Paul Dacre on the morality of shag & tell journalism

4:22 pm - November 10th 2008

by Dave Osler    

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PAUL DACRE’S insistence that newspapers run with shag ‘n’ tell stories principally as a means to promote family values and uphold marital fidelity somehow – how can I put this? – fails completely to convince. Such limited moral rectitude on the matter as he may possess runs little deeper than the desire to sell tabloids by the truckload.

Accordingly, the speech delivered by the editor of the Daily Mail to the Society of Editors on Sunday night, in which he actually does push this proposition, has to be dismissed as cant of the most breathtaking proportions.

You can read the full text here, although I wouldn’t recommend it; most of the content is the standard self-promoting guff to which one unfortunately readily acclimatises if forced to sit through industry conferences of this nature.

A long way into his peroration, Dacre finally gets into his swing. His target is then revealed as Mr Justice Eady, the judge who gets to take the overwhelming majority of privacy cases that come before the High Court:

Two years ago, Justice Eady ruled that a cuckolded husband couldn’t sell his story to the press about another married man – a wealthy sporting celebrity – who had seduced his wife.

The judge was worried about the effect of the revelations on the celebrity’s wife. Now I agree that any distress caused to innocent parties is regrettable but exactly the same worries could be expressed about the relatives of any individual who transgressed which, if followed to its logical conclusion, would mean that nobody could be condemned for wrongdoing.

But the judge – in an unashamed reversal of centuries of moral and social thinking – placed the rights of the adulterer above society’s age-old belief that adultery should be condemned.

Dacre is here conflating two topics. There is the issue of whether an extramarital affair in which one of the parties is in the public eye constitutes a suitable subject for journalistic treatment, and then there is the entirely separate issue of what entitlement newspapers have to pass judgment on the deeds of the Love Rats involved.

On the first point – and being a journalist, I would say this, wouldn’t I? – it is important that newspapers are able to print whatever stories they see fit, provided only that they are true.

Ultimately, one cannot divorce the freedom of the press to undertake serious investigative journalism and the freedom of the press to big up football star hotel room spit roasts. Beyond that, the argument gets somewhat tenuous.

A large proportion of the population can’t get enough goss on the sex lives of the rich and famous, although it is too often forgotten that substantial numbers couldn’t care less if a superstar pulls some bimbo in a nightclub. Yet even those who are fascinated by this kind of stuff are increasingly less likely to go tut-tut than once would have been the case.

Few would argue that adultery is commendable in any positive sense. But it remains a popular pastime. It happens in life. On some estimates, a full one-third of over fifties are having affairs.

What’s more, two-thirds of unfaithful over 55s reportedly do not feel ‘any regret about straying’; I read that fact in the Mail of Sunday, the Daily Mail’s sister paper. That alone would seem to indicate that Dacre is seriously out of touch with his readership base.

And here’s more from Paul, this time on the recent Max Mosley vs News of the World case:

Recently, of course, the very same Justice Eady effectively ruled that it was perfectly acceptable for the multi-millionaire head of a multi-billion sport that is followed by countless young people to pay five women £2,500 to take part in acts of unimaginable sexual depravity with him.

Now most people would consider such activities to be perverted, depraved, the very abrogation of civilised behaviour of which the law is supposed to be the safeguard. Not Justice Eady. To him such behaviour was merely ‘unconventional’.

But what is most worrying about Justice Eady’s decisions is that he is ruling that – when it comes to morality – the law in Britain is now effectively neutral, which is why I accuse him, in his judgments, of being ‘amoral’.

I hold no brief for Mosley or how he gets his kicks. But it is necessary here to defend the freeborn Englishman’s right to pay a chick to dress up in a Luftwaffe uniform and thrash seven shades out of him.

The interesting point is that however ‘perverted’ and ‘depraved’ our self-styled defender of decency and civilised behaviour considered Mosley’s conduct to be, that didn’t stop him running a series of circulation-boosting salacious front covers, accompanied by two double page spreads inside and some angry opinion pieces to boot.

OK, it was all done – Kenny Everett style – in the best possible taste. But if that doesn’t qualify as amorality in the dictionary sense, it’s difficult to know what would.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Reader comments

Dave, still reading your piece, but had to say yr opening line was PRICELESS. Still laughing.

A telling section of his speech was this:

It is the others I care about: the crooks, the liars, the cheats, the rich and the corrupt sheltering behind a law of privacy being created by an unaccountable judge.

While he could possibly make a convincing public interest case for most of those categories of person, do the rich deserve to have red top hacks rifling through their bins just because they are so? I certainly don’t think that having a sexual practise that Paul Dacre considers perverted should in anyway mean you need to have your life opened up the world.
Mitch Benn has an apposite song on Radio Face about this kind of journalism.

Apologies to early readers of this post. I’d published Dave’s piece before formatting the quotations. My bad.

A brisk re-read may make all the difference ;o)

Thanks Kate.

Aaron, you still need to italicise the seventh par; that’s Dacre, not me!!!

Aaron, you still need to italicise the seventh par; that’s Dacre, not me!!!

You pay monkeys, you get peanuts.

No, wait, that’s not right…

If these are the key decisions

(and the BBC is often guilty of selectivity)

then, for what it’s worth, I agree with him (the judge that is).

In Lord Browne’s case there was a public interest (and indeed it turned out he had lied to the court) but in the others I would say not.

PS I know it’s Dacre, and the Mail, blah, blah, but is it ever possible to stick to the issues…??

I have no appetite whatsoever for the public berating of people with unconventional sex lives by a man as amoral as Paul Dacre, and despite the fact that Dacre’s speech does make some good points about journalistic freedom, I still want to give Mr Justice Eady a huge medal for pissing the awful man off.

Darce makes a great leader of little England, because Little England is drenched in sanctimonious hypocrisy. He claims to support family life, yet is happy to use his paper to attack and destroy the families of people he does not agree with.

He rails against the ‘something for nothing society,’ yet he was educated at a private school, paid for by a scholarship. Talk about something for nothing Paul?

A few years ago he was attacking newspapers that do not make a profit, and rely on cash support from outside the business to keep going. This, he views as a nasty form of socialism that keeps papers like The Independent afloat. Of course, Darce in his hypocrisy fails to acknowledge that in the 1950s The Daily Mail was propped up by it’s regional newspapers. And if his economic Darwinism at been applied He would have no Newspaper to edit today.

This man being a fuckwit is the only thing that Steven Norris has ever been known to be correct about.


You missed Dacre’s most breathtaking piece of screed…

Put another way, if mass-circulation newspapers, which also devote considerable space to reporting and analysis of public affairs, don’t have the freedom to write about scandal, I doubt whether they will retain their mass circulations with the obvious worrying implications for the democratic process.

See, even Max Mosley’s sex life is an essential component of the democratic process.

What Eady rightly said is that there is a difference between something the public is interested in and something in the public interest to report. He dealt with all of Dacre’s complaints in the Mosley judgement (Mosley v News Group Newspapers Ltd).

What Dacre is really annoyed about is that the press does not have an absolute right to spy on people and report on their private consensual activities, particularly if they fictionalise aspects of the event post hoc in order to prop up a public interest defence (the ‘Nazi’ bit and allegations of assault) should there be legal action.

It is perhaps worth noting that the journalist who exposed Mosley also attempted to blackmail two of the women involved. It is interesting that Paul Dacre, who believe it is “the duty of the media to take an ethical stand”, is so supportive of a newspaper that continues to employ an editor and journalist who are liars and blackmailers.

Finally, it seems to me that those newspapers that bang on about ‘depravity’ are far more likely to corrupt “young people” than those who engage in ‘unconventional’ consensual activities in private.

Eady has shown a bloody strong understanding of how the law should be applied to t’internet and thus, as much as you can be, I’m a bit of a fan.

Dacre has never shown an understanding of anyone. By making his attack personal rather than broad brushed, he makes the riposte personal as well.

I choose between Eady and Dacre. Didn’t take long. Nice post Dave.

Even more hilarious is how Dacre tries to suggest that Mosley had exploited the women he paid:

“??Nor in his mind was there anything wrong in a man of such wealth using his money to exploit women in this way. Would he feel the same way, I wonder, if one of those women had been his wife or daughter?”

Except that all the women in question testified in Mosley’s favour, all were well-established figures in the BDSM scene, and all had “worked” with him on a number of occasions in the past. Perhaps what this is really about is Dacre’s own insecurity?

Indeed, as Unity points out above, what Dacre’s argument amounts to is that the press must be able to report sex scandals otherwise the proles won’t read them and therefore will be even less informed about the world than they currently are. Introduce privacy law and we’ll all suffer. It’s a quite wonderful piece of blackmail from an extraordinarily intelligent and tenacious man – just a shame he himself has all the morality of a randy gerbil.

“Now some revile a moralising media. Others, such as myself, believe it is the duty of the media to take an ethical stand.”

Dacre just wants to be the Ethics Police. He complains that Justice Eady is amoral but what authority does Dacre have? None. He’s not elected, or appointed by the elected, yet he ruins, arguably more, lives much more publicly because they offend his delicate morals.

15. Stephen Rouse

Perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious Mail front page of all time was the headline “Now councils get the right to snoop on us all” next to the side panel “William, the helicopter and the lap dancer”.
The Mail really doesn’t do irony. Somehow, the council official rifling through your rubbish bin to see if you’re recycling is a born-again member of the Gestapo. The Mail reporter next to him checking on who you’re shagging is an agent of democracy.
Interesting too, Dacre’s enthusiasm for “society’s age-old belief that adultery should be condemned.” I’m sure I read somewhere about a guy several centuries ago who was against people condemning adulterers. Obviously didn’t get through to our Paul. Maybe he should move to Somalia, where I understand they take a less lax approach on these matters.

Right, I think we can all agree that Mr. Dacre is a hypocritical jerk…? 🙂

But before people start being too nice about Justice Eady, let’s not forget that he’s the judge who struck such a progressive blow in favour of “libel tourism”, in the Ehrenfeld vs. Mahfouz case, where he allowed the Saudi billionaire to sue an American academic over a book that wasn’t even on sale in this country. (He’s also been very nice to Mahfouz in several other actions involving thoroughly-researched academic publications that the very rich gentleman objected to…)

Then there was the Roman Polanski case, where he allowed the convicted sex offender (could say ‘paedophile’, since the girl in question was 13) to sue the American magazine “Vanity Fair” in the UK…even though Polanski stayed in France, giving evidence via a video-link to avoid extradition.

I don’t care how much my enemy hates him – Justice Eady isn’t going to make my ArseFaceBook Friends list…

Quite right Mr Gilmour, but Dacre isn’t interested in those cases: he only mentions the Mahfouz case in passing and libel tourism in the same sense. What he cares about is the likes of Eady daring to suggest that what goes on in a person’s bedroom is private and no business of the tabloid press. Dacre thinks the exact opposite, regardless of if there’s any hypocrisy or public interest involved, and suggests that if it becomes verboten then the tabloid press will go to the wall. It’s complete and utter crap, but politicians are so terrified of Dacre and most of the rest of the media that thinks the same.

Andy, the role of the judge is to interpret the law in every case. The fact that the law on libel tourism allowed such a judgement to be made is more the fault of our pathetically weak legal system than it is the fault of the judge.

For what it’s worth, despite being of a conservative persuasion I think Paul Dacre is an idiot and I told him so on my blog this morning.

On the subject of the Daily Mail and its need to make a profit ( I was reading Sally`s remark with interest ) .I am always surprised that the left complain about the supposed bias of the media . You go into the shop there is the Mirror, there is he Guardian , there is the New Statesman…buy them , whats the problem ?
The most absurd and infuriating bias is of course from the poll tax funded BBC .In the 90s its editor of social affairs was Polly Toynbee and no-one whatsoever saw anything wrong about it , it was not even controversial . I suggest we have five years of Simon Heffer or Peter Hitchens to even things up .As we know the BBC is due for a wing clipping if we get rid of Brown.
The second most annoying bias is the way the Guardian is financed by unnecessary adverts for mostly superfluous public sector jobs , how I enjoy reading them now . This state bung allows it to be , admittedly ,great value, and a fine paper . This government money , however , waters a weedy garden in which endless chirruping bourgeois would be opiners have the impression anyone is interested in what they say. The Guardian is not viable really and the New Statesman isn`t either. Its benefactor recently changed actually , used to be Robinson , had it not Martin Bright would have been out for criticising Brown.
Conservatives plan to replace the Guardian bung and put these sinecures on a web site . About time.
PS Concerning Moseley`s Stalag sex , why is it , do you think , that no-one ever wants to have sex with a Liberal ? For a man it says wimp and for a women it suggest a pair of sensible shoes or sturdy undergarments. The very word defeats tumescence. Liberal …..sigh…

“why is it , do you think , that no-one ever wants to have sex with a Liberal ?”

Ahahahahahahahahaha! Oh, there are several people I must direct towards this little moment of delusion…

Unlike “libertarian”, a highly sexy word that positively screams turgidity.

Yes, turgid does mean swollen and overblown, doesn’t it?

James which meaning are you going for? Pompous or tumescent?

yes Jennie but it is equally well known that Liberal cavort like sweating stoats with each other.Take those perpetually desperate women teachers for example , or Nick Clegg , or Jeremy Thorpe or Simon Hughes ( who stood as the straight choice for Bermondsey against Tachell ), Oaten … it goes back to Lloyd George at least
Whether its drink soulless copulation drugs or sheer indolence there is s noticeable lack of self control . I was only saying that to other people they are the opposite of sexy. I imagine it must be like necrophilia with guilt , still they seem happy .

ahem … by Necrophilia I merely meant to imply a lack of responsiveness .Of course real necrophilia always comes with guilt (Presumably )

Back to work

I have to wonder about your sex life if you compare ours to necrophilia…

Concerning Moseley`s Stalag sex , why is it , do you think , that no-one ever wants to have sex with a Liberal

I think this is spot on. You can’t deny that the sheer depravity of Nazism is sexier than bland liberalism. On the other hand easy-going, free-lovin’ liberalism is far sexier than stuffy puritanical conservatism (hot Tebbit on Widdecombe action). As for libertarians, when I eventually encounter a real one off-line, I’ll let you know.

I’m not suggesting Andy Gilmour “friends” Eady J, but I don’t think there’s any point either in attacking judges as though they just decide cases on the basis of who they favour politically or morally. They apply the law. Eady J didn’t rule in favour of Mahfouz or Polanski because he likes them or approves of them, any more that (as Dacre suggests) he ruled in favour of Mosley because he has an “animus” against the press.

Newmania, sweetie, I know that Tories LIKE to go on about things about which they have absolutely zero knowledge (the couple I have shagged, for instance, liked to go on about what stallions they are in the sack and such. The phrase all mouth and no trousers springs irresistibly to mind) but really, must you continually embarrass yourself by pretending to have some sexual experience with anyone other than Mrs Palm and her five lovely daughters?

Now, I’m no fan of the Labour party, but at least they have passion, even if you have to mention The Workers to arouse it. Tories are just limp dicks, in more ways than one.

* fully expects this comment to be deleted as abusive, but can’t resist posting it anyway *

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  1. Paul Dacre laughable « UK Liberty

    […] David Osler pointed out that, however ‘perverted’ and ‘depraved’ our self-styled defender of decency and civilised behaviour considered Mosley’s conduct to be, that didn’t stop him running a series of circulation-boosting salacious front covers, accompanied by two double page spreads inside and some angry opinion pieces to boot. […]

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