Dacre condemns 'huge ignorance' of MPs and bloggers

Paul Dacre has hit back at the “huge ignorance” of some MPs, “self-appointed” media watchdogs and bloggers about the UK system of self-regulation of the press.

The editor of the Daily Mail accused the House of Commons’ media select committee of seeking to create a system of press regulation which would “bring joy to Robert Mugabe” with publications earlier this year of its wide-ranging report Press Standards, Privacy and Libel.

Dacre made the comments in his annual report as chairman of the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee. The code underpins the work of the Press Complaints Commission.

Dacre said that many of the submissions to the recent review of the system of self-regulation “expose a huge ignorance about how self-regulation works – often from those who should know better, in Parliament, in self-appointed media accountability groups and, more generally, in the blogosphere”.

He said that one “myth” is that editors form the majority of the PCC when in fact lay members from outside the industry outnumber them by ten to seven.

He added: “The myth persists that the press is the sole judge in its own court and that editors sit in on hearings about their own or sister newspapers. They don’t. They leave the room and take no part.”

Dacre critisised the select committee’s recommendations that the PCC should have the power to issue fines and suspend publication of offending titles for an issue.

He said: “Its report itself made some very positive and useful points, especially in relation to defamation law and legal costs, but it didn’t do itself justice by suggesting that newspapers guilty of breaching the code should be suspended for a day and that fines should be imposed.

“The first suggestion would bring joy to Robert Mugabe. The second would have Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne rubbing their greedy hands with glee.

“It cannot be said too often that the imposition of sizable fines would result in complainants and particularly the press having to use lawyers to defend their interests – signalling the death of a free fast system of complaints adjudication.”

Dacre said that many submissions to the recent Editor’s Code review, the review of the governance of the PCC, and parts of the MPs’ report “perpetuate opinions founded more in prejudice and preconception than fact” and ignore the dire straits much of the journalism industry finds itself in financially.

He said: “The sadness is that much of this criticism simply misses the point, for it is an ineluctable truth that many provincial newspapers and some nationals are now in a near-terminal economic condition.

“If our critics spent as much zeal trying to help reverse this tragic situation and work out how good journalism – which is, by its nature, expensive – is going to survive financially in an internet age, then democracy and the public’s right to know would be much better served.”

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