Today was the turn of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre to make his appearance before the Leveson inquiry, and the Mail’s editor in chief did not disappoint, even managing not to swear at anyone. His statement was forthright and combative. At first sight it appears cogent and well argued. But a few minutes’ analysis reveals the same old bully at work.
What do you mean it's a no f***ing swearing zone?
Dacre starts by denouncing phone hacking. “But let’s get this in proportion ... Britain’s cities weren’t looted as a result. No-one died. The banks didn’t collapse because of the News Of The World ... The nation didn’t go to war”. Thus he admits to directing all the why-oh-why copy telling that too much emphasis was being placed on the hacking investigation.
Then comes an implicit admission: “The Data Protection Act means that reporters can be criminalised for ... obtaining ex-directory numbers which they need to do to check stories are accurate”. Ex-directory numbers are confidential – the description may give a clue – so no, they don’t. And that is as close as Dacre will go to confirming the presence of his hacks in the Operation Motorman records.
He gets better: “the Bribery act ... makes it illegal to pay a civil servant for information”. Terrible, eh? But do go on. “Establishing the truth and accuracy of ... news demands considerable resource and resourcefulness and is, frankly, becoming increasingly difficult”. Which explains stories like the Mail’s “ADHD is only naughty children and they all get free BMWs”, then.
But Dacre is at pains to show that reporting has changed since the 1970s: “It was not uncommon for reporters to steal photographs from homes. Blatant subterfuge was commonly used”. Yes, now hacks instead nick photos from photo websites, from blogs, from other papers’ sites, and off Facebook. And the subterfuge persists, but now the pretence is that they might pay, but often don’t.
The PCC, though, is talked up: that the body was absent all through the phone hacking saga he ends up pinning on the Police. And then he drops a corker: “I ... regard being obliged to publish a judgment as an act of shame”. Yes Paul, that’s because for once you haven’t managed to get away with it. Some of us have read Flat Earth News.
And his vision of the Daily Mail’s journalistic legitimacy is undimmed: “My own view is that as long as the code is observed and no law is broken, papers should be free to publish what they believe is best for their markets”. In other words, agenda driven copy, inability to separate news and comment, attack hackery and knocking copy is fine and dandy, and will continue, whatever Leveson may say.
No change there, then. More on Dacre’s statement later.