Dacre warns privacy fines would kill papers

Dacre: “a law unto my readers”

Paul Dacre has warned parliament that small newspapers will be forced to close if it passes a privacy law with stiff fines for editors who break it.

The editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers issued his warning amid fears attempts will be made to curb press freedom or to bring the Press Complaints Commission under the control of new media regulator Ofcom.

Dacre told MPs of the select committee for culture, media and sport that some newspapers would not be able to afford fine. “It will hurt small newspapers” which “will go out of business.”

He also warned that a press ombudsman could lead to the appointment of regional ombudsmen to oversee complaints about regional and national newspapers. “It would be a repugnant step, a bureaucratic nightmare.”

Dacre voiced his fears to the all-party select committee which this week began its inquiry into media intrusion. The hearing came on the same day that MPs debated the communications bill, which the Liberal Democrats say they will attempt to amend to require the PCC to be licensed by Ofcom.

Before calling Dacre, the MPs heard Professor Eric Barendt argue the case for a new law to protect individuals against privacy intrusion by the media. Barendt said the bill should be amended to give readers the right to appeal to Ofcom’s content board if they were unhappy with the PCC’s decisions.

Max Clifford told MPs he only dealt through editors when representing the rich and famous. “I don’t work with the PCC. It is a waste time. The PCC is jobs for the boys, editors looking after editors.”

Clifford said he was against a privacy law, but said ordinary members of the public should be given legal aid to take on newspapers. “In my view, we have the most savage media in the world.” Dacre, said Clifford, was a “law unto himself.”

Hitting back, Dacre said: “I am not a law unto myself. I am a law unto my readers.” If readers stopped buying the Daily Mail he would lose his job. “I have to stand for election every day of the week,” he told MPs.

Gerald Kaufman, committee chairman, suggested the judges were making a privacy law in their judgements. Dacre disagreed. “There was an expectation that, when the Human Rights Act came in, the judges would fashion a privacy law. However, they have been extremely cautious and feel the best place for privacy to be adjudicated on is the PCC.”

Dacre, a member of the PCC, said self-regulation allowed ordinary members of the public to have their complaints heard and resolved free of charge and quickly. He said the PCC would be given fresh impetus under its new chairman, Sir Christopher Meyer.

David Rose

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