Express Newspapers owner Richard Desmond today called the Leveson Inquiry ‘probably the worst thing that’s happened to newspapers in my lifetime”.
The media mogul, who bought the newspaper group in 2000, appeared before the inquiry this afternoon when he attacked rival newspapers groups, defended his decision to withdraw his newspapers from the PCC and insisted he had no editorial involvement in any of his titles.
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He also claimed his newspapers had been ‘scapegoated’over their coverage of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, which resulted in a £500,000 libel payout.
“Every paper was doing the same thing, which is why every paper or most papers paid money to the McCanns,’he said.
‘Only we were scapegoated by the ex-chairman of the PCC,” he said. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to find Madeleine.”
He added: ‘At the end of the day all the others were doing the same, plus or minus, and basically I saw it as we were the only honest ones and straightforward ones.
“We stood up and said ‘Yes, we got it wrong, there’s the money for the marketing fund, let’s try and find McCann, the poor little girl, let’s put it on the front page and apologise properly’.”
He also argued that “if there were 102 articles on the McCanns, there were 38 bad ones but you could argue there were 65 or 70 good ones”.
Desmond began his evidence by referring to the Daily Mail as the ‘Daily Malicious”, and when asked for his thoughts on newspaper ethics he replied: ‘Ethical? I don’t quite know what that word means, perhaps you would explain what the word means.”
Toward the end of the hearing he told Lord Justice Leveson: ‘I think this inquiry is probably the worst thing that’s happened to newspapers in my lifetime.”
Desmond argued that during a time when people were watching every penny they spent, if they believed that newspapers were ‘dishonest, hacking lowlifes’then they were unlikely to buy a paper.
In the last few months ‘sales of newspapers have never been so bad”, he claimed.
He said the phone-hacking scandal ‘should have been nailed on the head years ago”, adding: ‘Hacking is illegal: Why are these people walking the streets?”
‘We were vilified’
Desmond denied having any editorial involvement in his papers, which he illustrated by telling the story of the Express switching its allegiance to the Tories under Hill’s editorship.
Desmond felt he had ‘betrayed Tony as a mate”, but while he felt bad on a ‘personal level’he did not attempt to make Hill change the paper’s stance. ‘We don’t really work like that,’he told the inquiry.
Desmond went on to describe circulation figures as ‘meaningless’because they were ‘pretty static’and there was ‘nothing really exciting to see”.
He said while editors had to believe an exclusive story would have an impact on sales, the truth was they rarely did.
He then attacked almost every other national newspaper title, claiming they had run negative articles on him when he acquired Express Newspapers.
“We were vilified, we were pillared, we were attacked. The only thing I wasn’t accused of was murder.”
The Daily Mail was the worst offender because its publishers, Associated Newspapers, wanted to buy the Express papers, he claimed, while the Daily Telegraph, which had a printing joint venture with the previous owners, was upset because ‘they rang rings around the previous management and knew they weren’t going to run rings around me.”
The Guardian was upset because he had come from left-field and was ‘cutting their friends’ jobs”.
‘Daily Mail is Britain’s worst enemy’
Yesterday the former managing director of Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers, Murdoch MacLennan, denied the existence of so-called ‘non-aggression pacts’whereby newspaper proprietors agree not to attack each other in their titles.
Desmond said the attacks were further evidence that no such agreements were in place.
‘Only two weeks ago [Daily Mail editor] Dacre vilified me in his horrible rag,’he said.
‘I think it’s Britain’s worst enemy, the Daily Mail,’he added. ‘Their tone on everything is so negative, so disgusting.’
He then referred to Dacre as ‘the fat butcher”.
On Express Newspapers’ decision to withdraw from the PCC last year, Desmond said the company was not a “natural member” of any club, calling organisations such as the PCC, Newspaper Marketing Association and Newspaper Publishers’ Association the ‘tea and biscuits brigade”.
He said the PCC was a ‘useless organisation’run by ‘phone-hackers’and was ‘completely ineffective”.
But he repeated comments made two months ago when he indicated that he could bring his newspapers and magazines back under the press regulator.
He also joked that the replacement body should be named RCD, after Richard Clive Desmond.
He ended his evidence by saying he had no plans no to expand his newspaper portfolio. ‘It’s a tough, tough, tough, business,’he said.
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