The inability of the ‘liberal Brexit-hating media” to recognise the good that other newspapers do is having a detrimental effect on restoring public trust in the media, Paul Dacre has said.
Delivering the Society of Editors Lecture to more than 100 media figures in Manchester, Dacre said that newspapers that were “free from the obligation to connect with enough consumers to turn a shilling” had lost touch with the real world.
He said: “One of the greatest problems we have in restoring trust is that when it comes to the mainstream press, the liberal Brexit- hating media – and, let’s be frank, in their eyes, the Referendum result was further proof of the malignancy of euro-sceptic newspapers – only ever see the bottom of the lamp post and remain determinedly, and I would say self-interestedly, oblivious to the good newspapers do.
“Giving the Hugh Cudlipp Lecture some years ago, I outlined the dangers of what I dubbed the “subsidariat”: that section of the media which seems to take great pride in being economically unviable – the vast BBC with its compulsory licence, the Guardian with its bottomless Scott Trust coffers, and the Independent with its ex KGB boss’s billions” he said.
“Freed from the obligation of having to connect with enough consumers to turn a shilling, such media organisations lose contact with the real world, and have little idea how money works (and, indeed, are suspicious of profit). Often hijacked by ideologues, invariably from the Left, they almost always regard with contempt the mass selling papers which need to appeal to large audiences in order to survive commercially.”
Dacre, who stepped down as Editor of the Daily Mail this year after 26 years at the helm, went on to suggest that the liberal media played into the fiction that the popular press was awash with wrongdoing.
He described former Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger’s new book Breaking News as putting forward the opinion that “virtually every national newspaper in Britain is scurrilous, corrupt and amoral” and that “the red tops have a business model based on invading people’s privacy and are beyond redemption”.
Dacre, now chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Associated Newspapers also warned that there is an ever widening gap between the liberalism of the West’s ruling classes and the social conservatism of voters.
The emergence of the Metropolitan Echo Chamber, he said, had resulted in an often “febrile, hyperbolic and hysterical journalism” that is unprecedented in his lifetime.
The inhabitants of the echo chamber, he said, “increasingly did not have a clue what real people in Britain, outside the M25, are thinking”.
He added: “In Westminster, the Echo Chamber has decided that Brexit is doomed and that the terminally incompetent Theresa May is toast which is why the last rites are gleefully read over her every other day. Earlier this month, she was pronounced so dead that I’m surprised she was able to get up in the morning.
“She is, of course, still here and will, I predict, take the Tories into the next election.”
The disenfranchisement of the population presented an opportunity for the popular press said Dacre and the mainstream media was more in tune with readers’ thinking.
He said: “It is, of course, because the inhabitants of the Echo Chamber only talk to each other, that the Referendum result came as such a seismic shock to them unlike Britain’s popular newspapers which, I suggest, because they have to live in the real world, are much closer to their readers’ thinking.
“And if I am right about this growing gap between the rulers and the ruled, there will be increasing opportunities for Britain’s popular press – speaking, as it does, for a majority that is disenfranchised by the values of the political class and the BBC.”
Dacre, who first delivered the Society of Editors Lecture in Bristol in 2008, described the past decade for the media industry as “depressing”.
He said: “In those years, two newspapers have closed, the right-wing Daily Express and left-wing Daily Mirror have become corporate bed mates and national daily newspaper sales have halved – I repeat halved – down from just under 11 million copies a day to 5.4 million.
He added: “National Sunday newspapers have fared even worse falling from 11.5 million to 4.8 million. Meanwhile, more than 200 local papers have closed.
Despite this, he said, “We’re here still, still punching way above our weight. Still setting the news agenda for the broadcasters, who rarely miss a chance to denigrate our industry.”
The internet and the Leveson Inquiry have dominated discussions around the industry over the past 10 years he said and, as such, trust in the industry had yet to be restored.
It was a travesty that Leveson had dedicated only “14 out of 2,000 pages in his report to the internet” Dacre argued when the “life blood” of the industry continued to be “sucked out” by an “utterly unregulated, defiantly anarchic, arrogantly unaccountable and awesomely ubiquitous digital monster which regarded itself as above the law.”
Unlike newspapers, Dacre said, it was the internet that “churned out fake news, tried to rig elections, invaded citizens’ privacy on a cosmic scale, provided succour to terrorists and paedophiles, devastated our high streets, and, oh yes, made billions but paid barely any taxes.”
Although phone hacking “shamed our whole industry” and “was disgusting, immoral and unethical”, Dacre said, he described the Leveson Inquiry as a “massive misjudgement and over-reaction by a Prime Minister trying to save his skin.”
He added: “Today, it is not fanciful to suggest that Leveson – in which an entire industry was judged guilty and had to prove its innocence – was a calculated attempt by the Establishment to control the one sector of the media it couldn’t regulate either through licence or statutory body: a bloody-minded and occasionally profoundly irresponsible newspaper industry.
“Nor is it fanciful to suggest this was pay-back time. Pay-back by a political class badly scalded in the expenses imbroglio. Pay-back by an increasingly politicised Whitehall constantly assailed by the press for its incompetence and unaccountability.
“And pay-back by a newly activist judiciary smarting over constant press attacks on their often controversial interpretations of the Human Rights Act prompting charges that judges, not Parliament, were creating a privacy law.”
Dacre, awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award and Fellowship of the Society of Editors in the same evening, said that “we should never forget that press freedom means the freedom to get it right and the freedom to get it wrong. The freedom to do great things and, in the exhaustion of producing 100 page papers six days a week, the freedom to make mistakes.”
Read the full text of Paul Dacre’s speech here.