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?

Mail Online
Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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What the debate over troops on the streets is missing

Security decisions are taken by professionals not politicians. But that doesn't mean there isn't a political context. 

First things first: the recommendation to raise Britain’s threat level was taken by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), an organisation comprised of representatives from 16 government departments and agencies. It was not a decision driven through by Theresa May or by anyone whose job is at stake in the election on 8 June.

The resulting deployment of troops on British streets – Operation Temperer – is, likewise, an operational decision. They will do the work usually done by armed specialists in the police force protecting major cultural institutions and attractions, and government buildings including the Palace of Westminster. That will free up specialists in the police to work on counter-terror operations while the threat level remains at critical. It, again, is not a decision taken in order to bolster the Conservatives’ chances on 8 June. (Though intuitively, it seems likely to boost the electoral performance of the party that is most trusted on security issues, currently the Conservatives if the polls are to be believed.)

There’s a planet-sized “but” coming, though, and it’s this one: just because a decision was taken in an operational, not a political manner, doesn’t remove it from a wider political context. And in this case, there’s a big one: the reduction in the number of armed police specialists from 6979 when Labour left office to 5,639 today. That’s a cut of more than ten per cent in the number of armed specialists in the regular police – which is why Operation Temperer was drawn up under David Cameron in the first place.  There are 1340 fewer armed specialists in the police than there were seven years ago – a number that is more significant in the light of another: 900, the number of soldiers that will be deployed on British streets under Op Temperer. (I should add: the initial raft of police cuts were signed off by Labour in their last days in office.)

So while it’s disingenuous to claim that national security decisions are being taken to bolster May, we also shouldn’t claim that operational decisions aren’t coloured by spending decisions made by the government.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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