Dacre's attack: The accused answer back
Few media outlets were spared when Paul Dacre delivered the Hugh Cudlipp Lecture last week. But how do those in the 'Daily Mail' editor's firing line respond to his charges? We offered them the right of reply
Monday 29 January 2007
Paul Dacre is a man feared and admired. As the Daily Mail's editor since 1992, he has devoted his every waking moment to shaping a newspaper with a clear set of values and a sharp bite, a snarling watchdog that jealously guards the rights of Middle England whenever it perceives them to be under threat.
He is the scourge of the liberal left, to a degree that The Guardian once suggested he was "the most dangerous man in Britain". Yet he commands the respect of his peers. In a poll for Mori in 2005, 30 editors from the national and regional press, and from broadcast were asked to choose the editor they most admired. Dacre was the clear winner. So on the rare occasions when he speaks in public, the rest of the British media takes notice. Such an occasion was last Monday evening, when he delivered the prestigious Cudlipp Lecture, in memory of the great Daily Mirror editor Hugh Cudlipp, at the London College of Communication.
In an uncharacteristically mild introduction, he spoke of his lifelong love for newspapers and referred to childhood experiences as the son of New York newspaper correspondent Peter Dacre. He recalled his days as a student journalist and cringed at the recollection of his use of page three girls when editing the newspaper at Leeds University. Then, with the combination of lucidity and vitriol found in a classic Daily Mail leader column, Dacre, 58, unleashed his barbs, an attack so wide-ranging that almost none of his ideological opponents in the media escaped unscathed.
So - how do they respond?
DACRE ON THE BBC'S 'CULTURAL MARXISM':
"It [the BBC] exercises a kind of cultural Marxism in which it tries to undermine conservative society by turning all its values on their heads. Above all, the BBC is statist. To its functionaries, inured from the vulgar demands of the real world, there is no problem great or small that cannot be blamed on a lack of state spending, and any politician daring to argue that taxes should be cut is accused of lurching to the right."
Mark Byford, BBC deputy director general and head of journalism, says:
Paul Dacre's depiction of the BBC's journalism is unrecognisable to those of us who work in it. But, more importantly, it is unrecognisable to our audiences, most of whom, Daily Mail readers amongst them, would recoil from a BBC peddling cultural Marxism or any other form of ideology.
Thankfully the 83 per cent of the UK adult population who access BBC news on TV, on radio and online every week not only value the BBC's impartiality and independence, but they trust the BBC to deliver accurate and objective news above all other broadcasters and much more than any newspaper. That means that by 8am every day nearly 15 million UK viewers and listeners are tuned in to the BBC's various news outlets. And more are added to this total throughout the day.
The proliferation of media, with the wide range of news papers, broadcasters and online news, means audiences have more choice that's easily available than ever before. However, the audience continues to choose the BBC in huge numbers. Regular independent surveys reveal the BBC's journalism is trusted more than the national press.
The BBC's commitment is to reflect all the many diverse viewpoints found in the UK and abroad. Inevitably that will not satisfy the ideologically driven: not long ago the Prime Minister's former spokesman was fond of accusing BBC journalists of following "the Daily Mail agenda". Of course that was no more true than Mr Dacre's suggestion that the BBC opposes the values of conservativism.
DACRE ON THE BBC GIVING LABOUR AN EASY RIDE:
"The sorry fact is that there is not a single Labour scandal - Ecclestone, Mittal, Mandelson and the Hindujas, Cheriegate, Tessa Jowell and Prescott and Anschutz - on which the BBC has shown the slightest journalistic alacrity and has not had to be dragged into covering late in the day by papers like the Mail."
Mark Byford says:
The Ecclestone, Mittal, Mandelson, Hindujas, Cheriegate, Jowell, and Prescott stories have all been covered comprehensively and fairly. The major protagonists in each have been confronted and challenged.
From John Humphrys' memorable interview with the Prime Minister over the Ecclestone donation, to Panorama's recent examination of David Mills' financial affairs, the approach has been forthright and robust throughout. As those who were there will attest, the same was true of the various crises that confronted the Major government. The approach has been consistent and challenging throughout. These stories are not always originated by the BBC, but today's news media is a voracious beast.
The BBC's appetite for news is as large as anyone's. We want to break stories of significance and inform our audiences of new lines and developments. What matters is whether the stories stand up and can be substantiated, whether they come from our own journalists, reliable sources, the newest blog or the most venerable newspaper.
Like all the BBC's journalists, I consume a wide variety of media voraciously - including the Daily Mail which is delivered to my office every morning. The notion that any journalist disdains a good story from wherever it comes is laughable. To do so would be a disservice to our audiences. But to follow up stories from elsewhere, when appropriate, does not mean adopting the values of the originator.
The BBC's reporting must be consistent with our own values: accuracy, fairness and impartiality. The BBC understands our audiences demand these of us, and will continue to trust us if we deliver them. The response of our audiences suggests that, unlike Mr Dacre, they believe we do.
DACRE ON LABOUR 'STOOGES' AT THE BBC:
"Put to one side how preposterous it was that two Labour stooges became (BBC) Director General and Chairman."
Greg Dyke, former director-general of the BBC, says:
Given that I was driven out of the BBC by a bunch of governors and the Labour party he's quite hard to describe me as a Labour stooge. Especially given the stand I took on the reporting of the events surrounding the Iraq war.
I just think this is "Welcome to the Paranoid World of Paul Dacre" . He's about the defence of the middle-class. It's strange because when I was at the BBC we did a piece of research on the readership of the Daily Mail and found that they were more likely to appreciate and like the BBC than the public at large. In other words, he thinks his readers are all like him but they are not.
The Daily Mail readers were very supportive of the BBC, which given the bile against the BBC in the paper shows that they don't necessarily believe all that the Mail says or that Dacre believes in.
The BBC has a legal requirement for balance - there has never been balance in the Daily Mail. He should be very careful believing that the Mail's perspective on the world is actually the right one, it's just a perspective. I have met Paul Dacre a few times and I quite like him as an editor but he mustn't confuse his views with those of the population at large.
DACRE ON THE PRIVACY LAW:
"Under the Human Rights Act we are witnessing the development, at a frightening pace, of an aggressive judge-made privacy law over which Parliament has no control."
David Price, media lawyer, says:
I think he's undoubtedly correct. Whether you think that's a good or a bad thing is another matter but what we are seeing is that the law has tilted very much in favour of protection of privacy at the inevitable expense of freedom of expression.
That has all arisen from the decisions of judges interpreting a very general rights-based convention and placing considerable reliance on what is going on in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. I think he is right in what he says. I do think there's something to be said for these sorts of decisions being made by parliament and not by judges, who are not answerable to the public. Ultimately it is the public who are being deprived of reading this material.
DACRE ON LOSS-MAKING TITLES:
"With the honourable exception of the Telegraph, which, of course is the only right-wing quality - The Guardian, The Independent and The Times are all losing money."
Simon Kelner, Editor-in-Chief of 'The Independent', says:
I am not quite sure what Paul's point is, other than the simple observation that we're not making money and he is. Is it that there is no constituency for left-of-centre views? In which case, how come New Labour have won three successive elections?
Or does he contend that all newspapers which don't turn a profit are somehow less "honourable" than those, like his own or the Telegraph, which make money? But there are reasons why the three papers he mentions survive and thrive - The Times belongs to a huge and profitable group, and fulfils an important strategic role, likewise The Independent, while The Guardian is part of a trust where profits from one centre are used to underpin the journalistic excellence in another.
In any case, national newspapers, for one reason or another, have long defied the gravitational pull of pure, free-market economics: there was a time in the Sixties when the loss-making Daily Mail group may not have survived without the contributions from its regional newspapers and various non-core activities.
Maintaining the plurality of our national press sometimes depends on such messy arrangements. And he can't have it both ways: elsewhere in the speech he appears critical of the relentless drive for profits by lamenting the decline of the Express as a direct result of the cost-cutting of Richard Desmond, proprietor of this money-making, and right-wing, newspaper.
I don't disagree with a number of the points Paul makes about the relationship between the media and politics, but I find it hard to get behind the idea that everyone who doesn't agree with him is part of a toxic, liberal conspiracy.
DACRE ON THE SHORTCOMINGS OF ITN:
"No wonder ITV, admittedly aided and abetted by some pretty incompetent management, is reeling on the ropes, while ITN is a shadow of its glorious former self and - wrested from its traditional time slot - News at Ten has become News at When and barely manages an audience of 2 milliong compared to the 10 million in its glory days."
Mark Wood, chief executive ITN, says:
I was a bit surprised. I don't quite know why he took a poke at us. It was an incorrect, outdated and rather astonishing claim. ITN is not on the ropes, far from it. Our core businesses are performing well, we are doing well in ratings.
The ITV News at 6.30pm is pulling in 4m-5m viewers and frequently does better than the BBC six o'clock news, which used to be the ratings leader. Channel 4 News has held an audience of about 1m for a long time.
If you look at the overall audience decline for ITV and Channel 4, the news programmes are performing above the average. The company is profitable, we are achieving strong growth and have well-positioned new businesses.
Most people perceive ITN now as being one of the leaders in multimedia businesses. We produce new services in video news for almost all the mobile platforms, we've got strong broadband businesses and we manage one of the largest collections of video content in the world.
Our customers are very happy with what we are doing. He's entitled to his opinion and may think we are an incompetent management but I don't think our shareholders do. They are very supportive.
DACRE ON WRITERS WHO BENEFIT FROM WORKING ON 'SUBSIDISED' TITLES:
"When The Times's Ms [Mary Ann] Sieghart, the very embodiment of modern free-thinking women, holds forth on feminism, she does so courtesy of the topless girls in the vastly profitable Sun. Subsidised papers are, by definition, unable to survive in a free market. Their journalism and values - invariably liberal, metropolitan and politically correct, and I include the pinkish Times here, - don't connect with sufficient readers to be commercially viable. When The Guardian's Mr [Martin] Kettle vents his spleen on the excesses of the free market he does so courtesy of the fat profits made by that fine example of the free market - The Guardian-owned Auto Trader."
Mary Ann Sieghart, assistant editor, The Times, says:
Paul Dacre doesn't seem to understand the workings of the free market. Rupert Murdoch didn't buy the The Times as a favour to the British liberal intelligentsia. He bought it, and continues to own it, because its brand adds value to the rest of his company. The Times is an important asset for News Corporation - its brand enhances the company's reputation. Whether the paper makes a theoretical profit or loss on its own is therefore not the right measure to apply. What's more, when The Times was far from " pinkish, invariably liberal, metropolitan and politically correct" (his words) in the 1970s, it nearly went out of business.
Martin Kettle, Guardian columnist, says:
I suppose it ought to be flattering to be one of Paul Dacre's targets. But it is distressing to realise that he doesn't seem to have read much of what I write, and I am driven to a worrying conclusion that the editor of the Mail may be misrepresenting the facts to suit his prejudices.
I'm certainly a critic of the excesses of the free market - and I'm surprised if Paul thinks Mail readers aren't critical of those excesses too, because I bet they are. I simply think markets have to be regulated in various ways - as indeed they are. Unlike some of my colleagues, I'm comfortable about being a supporter of free markets in general and I devote a lot of my columns to saying things many Guardian readers don't like. I actually think Paul is right in some of his criticisms of some aspects of the liberal media. The trouble - perish the thought with such a successful editor - is that he exaggerates and oversimplifies.
Many newspapers across the world are struggling financially, not just liberal ones. If continuing to spend money on good, independent journalism is a fault, then I'm glad that The Guardian must plead guilty.
DACRE ON THE GUARDIAN'S WORLD VIEW:
"Like The Guardian, the BBC's journalists, insulated from real competition, believe that only their world view constitutes moderate, sensible and decent opinion. Any dissenting views - particularly those held by popular papers - are therefore considered, by definition, to be extreme and morally beyond the pale."
Alan Rusbridger, Editor of 'The Guardian', says:
I think Paul Dacre has got it wrong, witnessed by the fact that we ran 1,500 words of his speech - a "dissenting view" if there ever was one - in The Guardian.
The same pages he graced regularly host Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins - not typical Guardianistas in anyone's book. We have pro- and anti-Europe columnists, pro and anti-war, believers, secularists, pro and anti-Blair, you name it.
'Comment is Free', our online platform for opinion - whether ours or other peoples' - publishes an extraordinary range of views every day.
It feels to me as if Paul - whose own comment pages one would struggle to call diverse - is operating on a rather outdated stereotype of The Guardian. But then lots of people do!
DACRE ON THE SUN'S ROLE IN THE DAVID KELLY AFFAIR
"The ruthless support for the Iraq war that Rupert Murdoch imposed on his papers ... Dr Kelly was all but hung drawn and quartered by The Sun."
A spokesman for 'The Sun' says:
Mr Dacre's opinions are not of sufficient consequence to warrant a response from us.
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