Former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre was named the London Press Club’s first ever “journalist laureate” at its annual ball last night, at which the Fleet Street titan used his speech to take a swipe at the BBC.
He said the public-funded corporation “still plunders our journalism while missing no opportunity to denigrate the press and, by implication, our millions of viewers”.
Dacre (pictured) donated his £5,000 cash prize to the Journalists’ Charity, for whom the ball raises money, and said he would use the gift of a “magnificent pen” to write his autobiography.
“It’s a running joke of course that I’m utterly useless at computers,” he said. “So I plan to use it to write my autobiography – its working title, by the way, is a Dish Best Eaten Cold.”
Dacre, 69, stepped down as Daily Mail editor this summer and is now chairman and editor-in-chief of Mail publisher Associated Newspapers.
At the ball, held at London’s V&A Museum, Dacre said he was “delighted” to receive the award of “journalist laureate”, telling guests: “If only my old dad could see me now – a real life laureate.”
Dacre jokingly named Alistair Campbell, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn and Max Moseley in his speech, saying: “I can only hope that all these saintly individuals now see me in a new light and will give me the respect and affection I deserve.”
He said his father, Peter, who worked most of his life at the Sunday Express, was chairman of the Press Club between 1975 and 1976, while Dacre himself was in Washington working for the Express.
“In those days computers were an exotic technology and no-one had heard of the internet,” he said.
“It seems almost remarkable that back then journalism tools included carbon paper, scissors and glue, while in the print rooms and newspaper offices molten lead glistened in buckets of linotype machines.
“Well today Mail Online, a total digital operation, is the world’s biggest newspaper website.
“So, yes, much water has flown through the river Fleet since those days – and print journalism has had to cross many perilous bridges.
“But make no mistake, this is still a great industry that still punches way above its weight and still sets the news agenda for a BBC that still plunders our journalism while missing no opportunity to denigrate the press and, by implication, our millions of viewers.
“Well tonight, I salute you Fleet Street.
“Yes Fleet Street is going through a challenging time at the moment, but I promise mankind’s need for information, both entertaining and serious, is as old as time itself.
“And authentic, as opposed to fake news, that obeys the law, that is self-regulating and is produced by brilliant, creative minds will survive and flourish.
“But also as old as time itself is the compulsion for the rich and powerful to control the free press, as we have seen so worryingly in Britain over the past few years as politicians – particularly in the second chamber – try to impose statutory regulation on newspapers.
“And we should also remember, as we learn of the Saudi journalist [Jamal Khashoggi] reportedly tortured and murdered, that our colleagues in other countries die for our trade.
“As [Lord] Northcliffe said: ‘The power of the press is great. The power to suppress is even greater.
“For my part… I have had a fabulously privileged life in journalism. Thank you again for this magnificent London Press Club award. I can’t tell you how proud I am to receive it.”
The London Press Club Journalist Laureate award is for “excellence and leadership in journalism”. It will now be made annually at the London Press Club Ball with plans to create a journalism “hall of fame”.
Picture: Lucy Young/London Press Club