Daily Mail editor delivers fiery speech at phone-hacking inquiry

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail, gave a fiery speech during the third public "seminar" in the ongoing inquiry into U.K. phone hacking on Wednesday. The focus of the session, led by Lord Justice Leveson, was press regulation--a hot topic in Britain since the News of the World scandal exploded over the summer. Some critics and lawmakers want government regulation of the press; others, like Dacre, want the press to regulate itself, and remain free.

It was a rare appearance for Dacre, "a scary guy who brings virtually all non-Daily Mail readers out in hives" and "rarely speaks in public," the Guardian's Roy Greenslade noted. "On those occasions when he does, words are not minced." And on Wednesday, Dacre did not disappoint.

Below, the highlights from the speech (via the Guardian's transcript):

•  "I unequivocally condemn phone hacking and payments to the police. Such practices are a disgrace and have shocked and shamed us all. They need to be purged from journalism and reforms instigated to prevent such criminal activities ever happening again. But let's keep all 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. Elected politicians continued to steal from the people they were paid to represent. The nation didn't go to war. Yet the response has been a judicial inquiry with greater powers than those possessed by the public inquiries into the Iraq war--an inquiry, incidentally, that includes a panel of experts who--while honorable distinguished people--don't have the faintest clue how mass-selling newspapers operate."

• "Am I alone in detecting the rank smells of hypocrisy and revenge in the political class's current moral indignation over a British press that dared to expose their greed and corruption--the same political class, incidentally, that, until a few weeks ago, had spent years indulging in sickening genuflection to the Murdoch press?"

• "Self-regulation--albeit in a considerably beefed up form--is, in a country that regards itself as truly democratic, the only viable way of policing a genuinely free press."

•  "The current obsession with clamping down on the press is contiguous with the depressing fact that the newspaper industry is in a sick financial state. Several of our quality papers are losing awesome amounts of money. More worrying, Britain's proud provincial and local press--currently subject to closures, mergers and swinging cuts--is arguably facing the severest challenges. This diminishes our democracy. Courts go uncovered. Councils aren't held to account. And the corrupt go unchallenged. That is a democratic deficit that in itself is worthy of an inquiry."

• "This growing clamor for more regulation ignores the uncomfortable truth that the Press is already on the very cusp of being over regulated. Indeed, over the past 20 years, restriction has been piled upon restriction."

• "I believe that the [Press Complaints Commission] code, which has been rightly strengthened over the years, has blunted Sunday newspapers' ability to secure the kind of sensational stories that were the bread and butter of their huge circulations in the past."

• "The British press is vastly better behaved and disciplined than when I started in newspapers in the seventies. Then much of its behavior was outrageous. It was not uncommon for reporters to steal photographs from homes. Blatant subterfuge was commonly used. There were no restraints on invasions of privacy. Harassment was the rule rather than the exception."

• "We are in danger of ignoring the fact that news doesn't grow on trees. News, let me remind you, is often something that someone--the rich, the powerful, the privileged--doesn't want printed. Establishing the truth and accuracy of such news demands considerable resource and resourcefulness and is, frankly, becoming increasingly difficult."

• "This demand for greater press regulation comes at a time when more and more of the information that people want to read is being provided by an utterly unregulated and arguably anarchic Internet."

•  "My greatest concern--and it's a very real one--is that any future reforms must take into consideration the needs and commercial realities of all newspapers."

•  "We should not be blind to the irony that the most virulent criticism of self-regulation comes from papers that lose eye watering amounts of money and which are subsidized either by trusts or Russian billionaires. I do not deprecate these papers. They are brilliant. But they are also, I would suggest, freed from the compulsion to connect with enough readers to be financially viable and the constraints of having to operate in the real world."

• "Self-regulation, I would argue, is at the very heart of a free press. Which is why I profoundly regret that a Prime Minister--who had become too close to News International in general and Andy Coulson and Rebekah Wade in particular--in a pretty cynical act of political expediency has prejudiced the outcome of this inquiry by declaring that the PCC, an institution he'd been committed to only a few weeks previously, was a 'failed' body."

• "Britain's commercially viable free press--because it is in hock to nobody--is the only really free media in this country. Over-regulate that press and you put democracy itself in peril."

• "While I abhor statutory controls, there's one area where Parliament can help the press. Some way must be found to compel all newspaper owners to fund and participate in self-regulation."

• "I believe the time has come to debate the need for some kind of newspaper industry ombudsman--possibly sitting in tandem with the commission--to deal specifically with press standards. ... An ombudsman--possibly a retired judge or civil servant, and possibly advised by two retired editors from both ends of newspaper spectrum--could have the power to investigate, possibly with specialists co-opted onto his panel, potential press industry scandals. The ombudsman could also have the power to summon journalists and Editors to give evidence, to name offenders and, if necessary, in the cases of the most extreme malfeasance, to impose fines."

• "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."

• "The truth is the police should have investigated this crime [of phone hacking] properly and prosecuted the perpetrators."

• "Over the past month, I have read calls by so-called academic experts for the licensing of journalists and the need for a regulator with supervisory powers over the press, to set and monitor standards and have the right--backed by the force of the law--to conduct spot checks on newspaper offices and seize equipment and evidence. My own response to these experts is that they should emigrate to Zimbabwe."

• "There are no less than 20 nations in Europe with self-regulating systems. There are two exceptions however: France with its draconian privacy laws and pathetic torpid government subsidized press; and Italy which maintains the state licensing of journalists introduced by Mussolini. No prizes for guessing which nation gave the world paparazzi photographers."

For free press activists--and phone-hacking completists--the entire transcript, posted here on the Guardian's website, is a must-read.

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