House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT COMMITTEE
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Taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Mr John Whittingdale, Chairman
Witnesses: Mr Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief and Mr Robin Esser, Executive Managing Editor, Associated Newspapers, gave evidence.
Chairman: Good morning. This is the seventh session of the Committee's inquiry into Press Standards, Privacy and Libel, and we are pleased to welcome this morning to give evidence Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Mail and also Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, and Robin Esser, the Managing Editor of the Daily Mail.
Q496 Philip Davies: You, Mr Dacre, in your speech to the Society of Editors last year, identified a "chilling" effect on the media caused by conditional fee arrangements, and those of us who believe very much in the freedom of the press and believe that the freedom of the press is the best of the democracy that we have, would be very concerned by what you said when you said that: "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." Are there any specific examples you can give where conditional fee arrangements specifically have been the cause of you ducking out of actions where you feel that you are in the right?
Mr Dacre: Before
I answer that question, could I just say what the real chilling
effect on journalism at the moment is?
I have been a journalist for 40 years, and I have never
known chillier times for newspapers. The
industry is in a truly parlous state, particularly the provincial
newspaper industry; there is a very serious question whether many
provincial newspapers are going to survive in the future. That has huge and dire implications for local
democracy and that is why I welcome this Committee's initiative to look
into this very, very real and pressing problem, and the sooner and bolder you
are the better in my view. I read
yesterday that 80% of American newspapers are going to be gone within the next
18 months - 80%. The situation is not
nearly so gloomy for the national press in
Q497 Philip Davies: Have we got to the stage where there are certain people who are so wealthy and so potentially litigious that even a paper as successful as the Daily Mail would not take them on because of the potential consequences?
Mr Dacre: I cannot give you an answer; I doubt that for the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail is a very successful and strong paper. If I say we are not going to take them on I am going to give this Committee a green light for every lawyer to think they can get away with it. No, I think if we passionately felt we were in the right we still would, but there are several newspapers in Fleet Street that are not only not making money but losing substantial sums of money, so the kind of money we are talking about here could double their losses.
Q498 Philip Davies: Sure. I think many of us share your concern about CFAs, I think I described them as a racket in one of our previous sessions, but how would you alter them so that they did not have these potentially crippling consequences for the press but still maintain some access to justice for people who were not wealthy who were maligned by a paper?
Mr Dacre: Who
incidentally, in our experience, are still using the
Q499 Paul Farrelly: I want to ask you your opinion. The word "racket" has been used and the racket is not just isolated to the media and libel but applies to the cost to the NHS of CFAs with ambulance-chasing lawyers.
Mr Dacre: Absolutely. And local councils, yes.
Q500 Paul Farrelly: In terms of access to justice for people, in your experience, and we will come on to the McCanns later though I do not want to use them as a typical example, would you perhaps characterise the cherry-picking that goes on by lawyers as not No Win, No Fee but really Always Win, Double The Fee?
Mr Dacre: I think I probably would. I think you will find that most of the CFA cases they take on they win. What concerns me is they are increasingly used by the celebrity class and the rich - I know about the NHS and all that and it is a very worrying matter - so in that sense I think they are cherry-picking their clients, although they get a lot of publicity which possibly encourages more clients to come to them, and they are in a position where they only take on cases they think are going to win, so the real people who have a case on the cusp where they might not win I suspect do not get much of a hearing.
Q501 Paul Farrelly: Have you had experience of the likes of Carter Ruck and Schillings actually touting for business among people who might not realise that what was printed in the United Kingdom was actually there and saying: "Hey, we can win something for you here"?
Mr Dacre: The honest answer is I do not know. I am astonished if they are not touting for business. The number of letters that we get in to the Daily Mail from Carter Ruck and Schillings must be depleting the forestation of the globe quite dramatically. They are rapacious, greedy, unscrupulous in the methods they use. I would be astonished if they were not ambulance-chasing rich clients and saying, "We saw that picture of you, do you realise we can get you X sum of money for that" --
Q502 Paul Farrelly: And overseas clients as well?
Mr Dacre: It is a massive hypocrisy because often those are celebrity clients who are implicitly at work with paparazzi photographers to keep their pictures in the public eye which, of course, makes them more and more money.
Q503 Rosemary McKenna: The other thing that seems to exercise you greatly in your speech is what you call the introduction of "a privacy law by the back door", but is it not the case that the judges are, in fact, applying the law as it stands through the introduction of the Human Rights Act?
Mr Dacre: Again,
if I can put some context on this, the HRA/CFA was a very well-intentioned
act; who could deny human rights to anybody.
When it is combined with CFA, again I think it has a considerable
deleterious effect on freedom of the press - again, interestingly, one that is
exploited by the rich and celebrity classes.
You know, and forgive me if I am telling you how to suck eggs, that
the Human Rights Convention was devised in 1950 and came into British
legislation in 1998, and it is very interesting that before 1998 it was never,
ever used as an attempt to suppress the press or used in privacy cases, this
despite the fact that I suspect in the bad days of the '80s there were far
more egregious offences against privacy in a much less well-behaved newspaper
industry. It was never used. In 1998 it came into legislation, again
pounced upon by lawyers who have since made a huge industry and a lot
of money out of it. The real problem of
the Human Rights Act is that it gives powers to judges to interpret the Human
Rights Convention Act - sitting in
Q504 Rosemary McKenna: But actually I asked you a question about a British judge, not about foreign judges.
Mr Dacre: But the whole point, with the greatest respect, is that British judges have to respond to the decisions being made by this Court. It is absolutely vital.
Q505 Rosemary McKenna: But I do not think it is necessary to rehearse exactly your views of those courts. I want you to speak about the judge in particular that you mentioned --
Mr Dacre: I will come to that, if I may.
Q506 Rosemary McKenna: -- but you are now talking about other countries and regimes that you do not agree with.
Mr Dacre: That is absolute nonsense --
Q507 Rosemary McKenna: But that is what you are talking about.
Mr Dacre: With
the greatest respect the judges I am talking about are British judges who
have to refer to the jurisprudence created by this Court, and therefore it is
vital you understand the nature and make-up of that Court. Your rights as MPs in
Q508 Rosemary McKenna: That is your view --
Mr Dacre: It is not my view; it is Lord Hoffmann's view.
Q509 Rosemary McKenna: But would you like to refer to the fact that you have said it is "a privacy law by the back door", which was the question I asked?
Mr Dacre: I will come to that, if I may. I am afraid you have thrown me, give me a minute. This brings me to the judge you are referring to, my criticism of Judge Eady. That is what you are referring to, is it not?
Q510 Rosemary McKenna: Yes.
Mr Dacre: Judge Eady is clearly a brilliant judge but what mystifies many editors is why one judge seemingly is presiding over almost all the very controversial privacy cases. Judge Eady clearly has a background; we know where he comes from; he was a member of the Calcutt Commission which looked into abuses of press freedom in the late '80s when, in my view, newspapers did behave badly and have since cleaned up their act considerably. At that stage Judge Eady wanted to impose a privacy law on the British press and, indeed, drafted one for Calcutt. Wiser and different heads prevailed and it never went ahead. There is a feeling you need to know amongst many newspaper editors, particularly at the popular newspaper end which are read by the great majority of the British people, that Judge Eady has an animus against the popular press. Certainly I have seen speeches he has given to private gatherings of lawyers in which there are sneering references to tabloids, papers again which are read by the majority of people; withering attacks on individual journalists, et cetera. In my speech I described his judgments as "arrogant" and "amoral". I am aware those are strong words - they are not personal, I am talking about his judgments - but I used those words because I felt passionately that he was adjudicating in matters that Parliament should be deciding, and the fact he was not taking on board Parliament, which represents the public, has huge implications for British society.
Q511 Rosemary McKenna: Then, if Parliament should decide, would you support a statutory privacy law brought in by Parliament?
Mr Dacre: Before I answer that, you gave Mr Mosley a huge length of time to put his position on these matters. Could I deal with that before I answer in that respect? As I said, "arrogant" and "amoral" --
Q512 Rosemary McKenna: So you are suggesting that I am treating you differently than we treated Mr Mosley?
Mr Dacre: Not at all, but you did give him a great deal of time -
Rosemary McKenna: I think you have had quite a lot of time too, and you have the rest of the morning.
Q513 Chairman: We are quite happy to continue for as long as you would like to, so please go ahead.
Mr Dacre: Thank you very much, Chairman.
Q514 Chairman: We will want to come back and press you on points.
Mr Dacre: Please, I would welcome that. Yes, I accused him of being arrogant and immoral, arrogant because he was setting himself above Parliament, and amoral because he was not setting his decisions in a British legal and moral context, and two cases illustrate this and I am sorry if I am being too prolix for Ms McKenna but I do think it is absolutely vital that you understand my position, as I say you did give Mr Mosley a lot of space. Two years ago Justice Eady ruled that a cuckolded husband could not sell his story to the press about a married man, a wealthy sporting celebrity who had seduced the man's wife. The judge was worried about the effect of the revelations on the celebrity's own wife, and 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. Recently, of course, Justice Eady effectively ruled that it is perfectly accepted, and this is where we come to Mr Mosley, for the multi millionaire head of a multi-million pound sport that is followed by countless young people to pay five women £2,500 to take part in acts of sexual perversion. The judge found that Mr Mosley had not engaged in a "sick Nazi orgy", as the News of the World contested, even though the participants were dressed in military-style uniforms, Mr Mosley was issuing commands in German while one prostitute pretended to pick lice from his hair --
Q515 Chairman: Can I just interrupt you for a second? Whilst obviously I am perfectly keen that you should have the opportunity to make points, we have all had copies of your speech and read it, so to that extent you do not need to repeat what you said in the speech.
Mr Dacre: Fair enough. I had not realised that you followed my words so punctiliously. Well, I would just like to say one thing. Mr Mosley, when he gave evidence to this Committee, with the greatest respect to you, I think a lot of us were very surprised at the soft time you gave him. For Max Mosley to present himself as a knight in shining armour proclaiming sanctimonious and aggrieved self-righteousness in his crusade to clean up the press is an almost surreal conversion of the moral values of normal civilised society. Indeed, for Mr Mosley to crusade against the media is a bit like being the Yorkshire Ripper campaigning against men who batter women. Let me explain why I feel so strongly about this case, and this was not in my speech. There is a growing belief centred on the Mosley case that what people do in their private lives is up to them and nothing to do with newspapers. Fair enough. If Mr Mosley wishes to persuade Mrs Mosley in the privacy of their bedroom to dress up in military uniform, give her instructions in German and whack him on the backside - fair enough, that is nothing to do with newspapers. If Mr Mosley wants to persuade the neighbours to come in and dress him in prison uniform, pretend to pick lice out of each other's heads and whack him on the bottom - again, nothing whatsoever to do with the newspapers. This was a totally different situation. This was a case of a man who went to a flat rented for the purpose, paid five women £500 each procured by a madam to engage in acts that exploited and degraded and humiliated those women. Go further down the road from that flat and you will probably find a massage parlour. Inside are poor East European girls; rather than a madam there is probably a pimp; they are being exploited at £75 a go by punters. Parliament, your party with great respect, Mrs McKenna, has said the latter is unacceptable, totally wrong, outrageous, the law must be changed, prosecute those men if they are being procured by a pimp. Justice Eady says that Mr Mosley's behaviour is merely unconventional, not illegal. I see, I am afraid, a direct curve, a direct line, from the acceptance of Mr Mosley's behaviour to the treatment meted out to those girls in a massage parlour by guys who have nothing like the money of Mr Mosley. I find the one legitimises the other and I very humbly suggest to you that that should be of huge concern to MPs, particularly women MPs.
Q516 Chairman: The difference is that nobody is suggested that what Mr Mosley was doing was illegal, whereas the courts did rule that, despite your strongly held view, what you did or at least what your newspaper did was in breach of law?
Mr Dacre: My newspaper?
Q517 Chairman: Sorry, the News of the World. I take that back.
Mr Dacre: The Daily Mail would not have published that story. I find myself in a difficult position defending a paper that I --
Q518 Chairman: You are passionately defending the newspaper --
Mr Dacre: Well, freedom of the press. Yes. I am not suggesting whether it is legal or not; what I am saying is that by accepting it is acceptable behaviour, if unconventional, you are legitimising what is going on in that massage parlour, and it seems inconsistent that you should be concerned about one and not the other.
Q519 Rosemary McKenna: Do not assume for one minute that we are not concerned about those places. We are, and we deal with that every day. However, this is about press and media intrusion, not about that, and I asked you if you would support Parliament bringing in a statutory privacy law. Since you obviously do not like the effect of the Human Rights Act and the way it is being interpreted by judges, is the alternative bringing in a privacy law?
Mr Dacre: That is a good and very fair question. Can I try and answer it? Unequivocally I would not be in favour of a Privacy Act. I believe it would have a very deleterious effect, a chilling effect, on the press and the media in general. I believe that the Human Rights Act needs to be amended: I believe it needs to be recalibrated to give greater recognition to the importance of the democratic process of the vital and vibrant free press. I believe it needs to be recalibrated to give more weight to freedom of expression over right to privacy. Again, those are not my views: those are held by the Opposition and Jack Straw himself. The crucial question in the privacy law would be what is in the public interest. My problem is I am not sure that judges - whom I respect enormously but who come from a narrow and privileged background - always understand or accept what is in the public interest. One or two of them have a low opinion of the popular press. They are not elected. I would argue that what is in the public interest by and large be decided by the public - which means Parliament - and I would like a debate of Parliament on that subject. Another problem with it is that all stories involve an element of privacy, whether it is a gossip page paragraph or a major investigation, and it could therefore be used by lawyers to injunct a paper. My experience of injunctions is that judges invariably grant them because there is less risk in them granting them than making a decision on the spur of the moment and in difficult and fast and rapid circumstances. That, again, involves huge amounts of money and lawyers and time. I believe that privacy law would have a chilling effect on journalism. Can I give you an example? If an individual found out that a newspaper was making inquiries about him the first thing he can do is rush to the courts and try and get an injunction. Maybe that newspaper had not had time to do all its inquiries, or was not ready to go to publication. The injunction would be granted; it would get ground down to a hugely expensive process; I believe this would be a dangerous form of prior restraint. Journalists would immediately find themselves under great pressure to reveal their sources; they would not reveal their sources. As you know, it is an act of faith in journalism not to; it is more time, more costs. News is often very perishable and the story could be negated. So for all those reasons I am against a privacy law, but I would like a debate by Parliament on the takeover by the European Court of this area.
Q520 Philip Davies: Can I press you slightly on your point about Max Mosley in one regard in particular? Journalists have said to me that they consider the fact that he was the head of Formula 1, which is an international sport, means he constitutes a public figure and, therefore, his activities should have been exposed on that basis, that he was a public figure, but from what you have said it seems to me that that was not particularly your justification. It was not that Max Mosley was a public figure: it was the activities which he was pursuing. What you seem to be suggesting is that if anybody had been pursuing that particular activity, that would have been legitimate for the press to report.
Mr Dacre: I think it is much worse if it is a public figure who should be setting a better example to the public. I personally feel that if any figure had done that and paid money to women it is not acceptable behaviour, but that is a personal view.
Q521 Philip Davies: So, just to clarify the philosophy, if anybody had indulged in it that would have been fair game?
Mr Dacre: I think it is very important that Max Mosley - by the way, you keep saying "you". The Daily Mail did not --
Q522 Philip Davies: I mean you as a profession, not you individually.
Mr Dacre: I think the fact that he was a public figure in charge of a huge multi million pound sport followed by millions of people gave much greater justification to the newspapers and the News of the World in carrying that story.
Q523 Paul Farrelly: Again, on Max Mosley, I remember the case in years gone by of the author, journalist, father and husband Paul Johnson who was a prolific columnist and moralizer. After he was "exposed" for similar private activities, did the Daily Mail or Associated Newspapers ever print an article or column by him afterwards?
Mr Dacre: From memory - and I could be wrong - I think that he had left the Daily Mail by then and worked for the Daily Express, but to answer your question, that fell into my category. I believe this was a former girlfriend of Mr Johnson's, and I do not think it would be of any interest to any newspaper if he went and had an affair with a private lady. As far as I am concerned there was no payment. You know more about this than me --
Q524 Paul Farrelly: I remember differently.
Mr Dacre: Payment?
Q525 Paul Farrelly: I remember the story differently, but the question is did you ever print anything by him afterwards and pay him for anything afterwards?
Mr Dacre: My honest answer is that I believe he had left the Daily Mail by then. If I have mis-stated that, then I apologise, but it is a very long time ago.
Q526 Paul Farrelly: We can check the history. I have been a journalist but not with Associated Newspapers. Do you have a moral clause in contracts of employment so that your staff can be dismissed if they are not whiter than white?
Mr Dacre: No,
Q527 Alan Keen: Your objection to Mr Mosley you said was because he was married and also paid money to women.
Mr Dacre: My main objection was the way he exploited and humiliated and degraded women in this way. Paid women, yes.
Q528 Alan Keen: Do you think it is right, or is it not right, that you should expose a married man who is a closet homosexual? Would you expose that even if he was not paying money to another man? Do you think that is something that the press should expose? I have known many, many men who were homosexuals but who fitted in with society's demands on them and then later in life found they could not contain their preferences and carried on a homosexual relationship with somebody else. Is that something the press should be allowed to expose?
Mr Dacre: I do not think they would report that or should report that because of changes in society, firstly, some of the influences of the HRA, but also I think that would be a justifiable matter of privacy. Now, if that individual was going around willy nilly exploiting rent boys and if he was a Member of Parliament, I suspect a paper like the News of the World would think it was justified in running that story. It is not a story the Daily Mail would carry.
Q529 Alan Keen: Do you think the public is entitled to any privacy? You have explained one or two examples. Medical records?
Mr Dacre: Absolute privacy granted, it is part of the PCC Code. No question.
Q530 Alan Keen: Medical records?
Mr Dacre: Absolutely.
Q531 Alan Keen: There was a case where the Daily Mail admitted paying money for stolen records?
Mr Dacre: I do not know that case. I am not aware of that.
Q532 Chairman: I think Alan is referring to the Motorman case.
Mr Dacre: Motorman? Yes.
Well, can I just explain what that was? Ten years or so ago data protection was
becoming a matter of greater and greater concern. All newspapers in common with insurance
companies, law firms, used the services of inquiry agents. Mostly for newspapers it was to act quickly,
get hold of addresses, phone numbers and areas like that so they could move
quicker on stories. They used these
agents who had access to electoral registers and things like that. The Data Protection Commissioner ten years
ago produced a poll of findings of one inquiry agent and we had a lot of
inquiries with that agent, in common with all other newspapers, Observer, the Sunday Mirror; I will be very honest with you, I had not
been aware they had been that extensive.
There was no suggestion that it was used to get medical records or had
been used in any ulterior way. I am
not saying it was not. The Information
Commissioner never told us what was in those inquiry agency's files. What I can tell you, and I want to
stress this very loud and clear, was following the concerns raised by the
Information Commissioner we as a newspaper tightened up our procedures massively;
we banned the use of all these agents; we wrote it into people's contracts of
employment that they must observe the Data Protection Act; we held seminars for
our staff to alert them to the problems presented by obtaining information that
could be covered by the Data Protection Act.
The industry itself, the
Q533 Alan Keen: Can I turn to a different issue? We have come across it in the inquiry already and some people have agreed, others have said it might be difficult to deal with, but one technique which newspapers use, and you must be very familiar with it, is headlines to attract people to buy newspapers but where the body of the article is often nowhere near as serious as the headline appears to be, and then even further down it might say: "But he did not really do anything wrong." It is a very easy way for a newspaper to mislead the public on a particular issue. Would you clamp down on your journalists and sub editors if they did that sort of thing?
Mr Dacre: That is a very fair question. I would like to think it does not happen in the Mail, although I would not put my hand on my heart and say that it does not. It does happen in some areas of the media. I think the position of the PCC on that is that it gives a fair degree of latitude on headlines as long as the copy underneath is absolutely accurate and balanced. It is a question of proportion. If they feel the headline has so badly misrepresented the piece they will find against the newspaper, but I think it is a fair question. You have to understand that newspapers in a very difficult market have to persuade readers to buy their papers, pay 50p/70p a pound in the rain, and they use some tried and tested techniques to draw the readers in. I think latitude should be given in headlines: I believe the copy should be absolutely right and fair.
Q534 Chairman: It is fair to say that the Daily Mail has on a number
of occasions been censored by the
Mr Dacre: I do not think it has. I can check and get back to you. I am pretty sure we have not.
Q535 Chairman: Can I give you one example?
Mr Dacre: I am sorry, I am being told that we have a few times.
Q536 Chairman: An anodyne feature about the biography of Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, who died in a Nazi concentration camp, was transformed by a headline which asked: "Did Anne Franks' father betray her?" The story produced not one single word of evidence to suggest that Otto Frank had betrayed any of his family in any way. The Mail dealt with the problem a week later by publishing a short letter of complaint from the Anne Frank Trust on page 68.
Mr Dacre: Yes, but they did not adjudicate against us, did they? We put it right, that is what I am trying to say.
Q537 Chairman: Well, you ran a headline which did not bear any relation to the story, and then carried a letter on page 68.
Mr Dacre: It is the best read page in the paper, the letters page. I take your point, and I am sorry. At the risk of being pedantic I do not think there have ever been adjudications against us on that. I regret that. If that happened, I regret it. All I can say is if you produce 120 pages every night live on edition which is half as long as War and Peace, we make mistakes. But I accept your point.
Q538 Paul Farrelly: Just picking up on Operation Motorman briefly, if I might, it would be wrong to categorise Associated Newspapers as the most "prolific" offender, because adding up the table Mirror Group newspapers came in with 300 more than Associated.
Mr Dacre: I do not want be to overly offensive about but this was one inquiry agent. There are others. You have seen News International, The Sun, and the Sunday Times do not figure on that.
Q539 Paul Farrelly: I am aware of that. When I was a journalist I would certainly use people to get electoral information, just to check where people lived, and that information was a matter of public record so that is not illegal, but I do remember every time I needed an ex-directory or a mobile telephone number I would painstakingly go and talk to people close to the person to get them to give it to me so I was not doing anything illegal. You mentioned the word "quick" information. It is quick, it is lazy.
Mr Dacre: Well ---
Q540 Paul Farrelly: You have been quite specific about contracts but are there any circumstances in which now you can say that the Daily Mail would use such services to get a number?
Mr Dacre: Well, there is a very strong public interest, of course, and if we were convinced - and, by God, we have put in place a structure whereby they have to clear it with the news editor --
Q541 Paul Farrelly: And there would be a certificating procedure?
Mr Dacre: It is not certificated but it is laid down that if you want to do this you have to go, and it has to be given and put in writing.
Q542 Paul Farrelly: So it does happen?
Mr Dacre: Yes, and long may we be free to do that.
Q543 Paul Farrelly: And the kids do not have access across the board to the cookie jar any more? It has to go through a procedure?
Mr Dacre: Yes. I do not want to tell any tales out of school but we had to let someone go recently because we found they had offended against this.
Q544 Alan Keen: You have campaigned against intrusion by government into people's ID cards. Should not individuals be protected also against newspapers? What is the difference between a newspaper and government? We all appreciate newspapers and the freedom of the press in order to expose government, but to a private individual what is the difference between government probing and a newspaper probing? Should not the citizen be protected against both?
Mr Dacre: I could not agree with you more; the Code is very strong on this. People are entitled to their privacy, their family and their health, their children, and I hope that a newspaper is not failing if it had a good public interest reason to do so. If it did not it is a cause of complaint to the Commission.
Q545 Alan Keen: It is hard for newspaper readers, whether members of Parliament or not, to think that your decision is better than a judge's decision. It is very difficult. Whatever you say about the headline not misleading, or you do not agree with that sort of journalism, it is very difficult for us as ordinary people to think: "Well, I trust Mr Dacre more than I trust a judge."
Mr Dacre: But you do not have to trust me. If I get it wrong you can take me to court, or stop buying the newspaper.
Q546 Alan Keen: Well, not if the last sentence of the article says: "But he did not do anything wrong". Who reads that? We all know that people do not really read every word. They love to see the salacious --
Mr Dacre: I think you make a reasonable point. I hope that journalism does not go on as much as you imply. I think the PCC would find against that newspaper if it was literally the last sentence which refuted the rest of the story. I really do believe that.
Q547 Chairman: Can I move on to journalistic standards? You may be aware that the day before yesterday the Committee took evidence from Mr Nick Davies, the author of Flat Earth News. Now he said that your newspaper is the most successful and probably the most powerful in the country, but he also goes on to say that it is characterised by a level of ruthless aggression and spite which is far greater than any other newspaper in Fleet Street. He also points out that the Daily Mail time and again has had to pay damages in cases where it was shown that there was no truth in what was written, and that the Daily Mail has had a number of findings against it from the PCC, something like three times greater than any other newspaper. How do you respond to those charges?
Mr Dacre: Firstly, I do not know whether that is correct about the number of adjudications. I think there have been a number of complaints that have come out but I do not think it is correct, no.
Q548 Chairman: To give you his specific allegation, he says he drew up a league table of complaints ---
Mr Dacre: Complaints?
Q549 Chairman: -- which have succeeded, either because the
Mr Dacre: I think that second is rather important. If it had been resolved then I do not think it is fair --
Q550 Chairman: He goes on to say that only four newspapers had suffered more than 50 successful complaints, and that the Daily Mail was at 153 compared with 43 --
Mr Dacre: Successful adjudications? No. They are complaints, you see. There is a big difference.
Q551 Chairman: He says successful complaints, in that you had accepted --
Mr Dacre: But he is defining a successful complaint there as it was resolved by conciliation and the newspaper either clarified it or not. That is not an adjudication against that newspaper.
Q552 Chairman: So your answer to him is that actually the Daily Mail has not suffered or been shown to be in breach of code any more than any other newspaper?
Mr Dacre: Certainly not in breach - well, we have not been adjudicated against more than any other newspaper. After this I can send a note to the Committee to give you the exact figures, but I do not have them at my fingertips. I just want to say that Nick Davies is a brilliant reporter, I have paid him very well to appear in the Mail in the past, but he is one of those people who sees conspiracy in everything. Like many people who write mainly for the Guardian he believes that only they have the right to claim the moral high ground, and that the popular press is blind, irresponsible and beyond salvation. His book does not do himself or our industry justice. Parts of it are a mish-mash of innuendo, gossip, smear and half-truths masquerading as truths, the very thing he accuses newspapers of indulging in. It was written without affording the basic journalistic courtesy of checking his allegations with the newspapers concerned, and to take Paul's case nor did he allow us to put our answers to his allegations. I regret all that. The Daily Mail is a strong and powerful paper; it has more pages than most papers and more stories; it is an aggressive paper - I plead guilty to all those charges. I do not believe it is a spiteful paper; I believe it is a very compassionate paper that has fought very hard to represent its voices, readers, interests and anxieties and represent those interests and anxieties; I think we are very aggressive on politicians and the famous and rich, and therefore I think we sometimes get a reputation of being too hard in that area. All I can say is if we are too hard our newspapers will let us know very, very quickly and they are the best judges of all.
Q553 Chairman: Can I ask you whether you agree with the central thesis of his book, which is not directed at the Daily Mail but is a more general concern, that due to the financial pressures which you recognised in your opening remarks which are now on all newspapers that the level of investigative journalism is declining and more and more we are seeing what he has termed "churnalism", a simple reproduction of press releases received by spin doctors?
Mr Dacre: I accept
the case he makes applied to some newspapers, particularly, sadly, the
provincial press because they have such extraordinarily small resources
these days and I fear they have sometimes no alternative but to put
council press releases in their papers and that is very sad and
regrettable. I accept it is
happening to one or two national newspapers who, again, do not have the
resources. Sometimes they do and they
are owned by people who hold journalism or journalists in contempt despite the
heroic efforts of journalists in those papers, and standards have fallen very
badly on those papers. I do not
want to sound arrogant but I refute that charge for the Daily Mail. I would suggest to you the Daily Mail
is both famous, and infamous indeed, in the context of your earlier remarks
Q554 Janet Anderson: Mr Dacre, I wonder if I could press you on what is in the public interest and so on. Do you believe that newspapers should be free to publish stories about individuals in which the public are interested, ie which the public want to read, rather than just those that are in the public interest? Could you give us some examples of when you believe a story is in the public interest and when it is not, and whether you would publish in both cases?
Mr Dacre: Forgive
me, I do not mean to be aggressive but I think there is a rather
patronising element in this question.
I passionately believe in popular newspapers; I believe they
do a very good job giving voice to their readers' interests, anxieties and
concerns. There is an over-pejorative
use of the word "tabloid" particularly by the BBC which invariably refers to
the "tabloid press" and then tells the whole story itself, and, of course, it
is a nonsense that The Times and
The Independent are tabloids, and tabloids are read by most of the
people, and indeed the Mail has more
Q555 Janet Anderson: So really your answer to my question is yes, you would publish both types of story?
Mr Dacre: Well, the Mail publishes lots of human stories, yes, and personalises a lot of its journalism and I have tried to explain why. You will not probably agree with this but I actually believe that what interests the public is by and large in the public interest - by and large. Of course I accept there are exceptions, and if we go too far readers put it correct. What slightly concerns me, and of course I accept judges' integrity, is that it is very difficult for judges to define what is in the public interest. One judge's interpretation of that would be that an article in the Guardian is in the public interest, and a horrible sensational story in The Sun is not. I do not agree with that.
Q556 Janet Anderson: And if you had a story that you were going to run and you thought to yourself: "Actually we might get sued if I publish this story, but it is going to do so much to boost sales that I am going to go ahead with it anyway", would you run that risk?
Mr Dacre: That, with the greatest possible respect, is balderdash. It is almost a Mosley suggestion that we have accountants on our floor working out what the circulation increase versus the costs of a legal action would be. Nonsense. I have never allowed an accountant on the floor of the Daily Mail and I am not going to start right now.
Q557 Chairman: Obviously he is not your responsibility in the very least but Piers Morgan, of course, did say he did precisely that.
Mr Dacre: Well, I am not going to speak on behalf of Mr Piers Morgan. I think that is a very unfair question! He is a television star now anyway. He was sacked from two newspapers, and I think that speaks for itself, although I think he contributes to the sum of human fun. No, that is kamikaze journalism. You have heard the costs I described to you earlier. You do not understand - we print a story because we believe it is right, we believe it is true, and we believe it interests our readers. If we get it wrong and the readers do not like it they do not buy our paper. They pay 50p for each day in the rain and if we go over the top we get sued and the sums of money are absurd. No, no. I hope that is clear!
Q558 Paul Farrelly: You said in your now famous speech, Mr Dacre, that if mass circulation --
Mr Dacre: I had not realised it was so read.
Q559 Paul Farrelly: If you do it on Clicks and Links you are top of the Google list! You said: " ... if mass-circulation newspapers, which also devote considerable space to reporting analysis of public affairs, do not have the freedom to write about scandal, I doubt whether they will retain their mass circulations with the obvious worrying implications for the democratic process". That seems to say in shorthand that if we do not run tons of titillating stuff we cannot afford to carry the staff to do the occasional serious stuff. Can you explain what you mean?
Mr Dacre: Look,
you may not approve of the News of the World; I do not particularly
approve of the News of the World but
I would die in this ditch to carry the tittle tattle and the
scandal and the sensation it does because in the middle of the News of the World is some very serious
political analysis. The News of the
World in its time has broken some very important stories. They have to be free to interest the public
to get the large number of readers they do which also communicates the serious
news that you need as the life blood of democracy. But that is not just my view. Could I refer to - and I know you have
read the speech but I want to repeat it - Lord Wolf in the
Q560 Paul Farrelly: So people have to take the rough with the smooth, basically?
Mr Dacre: I do not know whether I would choose those words but roughly, yes.
Q561 Paul Farrelly: I would be interested in your opinion as to what was wrong with the newspaper reporting of the case of the McCann case, and whether you think it was a one off and unique.
Mr Dacre: Firstly,
the obvious point: it was not just the
newspapers. The BBC carried live
interviews on the doorstep of one of the witnesses there; BBC talk shows were
full of speculation about this, ITV was equally involved. Again, let's examine the context. This was a great human story. Terrible night, parents racked with guilt
about should they have been there when a terrible thing happened to their
daughter, but let's be very, very clear about this: The McCanns went out of their way to enlist
press help. They invited the press into
their lives - very understandably; they wanted to keep the story going because
the more pictures were carried the more the chances were that their daughter
might have been seen if she had been abducted, but nevertheless, far from
shirking the oxygen of publicity, they sought it. They did endless photo opportunities - they
played to the media brilliantly. The
trouble is this created a vortex, I suspect, where some newspapers
saw it as open season to carry stories, if they thought they had the implicit
permission of the McCanns almost to publish any story if it kept the story
alive, ie kept interest in the story going so the chances of spotting the poor
child would have been increased. This
was compounded by the Portuguese police who, of course, labelled the McCanns
suspects. They were busy smearing the
McCanns. Portuguese newspapers were
carrying many irresponsible stories about this; again, regrettably in some
areas of the press these were picked up too assiduously. There was war between the British police and
the Portuguese police, both sides furiously leaking against each other, and
yes, there was the issue of circulation.
I do not remember a story for some time now that actually
increased circulation like the McCann story.
I remember the furious rows we used to have in our office at time
because other papers, opposition papers possibly, were putting the McCanns on
the front page and you could see the next week their circulation had gone
up that day and there were great recriminations about whether we should engage
in that and carry those kinds of stories.
By and large I think we resisted that temptation - by and large -
but what I do deeply regret is that the
Q562 Paul Farrelly: In shorthand you seem to be suggesting they were fair game?
Mr Dacre: No, not at all. I am saying some newspapers did, and wrongly so.
Q563 Paul Farrelly: But when you are saying "some newspapers and the press" it just reminds me, and you are talking in the third party, of the famous attribute attributed to the Royals: "We are not amused". Are you saying you bore no responsibility for any of the reporting at all?
Mr Dacre: Of course not. I have said by and large I hope we resisted the more extreme reckless behaviour that some newspapers manifested over the McCann story.
Q564 Paul Farrelly: But in inviting the press to help with their search and publicising the case you seem to be suggesting they also invited you into their parlour room to suggest that they were in some way responsible?
Mr Dacre: Not
at all. I think with great respect
that is very unfair interpretation of what I have said. Yes, they sought publicity assiduously very,
very understandably, and I think some newspapers took that as a green
light to carry anything about them. But
I do wish they had lodged a complaint with the
Q565 Paul Farrelly: We have heard some evidence from Sir Christopher Meyer which was not terribly persuasive in the way they went about it. But you reached an out-of-court settlement with the McCanns. Can I ask you what lessons you have learned and communicated to your reporters out of the affair?
Mr Dacre: You said we reached an out-of-court settlement. That is slightly misleading. There was not a writ served and nothing was read out on the steps of the Court or anything. I believe the McCanns did write to a set of newspapers. They raised some concerns. They mostly focused on the Evening Standard. By and large the Mail was not concerned. There were civilised and positive discussions. As a result of them the Evening Standard, the Standard, carried a brief statement expressing regret together with an appeal for its readers to assist in the search for Madeleine and made a donation for the purpose. That was the Standard. The Mail interestingly before all that had been carrying free adverts in its continental edition for the McCanns which I think they were very grateful for. Yes, there were intense discussions in all papers I think about the McCann case afterwards. Not related to it but as a result of a whole sequence of events we certainly now hold seminars for all our staff on data protection, privacy, defamation - everything. It is a matter of great concern to us that all our reporters understand this.
Q566 Chairman: Did you take any action against the journalists who wrote the specific stories?
Mr Dacre: On the Standard?
Q567 Chairman: Yes.
Mr Dacre: By and large, I think it was mostly the Standard, and the answer is no. The Standard is now owned by another owner, and the editor is no longer there.
Q568 Paul Farrelly: One of the reasons to prompt this inquiry, and you may think "Who are we to judge the press", was that, in any other sphere of life, if something like this had happened that was a collective failure of standards there would be demands for an inquiry. The press jumps up and down for inquiries into the police or social services when they get things wrong but in this case there has been no inquiry, certainly not by the PCC, and the press has not jumped up and down to demand an inquiry. Is that not hypocritical?
Mr Dacre: I make no comment. No newspaper or television company has a perfect record in this area, on the McCanns. I am not sure it is a "collective" failure; I think some newspapers went too far. There was a huge court case, as you know.
Q569 Paul Farrelly: Was the McCann case unique in your view? Should no lessons be drawn from this?
Mr Dacre: Oh yes, I think lessons should be learned from it. It was not unique but it was one of the greatest human stories.
Q570 Paul Farrelly: And what lessons should be drawn from it?
Mr Dacre: The lesson should be learned that however considerable the interest in that story the correct boundaries of correct newspaper journalism should be observed. What was unique about it was that those boundaries were transgressed rather recklessly by some areas of the industry.
Q571 Paul Farrelly: And you would say that you have not since then transgressed those boundaries again? Can you think of a case where you might have done?
Mr Dacre: I am sure we have. As I said, it is a 120-page paper.
Q572 Paul Farrelly: You read every word presumably?
Mr Dacre: Of course not, no.
Q573 Paul Farrelly: As a good editor?
Mr Dacre: As a journalist you know that is not possible. I read more words of my paper than most editors; I do not read every word in the sports pages --
Q574 Paul Farrelly: But you read the lead stories of most interest?
Mr Dacre: I read the features and the commentary and a lot of the news stories, yes.
Q575 Paul Farrelly: And are there any examples since the McCann case where you would say yes, in our heart of hearts we have gone over the boundary this time and we will not do it again?
Mr Dacre: Mr Farrelly, I will be very honest with you, there may possibly have been, I hope we did not do it deliberately or intentionally, but I cannot honestly say.
Q576 Paul Farrelly: One specific question. Why on 11 March did you publish the name of the village where Elisabeth, the daughter of Josef Fritzl lived who was trying to be resettled to live what you would hope would be a normal-ish life, given what she has been through?
Mr Dacre: You have caught me absolutely cold. I am not aware we did --
Q577 Paul Farrelly: You did.
Mr Dacre: I do not know the answer. Did other newspapers?
Q578 Paul Farrelly: You did it first and they followed you.
Mr Dacre: Could I look into it and send you a note on that?
Q579 Paul Farrelly: Given that you did, would you say that was responsible journalism?
Mr Dacre: I do not know the circumstances, whether it came over from a news agency, whether it was our journalist who did it. I am very happy to look into it.
Q580 Paul Farrelly: I am surprised you do not remember it because it has attracted some comment in the media.
Mr Dacre: In
Q581 Paul Farrelly: And it was a story of great human interest.
Mr Dacre: Oh, yes, the Fritzl case. I am not being evasive, I really was unaware of it. I am very happy to look into it when I get back and send you a very full note on it.
Q582 Paul Farrelly: The final question on this point. You said in your speech that some people revile a moralising media. Others such as myself believe it is the duty of the media to take an ethical stand, and the word "morality" courses through your speech, and I would just like to ask you whether you feel that publishing the name of a village where somebody had been resettled who had been through such a horrific experience was a moral thing to do?
Mr Dacre: I cannot answer you because I do not know the circumstances. I do not know what the German newspapers were doing; I do not know what the news agencies were doing. I can give you this assurance, that I will send every member of this Committee an answer to that, and if we were wrong I will apologise.
Q583 Paul Farrelly: If you could, because if you are saying: "I do not know what the agencies were carrying, I do not know what the other newspapers were carrying", it rather sounds like the excuse: We were only following the others or following orders.
Mr Dacre: No, it does not. You must know the speed newspapers work at. We come out six days a week, we print thousands and thousands of words, I do not know whether it slipped through as an act of calculated irresponsibility by the journalists - I will look into it and get back to you.
Q584 Paul Farrelly: If you could.
Mr Dacre: Of course.
Q585 Philip Davies: Specifically on the PCC I think you said in answer to a question earlier that you regret that the McCanns did not pursue their complaint through the PCC. In the evidence that Gerry McCann gave he said he had been advised by both his legal advisers and by the PCC itself that they were not the most effective route for them to go through. Furthermore, the nub of the issue seems to me was that he said: "I did think it was surprising that an editor of a paper which had so fragrantly libelled us with the most devastating stories could hold a position on the board of the PCC." Do you not think that undermines the credibility of the PCC and people's preparedness to go through that route when they see that the people who they are complaining about are there to sit in potential judgment?
Mr Dacre: Firstly, he would have been one of the seven editors on the Commission with a majority of ten lay members. Secondly, and I was not on the Commission, I do not think, at the time but my recollection is he left the Commission after the furore over the McCanns, and all I can say as someone who has sat on the Commission for many years that the lay members would have had their say on this and the McCanns would have got justice. What I would say is that the PCC does not exist apart from the courts, it exists alongside them, and my only regret was in the early days, when they thought the newspapers were behaving badly and not observing accuracy, if they had lodged a complaint then with the PCC a lot of grief could have been saved. That was the only point I was trying to make.
Davies: I would be interested in your
thoughts about what is the right make-up of the
Mr Dacre: I would not at all, no. This is self-regulation. Obviously you have to have editors on the Commission; they have to buy into this process. I have huge respect for you all and I do not want to intrude into grief, but perhaps it beholds MPs to ask journalists about self-regulation. At least we have members on our Commission; you have none on your regulatory body. We have an independent Chairman; we have independent Appointments Commissioners. It is a much more robust form of self-regulation than exists in Parliament.
Q587 Philip Davies: You might have confidence, and you work closely on it so you see it at first hand, but would you accept that there is a general perception that newspapers do not really take complaints to the PCC seriously so the only thing that is really going to get a newspaper editor to get concerned about something is if Carter Ruck sends a letter with the potential huge costs that you talked about earlier that will really make you sit up, but actually a complaint to the PCC is neither here nor there?
Mr Dacre: I think that is a totally unfair misreading of the situation. It is a matter of huge shame if an editor has an adjudication against him; it is a matter of shame for him and his paper. That is why self-regulation is the most potent form of regulation, and we buy into it. We do not want to be shamed.
Q588 Philip Davies: But do you think that is the general perception of the PCC?
Mr Dacre: I think
the perception of the
Q589 Philip Davies: I think many of us would support self-regulation. I am sure everybody would agree that people want to be as effective as possible and have as much confidence as possible. Are there any areas where you yourself think it could be strengthened or improved?
Mr Dacre: Yes. I do not want to hold any hostages to fortune here but there is a lot of thought going on about this at the moment on various levels and more thought needs to go into privacy, and we are grappling with this at the moment, how we change the Code to tighten up on it because clearly it is a matter of concern. The problem with the Code is it cannot be above the law, obviously. I cannot think of any other areas at the moment but recently we tightened up on things like suicide reporting and areas like that.
Q590 Chairman: When you have had an adverse verdict from the PCC, as an editor what do you then do?
Mr Dacre: What do you do? Well, you kick the reporters in the head who landed you in it but --
Q591 Chairman: Well, without being too jokey about it, do you take action against the reporter?
Mr Dacre: Oh, goodness me, certainly disciplinary action, yes. It is difficult to convey this because it sounds like we are being sanctimonious but there is deep shame when you have to carry an adjudication, and there is a major investigation. My managing editor has an office of four or five people investigating every mistake; we issue official warnings if we think they are right or the reporter concerned has behaved badly - we want to get it right. There is no percentage in getting things wrong.
Q592 Alan Keen: What was the reaction when you realised the anti MMR campaign was wrong? Did you take serious action then against journalists? Did you agree it was wrong? You are not running it now.
Mr Dacre: Well, there is a bit of an urban myth grown up that the Daily Mail was against the triple jab. All newspapers at the time had deep concerns about the triple jab. As you know, a senior doctor was leading a campaign against it; as you know, there was a group of grieving parents who had formed a class action; there was a great concern they were being denied legal aid. The Mail's particular gloss on this was we thought it was deeply hypocritical of the then Prime Minister not to reveal whether his own child had had a triple jab because he was such an eloquent advocate for it. Since then we have carried articles for it, articles against it, but all newspapers were carrying very rigorous articles at the time questioning the MMR jab. To this day I accept the science but I still do not understand why people cannot be given three individual jabs if they so wish.
Q593 Chairman: We are nearly at the end but may I just ask you a couple of things? We are very conscious of the financial climate in which newspapers are operating which you have highlighted, and it is obviously putting huge pressure on you. One of the things where there is a perception growing is that the rigour with which stories are tested and checked prior to publication has diminished, partially as a result of this. To what extent does the Daily Mail undertake fact-checking before you publish?
Mr Dacre: We do not have a fact-checking process like some American newspapers have, I do not think any British newspaper does. The cost involved is worrying those American newspapers all the time. Our reporters are extremely professional operators; they have all had extensive training on local papers and provincial newspapers. Accuracy is the most important thing in their operations. If they get things wrong a most serious attitude is taken by the paper. We have a very extensive sub-editing process which is encouraged to check facts where possible. I do not see what more you can do than employ first rate reporters and first rate subs who self-evidently are more concerned than anybody to get things right.
Q594 Chairman: And do you also believe that, in order that you are able to reflect every side of the argument or to give an opportunity to somebody who you are going to write an article about that you should hear their version or their side of the story, you should inform somebody that you are going to write an article about them before you publish it?
Mr Dacre: Ninety-nine
times out of 100 yes, I think we always do, and indeed the
Q595 Chairman: You say 99 times out of a hundred. I retracted my earlier remark and I fully accept you were not the editor of the newspaper responsible, but in the case of Max Mosley was that a one in a hundred case where it was right not to tell him, or do you think he should have been told?
Mr Dacre: Well,
this is the age-old problem. Almost
certainly if they had told him he would have injuncted them. Almost certainly if it had been
a Saturday morning you would have had a part-time judge on who would
not be expert in defamation or privacy.
Almost certainly that judge would have granted an injunction. Almost certainly it would have got bogged
down in the long grass and taken several weeks.
Q596 Chairman: But if that is the consideration then it would suggest to me certainly that it is not going to be 99 times out of 100 that you notify; there would be a very large number of times that you do not.
Mr Dacre: With great respect, Chairman, these stories do not come up that often; they are quite rare, particularly for a paper like the Mail. We do not, by and large, go in for that kind of journalism.
Q597 Paul Farrelly: When you were referring to Nick Davies' book in your speech last November you did say: "Heaven forbid that its author should have observed the basic journalistic nicety of checking those facts with the parties concerned" which seems --
Mr Dacre: I cannot see in this instance why he should not have checked them, do you? I do not think the Daily Mail is going to injunct.
Q598 Paul Farrelly: In the Mosley case, had you had that story would you have given him the opportunity of comment? Would you have said: "Look, Max, we have you bang to rights, we have video footage, the person who took it is very well qualified, she is married to a British agent, she had a camera down her bra, but there is one thing we are uncertain about, did it have a Nazi theme? Would you like to comment?"
Mr Dacre: Can I just short-circuit this please? The Daily Mail would not have broken that story. We are a family newspaper, our readers do not expect us to print those kinds of stories. This is the irony of the situation.
Q599 Chairman: You did publish quite a lot about it after it appeared.
Mr Dacre: Of course we did. So did the BBC and so did the Guardian.
Q600 Chairman: So you would not have broken it but then it was fine?
Mr Dacre: No, I would not, but then it became a huge public story.
Q601 Paul Farrelly: So you are saying seriously that despite your moral crusade to the community clean up public and private life you would not have broken that story if it fell into your lap?
Mr Dacre: I really recoil from the phrase "moral crusade", but anyway, what was the question?
Q602 Paul Farrelly: You would not have published that story if it fell into your lap, to coin a phrase?
Mr Dacre: No. We are a family newspaper. Our readers would cancel the paper on it, and quite rightly too, but I defend the right of the News of the World to publish it.
Q603 Chairman: Thank you. I think that is all we have.
Mr Dacre: Can I apologise if I somewhat bored you? I was genuinely unaware you had read the speech.
Chairman: Please do not worry. Thank you very much.