Dacre's rant

Paul Dacre has given a rare public speech in this year's High Cudlipp lecture. Obsolete has this well covered in two excellent posts, and Lance Price makes some very good points in the Guardian. I don't want to go over the same ground, but there are a couple of points I wanted to make.

First, Dacre's argument is based on branding other parts of the news media as the 'subsidariat' - that is to say that they aren't completely financed by themselves. But the Mail itself is also effectively subsidised by its advertising revenue. In fact, according to the excellent 'Power without responsibility', the decline of the radical press pre and post World War II is due at least in part to the difficulty of ensuring advertising for radical papers. The minute the Mail starts to displease its advertisers is the minute that it starts to lose money. When Dacre says, 'the Mail titles have more quality readers than most of the “quality” papers put together,' he means the ABC1 readers. The ones the advertisers will pay more money to reach.

But what I'm most concerned with is the odd view Dacre has of the media and his role in it. The BBC, he says, 'only reflects the views of a tiny metropolitan minority,' while the tabloids represent, 'the very embodiment of the views of the great majority of the British people.'

This is a weird view of media responsibility. Of course, I'd argue that the great majority of the British people do not share the views of the Mail, but that's beside the point. Even if they did, what if they're wrong? Surely, the job of the news media is to inform the public of what is going on in the world - not to reflect the public's views at all times. Because they might not be right.

This is where the Daily Mail is at its nastiest. It doesn't simply report the news with a right-wing slant, but it distorts the news and misinforms its readers not just to reflect their views, but to perpetuate them. Even if they're wrong. There are lots of examples, from its ludicrous distortions about banning Christmas, to its horrible treatment of the Polish, to its fawning coverage of completely incorrect MigrationWatch figues (which, by the way, the 'Marxist' BBC also covered without finding out where the figures came from). It may be difficult, if not impossible, to report the news impartially. But it should be possible to do so without actually lying to the public, be it by pretending that Birmingham City Council have changed Christmas to Winterval, by exaggerating immigration statistics or by reporting that the number of Eastern Eurpoeans sleeping on London's streets as double the highest estimate for the total number.

The other big oddity of the speech or me is Dacre's claim that unless the BBC and the 'subsidariat' reflect a more right-wing set of values, it'll be replaced by a whole slew of US Fox News style outlets. This, Dacre seems to be suggesting, would be a Bad Bad Thing.

This is the same stupid argument the Mail uses for suggesting that the government should adopt right-wing policies. If they don't, people will vote for the BNP. But what makes the BNP nasty are it's policies. If the government adopt them, what's the difference? It's the same here. If the BBC starts producing right-wing polemic, what would be the difference between the BBC and Fox News? It's a stupid threat.

Now you know why the Mail is so weird.

*UPDATE* Fantastic response from Dacre's targets in today's (29 January) Independent. My favourite is, unfortunately, from the Sun:
Mr Dacre's opinions are not of sufficient consequence to warrant a response from us.
Ha ha.

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