunday Torygraph has gone so far to rail against "Vulgar Britain", a newspaper formerly owned by a convicted fraudster and now by two recluses who live on a tiny island fortress and threaten to sue if their name is so much as mentioned elsewhere in the press. Running so scared, the Trust also rakes Ross further over the coals for two swearwords on his chat show, made by a complainant with the usual grudges against the corporation:

The complainant wrote an email to the Director-General on 6 May 2008 via the BBC Complaints website. In the email he outlined his complaint against the previous Friday evening’s Friday Night with Jonathan Ross show requesting that he wanted an “absolute assurance” that Jonathan Ross would be taken off air after his “foul mouth outbursts” to two of his guests. The complainant believed the use of such language was a result of “a BBC run by trendy left wing liberals” of which, he said, Mr Ross was one. He closed his email by stating:

“You have disgusted me and I suspect just about every English person.”

That both guests had led him on was apparently irrelevant, as was, if the complainant didn't like it, he could change the channel. Instead it's his divine right to demand that Ross be completely taken off the air. Such bending over backwards to limited complaints results in the following, one of the BBC's other actions as a result of tediousgate:

Alan Yentob (Creative Director, BBC) together with Roly Keating (Director of Archive Content) and Claire Powell (Chief Adviser, Editorial Policy) will lead a group examining where the appropriate boundaries of taste and generally accepted standards should lie across all BBC output. The group will involve members of the on-air talent community and outside perspectives, together with original audience research. It will report to the BBC’s Editorial Standards Board in February 2009 and its conclusions will be reported to the BBC Trust. It will inform the revision of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines which is currently underway and scheduled to be completed in 2009.

Hopefully they will not throw the baby out with the bathwater. After the simpering and pathetic nature of the BBC's grovelling to those who won't be satisfied until it's gone, I wouldn't bet on it.

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This internet is so corrupt.

Via the Quail, a truly wonderful comment from the Mail:

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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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