Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Why Paul Dacre should not be Chair of the Editor's Code Committee

On page 366 of Flat Earth News, Nick Davies reveals some telling stats about complaints against the Daily Mail. He says of the Mail that:

...more than any other newspaper in Britain, it deals with falsehood and distortion.

There is a glimpse of this in our review of the records of the Press Complaints Commission. In among the thousands of cases which had fallen by the way, we drew up a league table of complaints which had succeeded, either because the PCC had eventually adjudicated against a newspaper, or because the paper had agreed some kind of resolution to satisfy the complainant.

This showed that, over that time, only four papers had suffered more than fifty successful complaints - The Times, the Mirror, the Sun and, comfortably ahead with 153 successful complaints about its reporting, the Daily Mail.

The average number of successful complaints for the rest of Fleet Street was forty-three for each paper.

On that basis, over the ten-year period, the Daily Mail has been provoking justifiable complaint about unethical behaviour at just over three times the rate of the other national titles.

And it's still going on.

I have done a small scale survey going back from today (Report No. 80) to October 2008 (Report No. 78). For this period, the PCC website gives details of 546 complaints that are listed as 'resolved' (this does not included those that went to adjudication).

Of these, 253 were about various regional and local papers.

The rest (293) were aimed at the nationals, and here's how many resolved complaints are listed for each newspaper:

  • Mail (including online) - 66
  • Sun - 49
  • Telegraph - 25
  • Mail on Sunday - 19
  • News of the World - 18
  • Express - 17
  • Daily Star - 13
  • Guardian - 13
  • Times - 13
  • Mirror - 10
  • People - 8
  • Sunday Express - 6
  • Sunday Telegraph - 6
  • Independent - 6
  • Metro - 6
  • Sunday Times - 5
  • Sunday Mirror - 5
  • Observer - 4
  • Daily Star Sunday - 1

So the Mail accounted for 23% of all resolved complaints against national newspapers in that time (The Sun, in second, had 17%). Add the Mail on Sunday's 19 complaints and the Mail titles made up 29%.

It is notable that in this period the Mail on Sunday received more complaints than all but three daily papers, despite coming out only once, rather than six times, per week.

Why does this matter?

Because Paul Dacre is the Editor of the Mail and, as Editor-in-Chief of Associated Newspapers, he also oversees the Mail on Sunday.

And because the same Paul Dacre is the Chair of the Editor's Code Committee, which devises the Code of Practice which the PCC polices.

And not only is he in charge of the daily and Sunday titles which appear to elicit the most 'genuine' complaints (genuine in the eyes of the PCC, that is), but he was also ultimately responsible for the most complained about single British newspaper article of all time when 23,000 people contacted the PCC over Jan Moir's insidious views on Stephen Gately.

Before becoming Chair of the Code Committee he sat on the PCC itself, a role he had from 1999 until 2008.

How can the PCC possibly think that the Editor of the paper that - by a considerable margin - is subject to the most complaints is suitable material to judge the standards of the press?

How can the Code Committee believe he is the right person to lead it as it seeks to 'write, review and revise' the very Code he seems unable to abide by?

In his head-in-the-sand introduction to the Editor's Codebook, Dacre rants about judges, Select Committees holding 'ceaseless inquiries', 'axe-grinding politicians' and others who might be trying to hold the media to account. He has no truck with that sort of behaviour.

He says in order to hold them off:

we must ensure that our own defences are sound, that the press’s house is in order.

Indeed. Which means a stronger, more effective PCC, a far more appropriate Chair to oversee the Code of Practice, and an Editor of the newspaper which receives so many complaints about its reporting to go back to the day job he is paid an obscene £1.6m a year to do and get his own house in order.


  1. Well said. The statistics are pretty stark. Brings to mind the old cliche: "Like putting Dracula in charge of the Blood Transfusion Service"...

  2. Oh no - you put the dracula thing in quotation marks. Thats gonna be a leader in tomorrow's Mail now.

  3. Great article. In yesterday's MoS Liz Jones compared Emma Watson being a child star to honour killings. I swear the world has spun off its axis.


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