Grâce à la liberté dans les communications, des groupes d’hommes de même nature pourront se réunir et fonder des communautés. Les nations seront dépassées.
Friedrich Nietzsche (Fragments posthumes XIII-883)

09 - AVR 23 - CPCM (4) - 547-588 (PD)

Enquête sur les critères de la presse, l'intrusion dans la vie privée et la diffamation (4)

Aux entités et autorités appelées à déposer sur l'affaire MC, le Comité parlementaire posa deux questions auxquelles répondre par écrit. 
1) Pourquoi le régime d'auto-régulation n'a-t-il pas été utilisé, pourquoi la PCC n'a-t-elle pas eu recours à sa propre enquête et quels changements cette affaire a-t-elle donné lieu dans l'industrie journalistique. 
2) L'action pour diffamation gagnée par les MC contre l'Express Group et d'autres journaux  indiquait-elle que le régime d'auto-régulation accusait une sérieuse faiblesse.

Audition de Paul Dacre - 23.04.2009

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?
Paul Dacre (rédacteur en chef du Daily Mail, ex-membre de la PCC) : 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  Ch. : To give you his specific allegation, he says he drew up a league table of complaints—
PD : Complaints?

Q549 Ch. : —which have succeeded, either because the PCC have eventually adjudicated against the newspaper, or because the paper had agreed some kind of resolution to satisfy.
PD : I think that second is rather important. If it had been resolved then I do not think it is fair—

Q550  Ch. : 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—
PD : Successful adjudications? No. They are complaints, you see. There is a big difference.

Q551  Ch. : He says successful complaints, in that you had accepted—
PD : 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  Ch. : So your answer to him is that actually the Daily Mail has not suffered or been shown to be in breach of the code any more than any other newspaper?
PD : 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 newspaper readers will let us know very, very quickly and they are the best judges of all.

Q553  Ch. : 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?
PD : 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 for taking Whitehall and government press releases and going behind them and finding the truth behind the spin and propaganda. Certainly our reporters when they get freelance copy should and are encouraged to make their own inquiries, to check them and take them further. I refute that we have cut back on spending on journalism. Our spending on journalism today is as great as ever, despite the recession, so I think Mr Davies makes a valid point about some areas of the media. I think the strong areas of the media, and I include some of our very worthy competitors, are not guilty of this charge.

Q554  Janet Anderson (MP Labour) : 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?
PD : 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. the Times and the Independent are tabloids, and tabloids are read by most of the people, and indeed the Mail has more ABC1 readers than all those papers put together but that is another matter. The word "personal" confuses me. All stories are personal. Most stories are told through people, particularly in the popular press. Telling stories through people is a very effective way of getting across dry and complicated stories. Celebrities personalise their lives. They do it to put their image more in the public's eye and they make a lot of money out of it. Politicians—not all but a lot—personalise their lives; very understandably they want to identify with the voters and gain their voters' support, so yes, I plead totally guilty to personalising stories. If you want a paper dominated by issues you would probably buy the Guardian, circulation 250,000, subsidised to the tune of £30 million by the Scott Trust. If you want a story about people, gossip, and news is people and gossip, but to also get across serious analysis of politics and news, you will buy the Sun, circulation 3 million. The Sun uses much more sensational methodology to do that; I would defend that and die in a ditch to defend it. They get a lot of the stuff that happens in this building to their readers by inducing them to read their paper through the methods I have just described. Does that answer your question?

Q555  JA : So really your answer to my question is yes, you would publish both types of story?
PD : 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  JA : 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?
PD : 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 Ch. : Obviously he is not your responsibility in the very least but Piers Morgan, of course, did say he did precisely that.
PD : 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 (MP Labour) : You said in your now famous speech, Mr Dacre, that if mass circulation—
PD : I had not realised it was so read.

Q559  PF : 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?
PD : 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 Woolf in the 2002 Appeal Court Judgment? "The courts must not ignore the fact that if newspapers do not publish information which the public are interested in, then there will be fewer newspapers published, which will not be in the public interest", and Baroness Hale in another famous hearing said: "One reason why freedom of the press is so important is that we need newspapers to sell in order to ensure that we still have newspapers at all. It may be said that newspapers should be allowed considerable latitude in the intrusions into private grief so that they can maintain circulation and the rest of us can continue to enjoy the variety of newspapers and other mass media which were available in this country."

Q560  PF : So people have to take the rough with the smooth, basically?
PD : I do not know whether I would choose those words but roughly, yes.

Q561  PF : I would be interested in your opinion as to what was wrong with the newspaper reporting of the McCann case, and whether you think it was a one-off and unique.
PD : 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, i.e. kept interest in the story going so the chances of spotting the poor child would have been increased. This was compounded by the Portuguese police who, of course, labelled the McCanns suspects. They were busy smearing the McCanns. Portuguese newspapers were carrying many irresponsible stories about this; again, regrettably in some areas of the press these were picked up too assiduously. There was war between the British police and the Portuguese police, both sides furiously leaking against each other, and yes, there was the issue of circulation. I do not remember a story for some time now that actually increased circulation like the McCann story. I remember the furious rows we used to have in our office at time because other papers, opposition papers possibly, were putting the McCanns on the front page and you could see the next week their circulation had gone up that day and there were great recriminations about whether we should engage in that and carry those kinds of stories. By and large I think we resisted that temptation—by and large—but what I do deeply regret is that the PCC, I believe, did contact the McCanns in the early days and offer their services particularly regarding harassment, and I deeply regret that the McCanns, if they felt they were being portrayed in such an inaccurate way, did not immediately lodge a complaint with the PCC which I believe profoundly—

Q562  PF : In shorthand you seem to be suggesting they were fair game?
PD : No, not at all. I am saying some newspapers did, and wrongly so.

Q563  PF : 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?
PD : 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  PF : 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?
PD : Not at all. I think with great respect that is very unfair interpretation of what I have said. Yes, they sought publicity assiduously very, very understandably, and I think some newspapers took that as a green light to carry anything about them. But I do wish they had lodged a complaint with the PCC. It would have been adjudicated on very quickly—

Q565  PF : 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?
PD : 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  Ch. : Did you take any action against the journalists who wrote the specific stories?
PD : On the Standard?

Q567  Ch. : Yes.
PD : 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  PF : 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?
PD : 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  PF : Was the McCann case unique in your view? Should no lessons be drawn from this?
PD : Oh yes, I think lessons should be learned from it. It was not unique but it was one of the greatest human stories.

Q570  PF : And what lessons should be drawn from it?
PD : 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  PF : 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?
PD : I am sure we have. As I said, it is a 120-page paper.

Q572  PF : You read every word presumably?
PD : Of course not, no.

Q573  PF : As a good editor?
PD : 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  PF : But you read the lead stories of most interest?
PD : I read the features and the commentary and a lot of the news stories, yes.

Q575  PF : 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?
PD : 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?
PD : You have caught me absolutely cold. I am not aware we did—

Q577  PF : You did.
PD : I do not know the answer. Did other newspapers?

Q578  PF : You did it first and they followed you.
PD : Could I look into it and send you a note on that?

Q579  PF : Given that you did, would you say that was responsible journalism?
PD : 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 PF : I am surprised you do not remember it because it has attracted some comment in the media.
PD :In Britain?

Q581 PF : And it was a story of great human interest.
PD : 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  PF : 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?
PD : 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  PF : 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.
PD : 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  PF :If you could.
PD : Of course.

Q585  Philip Davies (MP Conservative) : 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?
PD : Firstly, he would have been one of the seven editors on the PCC with a majority of 10 lay members. Secondly, and I was not on the PCC, I do not think, at the time but my recollection is he left the PCC after the furore over the McCanns, and all I can say as someone who has sat on the PCC for many years that the lay members would have had their say on this and the McCanns would have got justice. What I would say is that the PCC does not exist apart from the courts, it exists alongside them, and my only regret was in the early days, when they thought the newspapers were behaving badly and not observing accuracy, if they had lodged a complaint then with the PCC a lot of grief could have been saved. That was the only point I was trying to make.

Q586  PD : I would be interested in your thoughts about what is the right make-up of the PCC. I think one of the people giving evidence to us earlier this week said it was like having a jury of twelve and finding if you are being prosecuted that five people on the jury were members of the family of the defendant, and the fact that seven might not be is not really much of a comfort to you. Would you share that particular concern?
PD : 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  PD : 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?
PD : 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  PD : But do you think that is the general perception of the PCC?
PD : I think the perception of the PCC has improved considerably from what it has been in the past. What gets my goat a little bit is the refusal of a, to be fair decreasing, minority to accept that standards have not improved very considerably in the press since the start of the Commission. I have been in this business forty years; the journalistic landscape has changed dramatically since the `80s; journalists are much better behaved. There is an argument that the Code and the Commission has toughened things up so much that, vis-a"-vis the earlier conversation, it is blunting the ability of some of the red top papers and the red top Sunday market to sell newspapers. I think it is churlish not to accept there have been improvements. I think it is counterproductive. Yes, further improvements could be made; the Code is organic, it is always changing, we are amending it, but what sickens me, frankly, is the charge that we are not independent. It traduces the independence of the Chairmen, who often have been very distinguished people; it traduces the independence of the Appointments Commissioners who have to ratify all the Commissioners to the Commission, and they are most senior people, former Lord Chancellors; it traduces the integrity of the lay members, the Bishops, trade union leaders, ex MPs; it traduces the integrity of the Compliance Officer. Self-regulation works and it would be nice if occasionally that was recognised, along with the fact that we have continual vigilance, we continually update things, we change things, we change the Code in response to public worries. We do not always get it right but we try.