10 questions for Daily Mail boss Paul Dacre

The editor's appearance before the Leveson inquiry is the perfect time to ask about Mail Online.

The editor's appearance before the Leveson inquiry is the perfect time to ask about Mail Online.{C}

The timing couldn't be better. Just as Paul Dacre prepares to appear before the Leveson inquiry, his newspaper appears to be vindicated over its calls for Fred "The Shred" Goodwin. Coming so soon after Dacre's slightly odd appearance on his own website, proclaiming the value of his publication's campaign in the Stephen Lawrence case, it's a time to celebrate the Daily Mail, isn't it? While it will be easy to point to the inflated role of the press in general -- and the Mail in particular -- in the Stephen Lawrence case, there's not as much to shout about when it comes to Mail Online.

Sure, it's the No 1 news website in the world; which would be a real bauble worth having if most of the traffic came there to look at news. But get beneath the bold headlines and political comment and you'll see a bewilderingly high number of stories about obscure (to British readers, anyway) American celebrities on holiday, wearing bikinis or being "poured into" (a favourite phrase, this, of Mail Online's) swimwear or little black dresses. As The Media Blog pointed out last week, you have to ask whether this recipe for success is really something to shout about.

Maybe it is. Maybe Paul Dacre is delighted to have the Mail brand associated with softcore masturbators seeking out cheesecake images of women in lingerie and bikinis -- though I doubt that would be the first thing he would bring up when asked about the relative success of Mail Online and what it means for the future of journalism. But as editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, and a highly remunerated editorial expert on the Daily Mail and General Trust board, he'd be hard pressed to claim it's nothing to do with him.

All that aside, there are other nagging issues about Mail Online: photos used without the takers' permission; articles that border on the tasteless and unethical which are only pulled after they've attracted thousands of visitors to add to Mail Online's growing statistics; hundreds of stories about young children who happen to have famous parents; trashy articles speculating on the weight gain (or loss) of (mainly female) celebrities. How does that kind of activity sit with the Mail brand?

So here are 10 questions for Paul Dacre ahead of his appearance before Leveson about Mail Online and whether its standards live up to those of his flagship printed edition.

1) Do you think it is appropriate to embed a 7 minute video of an alleged rape in a story about an alleged rape in Brazil's Big Brother? The footage was available to view for several hours.

2) Do you think it is acceptable to use photographs from Facebook/Twitter/Flicker/blogs without the permission of the copyright holder, even when that person has explicitly denied permission?

If not, why does it keep happening? Would the rules be different for photographs sourced for the print edition of the Mail?

3) Do you think it is appropriate to run stories about children where the reason for their newsworthiness is their family connection to a public figure, for example 572 stories about Suri Cruise, including the agenda-setting "The tiring life of Suri Cruise: Katie Holmes' daughter snuggles up in her favourite pink 'blankie'"?

4) How does this sit when bearing in mind the PCC Editor's Code, section 6, part v: "Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life"?

5) Do you use pictures taken by paparazzi photographers where the person being photographed is on holiday or in other situations where they may have an expectation of privacy? Why were pictures of Rebekah Brooks on holiday (along with caption comments about her paleness) with her partner removed from the Mail website initially and then repurposed to illustrate a story about another NI employee being arrested?

6) Do you believe it is acceptable to digitally manipulate photographs without making the reader aware manipulation has taken place? Here's one example, and there was another where the PCC intervened: Here's an image on the website today.

7) What editorial considerations are made before the decision to run stories about weight gain/loss of celebrities? There are hundreds of examples but here and here are a couple on the Mail's website today.

8) What procedures do you have in place to deal with complaints about stories on Mail Online?

9) How many stories about women in bikinis do you run each month on Mail Online?

10) Are you as proud of the Mail Online as you are of the Daily Mail?

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After Strictly, I'd love to see Ed Balls start a new political party

My week, from babbling at Michael Gove to chatting Botox with Ed Balls and a trip to Stroke City.

If you want to see yourself as others see you, write a weekly column in a national newspaper, then steel yourself to read “below the line”. Under my last offering I read the following comment: “Don’t be angry, feel pity. Her father was a member of the European Parliament. Her older brother has been a member of parliament, a cabinet minister, a secretary of state, a historian, a mayor of London. Her younger brother is a member of parliament and minister for universities and science. She has a column in the Daily Mail. Can you imagine how she feels deep inside?” Before I slammed my laptop shut – the truth always hurts – my eye fell on this. “When is Rachel going to pose for Playboy seniors’ edition?” Who knew that Playboy did a seniors’ edition? This is the best compliment I’ve had all year!

 

Three parts of Michael Gove

Part one Bumped into Michael Gove the other day for the first time since I called him a “political psychopath” and “Westminster suicide bomber” in print. We had one of those classic English non-conversations. I babbled. Gove segued into an anecdote about waiting for a London train at Castle Cary in his trusty Boden navy jacket and being accosted by Johnnie Boden wearing the exact same one. I’m afraid that’s the punchline! Part two I’ve just had a courtesy call from the Cheltenham Literature Festival to inform me that Gove has been parachuted into my event. I’ve been booked in since June, and the panel is on modern manners. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, of course, but I do lie in bed imagining the questions I hope I might be asked at the Q&A session afterwards. Part three There has been what we might call a serious “infarction” of books about Brexit, serialised passim. I never thought I would write these words, but I’m feeling sorry for the chap. Gove gets such a pasting in the diaries of Sir Craig Oliver.

Still, I suppose Michael can have his own say, because he’s returning to the Times this week as a columnist. Part of me hopes he’ll “do a Sarah Vine”, as it’s known in the trade (ie, write a column spiced with intimate revelations). But I am braced for policy wonkery rather than the petty score-settling and invasions of his own family privacy that would be so much more entertaining.

 

I capture the castle

I’ve been at an event on foreign affairs called the Mount Stewart Conversations, co-hosted by BBC Northern Ireland and the National Trust. Before my departure for Belfast, I mentioned that I was going to the province to the much “misunderestimated” Jemima Goldsmith, the producer, and writer of this parish. I didn’t drop either the name of the house or the fact that Castlereagh, a former foreign secretary, used to live there, and that the desk that the Congress of Vienna was signed on is in the house, as I assumed in my snooty way that Ms Goldsmith wouldn’t have heard of either. “Oh, we used to have a house in Northern Ireland, Mount Stewart,” she said, when I said I was going there. “It used to belong to Mum.” That told me.

Anyway, it was a wonderful weekend, full of foreign policy and academic rock stars too numerous to mention. Plus, at the Stormont Hotel, the staff served porridge with double cream and Bushmills whiskey for breakfast; and the gardens at Mount Stewart were stupendous. A top performer was Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff, who runs his own conflict resolution charity. Powell negotiated the Good Friday Agreement and also has a very natty line in weekend casual wear. Jeremy Corbyn has said he wants a minister for peace, as well as party unity. Surely “Curly” Powell – a prince of peace if ever there was one – must be shoo-in for this gig.

PS: I was told that Derry/Londonderry is now known as “Stroke City”. I imagined stricken residents all being rushed to Casualty, before I worked it out.

 

On board with Balls

Isn’t Ed Balls bliss? From originating Twitter’s Ed Balls Day to becoming Strictly Come Dancing’s Ed Balls, he is adding hugely to the gaiety of the nation. I did the ITV show The Agenda with Tom Bradby this week, and as a fellow guest Balls was a non-stop stream of campery, charleston steps, Strictly gossip and girly questions about whether he should have a spray tan (no!), or Botox under his armpits to staunch the sweat (also no! If you block the armpits, it will only appear somewhere else!).

He is clever, fluent, kind, built like a s*** outhouse, and nice. I don’t care that his waltz looked as if his partner, Katya, was trying to move a double-doored Sub-Zero American fridge across a shiny floor. After Strictly I’d like to see him start a new party for all the socially liberal, fiscally conservative, pro-European millions of us who have been disenfranchised by Brexit and the Corbynisation of the Labour Party. In fact, I said this on air. If he doesn’t organise it, I will, and he sort of promised to be on board!

 

A shot in the dark

I was trying to think of something that would irritate New Statesman readers to end with. How about this: my husband is shooting every weekend between now and 2017. This weekend we are in Drynachan, the seat of Clan Campbell and the Thanes of Cawdor. I have been fielding calls from our host, a type-A American financier, about the transportation of shotguns on BA flights to Inverness – even though I don’t shoot and can’t stand the sport.

I was overheard droning on by Adrian Tinniswood, the author of the fashionable history of country houses The Long Weekend. He told me that the 11th Duke of Bedford kept four cars and eight chauffeurs to ferry revellers to his pile at Woburn. Guests were picked up in town by a chauffeur, accompanied by footmen. Luggage went in another car, also escorted by footmen, as it was not done to travel with your suitcase.

It’s beyond Downton! I must remember to tell mine host how real toffs do it. He might send a plane just for the guns.

Rachel Johnson is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories