Viscount Rothermere, the proprietor of the Daily Mail, was yesterday accused of being a "hypocrite" after admitting that a deal had been struck with the publisher Richard Desmond to keep personal criticisms of the two rival media magnates out of their respective newspapers.
Lord Rothermere, chairman of Daily Mail and General Trust, confirmed that, following a public spat between the two news organisations, Murdoch MacLennan, a former senior executive at DGMT, had held a meeting of reconciliation with Mr Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers.
Appearing before the Privacy and Injunctions Joint Committee, Lord Rothermere said: "I believe that Mr MacLennan, who was managing director of Associated Newspapers, had lunch with Mr Desmond and reported back to me that Mr Desmond and himself had agreed that it was not in the interests of the respective groups to use the pages of our newspapers for mudslinging."
Lord Myners described the agreement as "an extraordinary incursion into editorial independence," later asking: "Are you not a hypocrite Viscount Rothermere?" Lord Rothermere replied that the agreement had not mattered to him and had little lasting significance. "I appeared on the front page of the Sunday Express as "Lord Porn" a few years afterwards so it wasn't like a concrete agreement," he said.
Viscount Rothermere was questioned over why the Daily Mail was top of a league table of newspapers that had hired private investigators. He said that the paper had banned the use of such inquiry agents.
But the committee heard that Associated Newspapers traced people legally through two systems in its library which complied with data protection laws.