The furore surrounding the Mail's coverage of Ralph Miliband and now the Mail on Sunday's doorstepping of a Miliband family memorial service may have fatally weakened Fleet Street's hand on the future of press regulation at a crucial juncture.
One has to wonder if all this could have been defused if Mail editor Paul Dacre had asserted his paper's right to fair comment but admitted that the seemingly factual conclusion made by a headline writer was, with hindsight, over the top.
Geoffrey Levy’s piece in the Daily Mail on Saturday was comment (and appeared next to the leader), although it was tagged ‘Saturday report’. But the headline said:
The man who hated Britain: Red Ed's pledge to bring back socialism is a homage to his Marxist father. So what did Miliband Snr really believe in? The answer should disturb everyone who loves this country.”
Ed Miliband felt this was a slur on his late father’s name and was afforded a right of reply by the Mail on Tuesday. Among other things, Miliband noted that his late father fought for Britain against the Nazis on D-Day.
The Mail responded by accusing the Leader of the Opposition of dishonesty.
Yesterday the Mail said: “while it is certainly astute PR for the Labour leader to present his complaint against the Daily Mail in purely personal and emotional terms, it is also a mite disingenuous”.
And today columnist Stephen Glover accused Miliband of “calculated hysteria” and “legerdemain” (trickery or sleight of hand).
As editor-in-chief of the Mail on Sunday, Dacre's position has not been helped by news that a journalist from that paper approached mourners for comment about the current furore at a private memorial service for Ed Miliband’s uncle.
It was already looking unlikely that the Privy Council would approve the publishing industry-backed press regulation plan set out in the Pressbof Royal Charter when it meets next week.
In the feverish atmosphere generated by the Miliband versusMail row the Privy Council (which is essentially an instrument to carry out the will of the Government) may well be more minded to approve Parliament’s Royal Charter for a statute-backed system of press regulation.
Then publishers will either have to go back and substantially rethink the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which they are on the brink of signing up to, or else ignore the Government and leave themselves open to the threat of exemplary damages in future civil legal claims.