Tuesday 14 July 2009

Express articles praising Richard Desmond published solely for their news value

Richard Desmond has been giving evidence in court after bringing a libel case against Tom Bower, biographer of Conrad Black. Bower claimed that Desmond had used the Express to write articles attacking Black after the two fell out.

Here is how the Guardian has reported the court proceedings:

The court also heard that David Hellier, a former editor of the Sunday Express media pages, had issued a statement in 2002 via the National Union of Journalists complaining about "editorial interference in supposedly independent journalism" at the title, which is owned by Desmond.

[Bower's QC Ronald] Thwaites said that Hellier was told to write a "knocking article" about Black, containing "all the shit". It was to be "as black as he could make it", and was to hint at murky mafia connections.

The article, said Thwaites, was commissioned by editor Martin Townsend at Desmond's behest. But rather than write the piece, Hellier called in sick. It was eventually written by former Daily Mirror journalist Anil Bhoyrul, who wrote 26 negative stories about Black in the Sunday Express between September 2001 and May 2003, the court heard.
In denying the charge that he gave the orders for the 26 negative stories, Desmond said:

"I gave no orders. I give no orders on the editorial. The editor decides what goes in the papers."
It's hard to believe anything said by a man who allows the endless filth, lies and hate that is printed daily by the Express and Star, even when it's said under oath.

But if Desmond has no control over what goes in his paper, what are we to make of the 1,390 word article in today's Express entitled Daily Express proprietor scorns claim of vendetta against a rival publisher?

It begins by calling Desmond 'one of Britain’s leading newspaper owners' and is complete with a picture of him smiling in front of the Big Ben clock tower and very blue sky. How nice.

It goes on to quote (at length) the testimony he gave in response to his own lawyer's pat-ball questions. There is none of the answers he gave to Bower's QC's rather more stringent interrogation, as reported in the Guardian.

But remember - Desmond does not 'give orders' as to what goes in the paper. He certainly didn't have any say on the article OK! puts children's charity on road to success, which included two pictures of him smiling smugly.

And it was just a coincidence that two weeks before that one, the Express article 'The charity crusader' reported Desmond had been 'awarded one of the world’s highest accolades for his extraordinary generosity'.

One other element of Desmond's testimony doesn't entirely ring true either. The Guardian says that he was asked by Thwaites: 'Are you prepared to attack people through your newspaper?' to which he replied 'no'.

The court will decide if that has been true in the Black case. But what of Desmond's on-off quarrels with the Daily Mail and its owner Viscount Rothermere? Details can be found in a Stephen Glover article in the Spectator (although as a Mail columnist, his sympathies are obvious) and in a Scotsman story from 2001 which explains how:

in a series of double-page spreads in the Express, Desmond accused Rothermere of everything from hypocrisy, at the milder end of the scale, to coming from a dysfunctional family of Hitler-adoring, Nazi sympathisers...

He called Rothermere’s late mother, Bubbles, a drink-and-drug sodden lady of easy virtue who consoled herself for her husband’s notorious infidelity with a "string of lovers, many of them decades younger than her". The article noted, solemnly, that ‘officially’ she died of an accidental overdose.

The next day’s Express returned to the fray with what proved to be the killer blow, turning its attack on the personal circumstances of the present Lord Rothermere. The Viscount, it said, had fathered an illegitimate child and the mother is distinctly "below stairs".

Eventually they agreed a truce, but that broke down a couple of years later and again in 2005.

But the point is this: Desmond has said in court that he doesn't attack people through his paper. So it must be true...

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