Last week, the Daily Mail was awarded the Newspaper Of The Year award by its peers. There to collect the gong was the paper’s legendarily foul mouthed editor Paul Dacre; for him, this kind of ceremony has become the stuff of routine. But while Dacre is acknowledged as the master editor, the man who ruthlessly stamps his authority on the paper day after day, he is a personally insecure and isolated figure.
What's so f***ing wrong about putting Byline out of business, c***?!? Er, with the greatest of respect, Mr Jay
And now that he is in his late 60s, with not only a quarter century in the editor’s chair but also a litany of heart trouble to his name, even the tyrant often referred to as “the Robert Mugabe of Fleet Street” is beginning to look to his legacy. That legacy, in public at least, has been one of success. Any talk of dubious practices has met with swift retribution, as actor and campaigner Hugh Grant discovered at the Leveson Inquiry.
Grant mused that some information the Mail had obtained about him could only have been obtained through phone hacking. Dacre, in his chauffeur-driven car at the time, responded immediately, loudly denouncing Grant of undertaking a “mendacious smear”. This only served to intensify Dacre’s (and therefore the Mail’s) hatred of Grant, who in 2007 had successfully sued the Mail for routine invention about his private life.
Dacre’s legacy, though, began to suffer the tarnishing effect of revelation recently, as Byline Media let it be known that the Mail titles had continued using the services of Private Investigator Steve Whittamore for some time after he was busted by the Information Commissioner in what became known as Operation Motorman. Whittamore’s contention was that Dacre must have known most of the information being gathered had been obtained illegally - and after being busted, he was charging the Mail a lot more.
We know the sums involved as Byline have the invoices and the Mail’s payment advices. But now, Dacre has clearly decided to come down as heavily as he can on Byline in order to stop any further revelations: at first, the Mail ignored the articles. Later, they issued a denial of wrongdoing. But then the panic button was pressed and the threats started.
Yes, Paul Dacre, the editor whose legal advisors spend most of their time telling the little people to run along, and letting everyone else know that they are welcome to come and sue the Mail if they think they’re hard enough, is now, along with the Mail’s editor emeritus Peter Wright (who used to edit the Mail on Sunday) and Liz Hartley, head of legal services at the Mail titles, threatening a libel action against Byline Media.
The irony will be lost on no-one: the editor who proclaims himself as the champion of free speech, readily denouncing the likes of the Leveson Inquiry and the subsequent Royal Charter on press regulation on press regulation as efforts to subject that free speech to a “chilling effect”, has taken his legal sledgehammer to the small but perfectly formed nut that is Byline Media - the last surviving site to host crowdfunded, public interest, uncensored, and above all independent, journalism.
Paul Dacre, celebrated by his peers as the editor’s editor, the man who asserted that he would “die in a ditch” for the freedom of his writers to say exactly what they wanted to say, has taken the decision to prevent those who write for Byline Media to, er, say exactly what they want to say. It is a cynical and deliberate attempt to silence free speech.
There is also the blinding, screaming, and utterly rank hypocrisy displayed all too blatantly by the Vagina Monologue, using the power and wealth at his disposal in order to crush dissent, prevent the further tarnishing of his 25 year legacy, and cynically put a genuinely independent outpost of free speech, untainted by the press establishment and its imposed mafiosi-style culture of Omertà, out of business, and maybe even bankrupt its backers.
Why Dacre and his equally overmonied pals should want Byline out of the way is not a mystery: the site has established itself as the last bastion of uncovering press misbehaviour, after the Guardian, which had courageously broken the phone hacking scandal, turned tail after its recent change of editor and has now effectively abandoned the victims of press abuse - and campaigning groups like Hacked Off.
While Private Eye magazine has blown hot and cold on press misbehaviour, Byline Media has forged ahead and taken on the forthright criminality of Mazher Mahmood, recently jailed after his past of lying and deception caught up with him, broken stories about the Murdoch empire, and majored on the Daniel Morgan murder and subsequent series of bungled and inconclusive investigations.
Now, Byline has uncovered evidence that the Mail titles kept on using illegally gathered information for years after Steve Whittamore was busted in 2003. There were to have been more revelations. But now the Mail has taken fright and decided there must be no more; Dacre must have his legacy preserved intact.
Byline Media has, in the tradition established by Private Eye when it was defending an action by the late James Goldsmith, begun a crowdfunded defence. You can read about this HERE and contribute to what Zelo Street hereby calls The Dacreballs Fund.
You can also see the reply on behalf of Byline Media to the Mail titles’ lawyers HERE.