Ian Burrell: With all the outrage of a Mail op-ed, Fleet Street's most feared editor spoke

Dacre said that, far from being out of control, the press was in a bad way financially and was being kicked when it was down

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In an era where fame is defined partly by the scale of one's Twitter following and perhaps more so by appearances on television, Paul Dacre engages with neither and yet remains a figure of almost unrivalled influence in British society.

The editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail – still the paper most feared by politicians of all colours – is largely unrecognisable to the public, though millions know his views from Mail headlines and might recognise his turns of phrase from the editorials of a paper which he has run for nearly 20 years.

Only occasionally will Dacre venture into the public spotlight and yesterday at a seminar of the Leveson Inquiry he stepped forward with intent. There was a message that he needed to convey and he did so with a measure of indignation worthy of a Mail leader article. When Dacre speaks, it is with conviction.

Far from being out of control, the press – Dacre argued – was being kicked when it is down. "The political class's current obsession with clamping down on the press is contiguous with the depressing fact that the newspaper industry is in a sick financial state," he said.

Reviled by sections of the chattering classes, Dacre remains one of the fiercest defenders of print media and "the thousands of decent journalists", as he called them yesterday. The son of an accomplished reporter, he has ink in his veins.

For a long time the Daily Mail ignored the phone-hacking scandal, prompting claims of a press conspiracy of silence. But Dacre described the News of the World's activities as "a disgrace" that had "shocked and shamed us all". In the spirit of contrition, he revealed that the Mail would start a corrections column.

But that was not his theme, as he signalled with the words: "Enough of being defensive". He pointedly told the "distinguished" Leveson panel that it did not have "the faintest clue how mass-selling newspapers operate". It needed saying.

There was a world of difference, he said, between "the Hampstead liberal with his gilded lifestyle" and love of The Guardian, and "someone who works 10 hours a day in a Sunderland call centre and lives for football".

The Mail editor, yesterday even more than most other days, could detect "rank smells of hypocrisy" in his nostrils. "My worry," he said, "is that this liberal hatred of mass-selling papers has transmogrified into a hatred of self-regulation itself". Even liberal journalists found themselves agreeing with him.

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