Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre yesterday said other Fleet Street editors are not given freedom to edit and that Britain could not have invaded Iraq without the support of News International proprietor Rupert Murdoch.
Dacre revealed that he has turned down opportunities to edit The Times and the Telegraph because he believes that other proprietors would not have given him the freedom that Daily Mail and General Trust owner Lord Rothermere has.
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He said: “Rupert Murdoch has been a very great proprietor in his time, but I don’t think he would have given me the freedom I wished to have as an editor…
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that he had strong views which he communicated to his editors and expected them to be followed. The classic case is the Iraq War.
“I’m not sure that the Blair government or Tony Blair would have been able to take the British people to war if it hadn’t been for the implacable support provided by the Murdoch papers. There’s no doubt that came from Mr Murdoch himself.”
In written evidence, Dacre expanded on the theme of editorial independence:
“In my time I have turned down editorships of The Times and The Telegraph. One reason I did so is that at the Mail I enjoy total freedom from proprietorial and managerial interference, a freedom that is not necessarily found in other newspaper groups.
“This freedom stems from my and the DMGT board’s belief that in order to be successful, each of our titles must be free to maintain a relationship of trust with its readers which is responsive, receptive and free from proprietorial intrusion.
“The DMGT board rely on my and my fellow editors’ skill, judgment and experience to ensure that the stance and content of the titles are true to their readership, and are not interfered with by the papers’ managerial or commercial departments.”
Dacre said that this editorial independence extends to the editors of the Scottish and Irish editions of the Daily Mail, to the editors of the Mail on Sunday and Metro. Although Dacre is editor-in-chief of those titles, he said you can’t edit by “remote control” and added that some of the views put forward by the Irish edition “turn my hair white”.
In a defence of the essentially democratic nature of newspaper journalism, Dacre said in written evidence: “I am held to account by my readers every day. The act of paying 55p for a newspaper is a voluntary one.
“If I do not connect with my readers’ values and reflect their interests and aspirations, or if I offend them or am unfair or prurient, they will stop buying our newspapers. If that happens in great numbers I will lose my job. Newspapers only survive by connecting with their readership, by representing their interests aspirations and guarding them against injustices.
“For every complaint I receive, I receive many letters from readers thanking me for helping them, through the pages of the Mail, in matters of both personal and wider importance to them. Indeed, we receive very few critical letters from ordinary people.
“The bulk of the complaints we get come from the rich, the powerful, the corrupt and the famous, not least politicians, and are often designed to intimidate and prevent us from doing our proper job as a newspaper.
“These complaints, incidentally, have intensified in recent years because of the emergence of a new breed of predatory, ambulance chasing lawyers using the incentives of Conditional Fee Agreements and After The Event Insurance premiums to get as much money as they can out of newspapers.”
Dacre added in his written statement: “The rich and powerful would love to see the media tamed but the rest of society would pay a heavy price. No other force in our society is so effective at exposing and restraining the corruption of power.”
Urging against more statutory curbs on the press, Dacre said: “The press in this country works under some of the most stringent and powerful laws of any Western democracy: the laws of libel, data protection, the new Bribery Act, the new law of privacy, harassment laws, the law of contempt of court and restrictions on reporting the courts, laws restricting access to the family courts, the Official Secrets Act and laws dealing with the regulation of investigatory powers.
“To add more would add to the burden, not only on a free press but on the courts and force ordinary people into the onerous and expensive process of going to court to exercise their rights. That is why I passionately believe that an efficient process of self regulation protects people not generally in the public life much better than a statutory one.”
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