Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre is not only the longest serving, but the best paid and most powerful editor on Fleet Street.
So his comments to the Leveson Inquiry this morning were hugely significant – because where he leads, others will surely follow.
The key concession suggested by Dacre was the creation of some sort of official press ombudsman to work alongside the PCC – with powers to investigate, summon journalists, give evidence and even impose fines.
The suggestion that corrections should be given more prominence is a perennial complaint which has finally been tackled by his unilateral decision to create a page two corrections column in all his papers.
He also suggested that people from outside the industry should have input into the Editors’ Code Committee – and that there could even be a public consultation on the code. A bit of a no-brainer, some might think, but a concession towards opening up what has been seen as a self-serving club.
In military terms it felt like a fighting retreat – with Dacre lambasting the ignorance of the inquiry team itself, the Mail-hating Hampstead liberals and the hypocrisy of politicians before admitting that, yes, something radical must be done to restore public faith in journalism in the wake of phone-hacking.
The question is, will his concessions be enough to substantially save self regulation of the press and the PCC in its current form?
For me, it was tremendously encouraging to see Dacre take part in this debate, seek to foster more of it and lead from the front. Because as he noted – if Fleet Street cannot agree a new tougher, more comprehensive, form of self regulation soon – it will have a solution foisted upon it by the Government.
He also deserves huge credit for highlighting the plight of hard working regional press journalists who, as he noted, do an incredibly important job for a “pittance” because they believe in what they are doing.
At the first of these seminars last week, Claire Enders’ revelation that 40 per cent of regional newspaper jobs had gone in the UK in the last five years prompted no comment at all from the assembled national press editors and hackademics who filled the hall.
As Dacre rightly said – this is the UK’s real journalistic crisis, creating a “democratic deficit”. As he noted – we should hold an inquiry into that.