Clarke warns Leveson over-regulation will kill press

 

  • Clarke takes swipe at The Times and The Daily Telegraph
  • Warns there may not be 'much of an industry left to regulate'
  • US publishers could step in to satisfy news demands in the UK

Over-regulation in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry risks putting British newspapers at a commercial disadvantage against their online US competitors, according to Mail Online publisher Martin Clarke.

He also took a swipe at some of his Fleet Street competitors at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, warning that 'only news organisations which make an honest profit can be truly free".

The alternative was being "always in hock to somebody, be it a sugar daddy proprietor, the demands of a charitable trust or a government subsidy".

These commercial pressures had already forced some newspapers to breach the 'impermeable wall between journalism and paid content", the publisher claimed.

One of those was The Times, said Clarke, who had recently advertised for a commercial editor responsible for all 'editorial output from commercially funded editorial partnerships", whose key quality was to have an 'open mind".

He also told the inquiry of how The Daily Telegraph had 'been taken to task both by the ASA [Advertising Standards Authority] and industry observers for making advertorial almost indistinguishable from editorial".

Thanks to the internet the British Newspaper industry was now in a position to export its 'uniquely vibrant'form of journalism, said Clarke.

But in his written statement to the inquiry he warned: 'If we don't allow UK newspapers to compete effectively in this online world then we aren't going to have much of an industry left to regulate."

Clarke said his biggest competitors were not domestic newspaper rivals but US-based global news providers such as MSN, Huffington Post and Yahoo!, but that these enjoyed a significant advantage: 'the right of unfettered free speech enshrined in the US constitution under the First Amendment.

'That right trumps almost every other consideration, meaning newspapers in the US can publish unproven allegations that would result here in an expensive libel trial or print prejudicial information about a criminally accused that would see a British editor locked up for contempt of court."

Pippa Middleton

He added: 'Meanwhile, on the celebrity front, our US competitors already have an even bigger advantage over us in that they are not bound by the PCC code.

'Because so many British celebrities have succeeded abroad there is a massive overlap between the US and UK show business agenda.

'The vast majority of our celebrity content does not concern private lives per se – except in so far as that may be what the celebrity is famous for anyway as in the case of a Katie Price or a Kim Kardashian.

'It is centred around TV and film content and official or semi-official events where the celebrity is promoting something.'

He cited the example of a US website breaking the news of Sienna Miller's pregnancy, which was followed up by its American rivals but not by Mail Online because UK newspapers cannot report pregnancies unless confirmed by the subject.

He also said the paper received hundreds of pictures of Pippa Middleton a day but none were used because they had agreed to only run pictures of her at public events.

Clarke said the inquiry has not considered 'why these pictures keep getting taken if we aren't using them".

'The answer is that the pictures do appear daily on websites in the US where Miss Middleton is considered a major celebrity – which may go some way to explain why a publisher recently agreed to pay her a £400,000 advance to write a book about party planning,'he said.

His witness statement concluded: 'So are we going to hamstring what is probably UK newspapers' best chance of survival – their internet operations – by handicapping them even further against their international competition?

'Because it is not just a question of preventing us from competing on the global stage. If we are stopped from running UK stories that the rest of the world can, then US publishers will move quickly to satisfy the demand in the UK.

'The Huffington Post is already trying. It isn't 1936 anymore. Then US newspapers were reporting the details of Edward Vlll's affair with Mrs Simpson while UK newspapers kept their ordinary readers in ignorance.

'Now that information is a just a click away. Or are we going to end up with the ludicrous situation where to compete globally but comply with UK regulation and law Mail Online has to block some stories about British subjects from onlyg its British readers while American websites can serve them in Britain?"

Clarke revealed that Mail Online has 70 journalists spread across London, New York and Los Angeles and publishes between 400 and 500 stories a day.

Over the past three years it had received 205 legal complaints, 35 of which were for privacy issues.

Of those it paid 'relatively modest amounts of money'on just three occasions: Two payments were to made to German sports personalities and one to a UK celebrity.

He said the website had received six privacy complaints in that period from the Press Complaints Commission 'all of which were resolved without a negative adjudication".

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