Alex Hern reports on the outcome of Mail editor Paul Dacre's testimony to the Leveson inquiry, which has resulted in him being called back to a second hearing.
Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre made a rare public appearance yesterday, giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry into press ethics.
As well as defending the Mail to an inquiry which, he believes, presents “a very bleak and one-sided view” of the press in general and the Mail in particular, Dacre also moved to suggest a new system of press accreditation which only certifies the best journalists.
As the Mail itself reported on Dacre’s testimony:
Paul Dacre proposed a fresh system of accrediting journalists which could be the ‘essential kite mark’ to safeguard press standards.
He told the Leveson Inquiry that the present system of press cards was ‘haphazard’.
Those guilty of the most serious misconduct could have their press cards removed, in the same way as doctors are struck off. But all newspapers and accredited freelance agencies would have to sign up for the scheme.
This suggestion is similar to the proposal by then-shadow culture, media and sport secretary Ivan Lewis at last year’s Labour party conference that journalists “guilty of gross malpractice should be struck off”. At the time, the NUJ responded by saying:
It’s depressing to hear a Labour Party shadow minister call for the blacklisting of journalists.
As Dan Sabbagh of the Guardian wrote on the ideas:
If anybody else had proposed them, they would have been … well, dismissed almost immediately. But this is Paul Dacre, and if the Mail editor-in-chief has an idea, we all ought, at least, to take him seriously. Who knows, we might agree after all.
On other topics, Dacre found himself on the back foot.
He admitted that:
“The problem of paparazzi, that worries me – I think we need to try to look at that.”
However, Paul Dacre’s worries about the paparazzi culture seem to be at odds with Martin Clarke, the publisher of Mail Online, notorious for it’s ‘sidebar of shame’, reproduced to the right.
He also defended his use of the private investigator Steve Whittamore, convicted in 2005 of illegally accessing confidential records, saying that he only became aware of his use “some time about 2004, 2005-ish”, and that he “didn’t realise what they were doing was illegal.”
Lisa O’Carroll of the Guardian adds:
Asked whether he thought it was acceptable to get hold of a person’s “friends and family” telephone numbers, he said the information could have been obtained legally but Whittamore “was a quick and easy way to get that information”.
He said he would now accept there was a “prima facie case that Mr Whittamore could have been acting illegally” but he did not accept this as “evidence our journalists were actively behaving illegally”.
Dacre was also forceful in his defence of the Mail against Hugh Grant – too forceful, it turns out.
As O’Carroll reported:
He launched a robust defence of his decision to describe Grant’s evidence as “mendacious smears”, declaring that the actor’s claim that a story about him may have been sourced from phone hacking was damaging to his newspaper.
“If I had allowed it to stand it would have been devastating for our reputation and it needed rebutting instantly.”
Dacre repeatedly claimed that Grant had brought much of the attention he complained about upon himself. He said Grant “invaded his privacy with great proficiency” by frequently talking in public about private matters, including his desire to have a child.
In the last couple of hours, the news has broken that Dacre is to be recalled to the inquiry to discuss in greater detail the editor’s accusation, on oath, that Grant’s evidence was “mendacious”, and the Mail’s coverage of the birth of Grant’s child.
As the counsel for the victims, David Sherborne, pointed out, Dacre essentially accused Grant of perjury, and cannot be expected to leave without clarifying his comments.
We shall find out more when the extra session takes place this Thursday.
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