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
Signet Classics
Show Hide image

When the world seems dark and terrifying, we shouldn’t feel ashamed to dream of Utopia

Right now, the future seems dark and frightening and it is precisely now that we must continue to imagine other worlds and then plot ways to get there.

There are many cruel and routine lies we tell to children but perhaps the most indicative is this: if you tell anyone your wish, it won’t come true. This parable was probably invented by parents trying to avoid the trauma of not being able to give their children what they want but we carry it with us to adulthood, when it is repeated to us by our leaders. Don’t tell anyone the sort of world you would like to see – at best you’ll be disappointed and at worst you’ll be arrested.

“We want more.” This week, exhausted by the news, I dragged myself out of the house to a book fair, where I came across a new collection of utopian fiction by radical women. That was the first line and it stopped my breath in my throat. When basic survival seems like a stretch goal, caught as we are between the rich and the rising seas, hope feels like an unaffordable luxury. The precise words I used to the bookseller were, “Shut up and take my money.”

There has never been a more urgent time for utopian ideas, precisely because the concept of a better world has never felt further away. Right now, world leaders are deciding how many cities are going to sink before something is done to reduce carbon emissions. They are meeting in Paris, which very recently saw the opening scene of a new act in everyone’s least favourite dramatic franchise, “War in the Middle East”. We seem to be living in a dystopian trilogy scripted by a sadistic young-adult author and I very much hope that our plucky young heroes show up to save the day soon, even if there’s a clunky love triangle involved.

Dystopias are easy to construct: to paraphrase the novelist Kim Stanley Robinson, you might as well pick five news headlines at random, make a collage and there’s your plot. Utopias are harder. Utopias require that we do the difficult, necessary work of envisioning a better world. This is why imagination is the first, best weapon of radicals and progressives.

Utopian stories existed long before the word was coined by Thomas More in the 16th century to mean an ideal society, or “no-place”. Plato’s Republic has some claim to being the first but there are as many Utopias as there are communities that dreamed of a better life. The greatest age of utopian fiction was the turn of the last century and it is no accident that the early 21st century is a great age of dystopian fiction. The ideology of late-capitalist patriarchy has become so all-encompassing that it no longer looks like ideology. Fredric Jameson observed, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” – and the reason for that is not that capitalism is the inevitable destiny of humankind but that we have spent our lives being told that even thinking about any other future makes us ridiculous.

Most leftists do have an idea of the sort of world they would prefer to see. We don’t say what we want for the same reason that we were told as children not to tell anyone else what we wished for – because it’ll be awkward and painful if we don’t get it.

When I think about Utopia, I think about my grandmother. My mother’s mother left school at 13, lived through the Maltese blockade and was obliged by religion and circumstance to marry young, suffocate all her dreams of education and adventure and spend her life taking care of a husband and six kids. Half a century later, I can choose when and whether to have children. I can choose to live independently from men. I regularly travel alone and there are no legal restrictions on getting any job I’m suited for.

The kind of independence many women my age can enjoy would have been almost unimaginable half a century ago – but somebody did imagine it and that is why we got here. A great many somebodies, over centuries of struggle and technological advancement, asked how the world could be different for women and set about making it happen.

Exactly a century ago, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel Herland envisioned a society of women in which production was communal, motherhood was valued, relationships were equal and rape and violence were unknown. Reading Herland today, it is striking that for every proposition that came true – women are now allowed to divorce their husbands and participate fully in political life – there are two more that seem as far-fetched now as they did in 1915. Motherhood is still not valued as work. Women are still expected to organise our lives around the threat of sexual violence. But all that can change as long as we continue to ask for more.

For as long as I have been a feminist, I have been asked – usually by grumbling men – when, exactly, we will be satisfied; when women and girls will decide we have enough. The answer is contained in the question: because the instant that we do decide that we are satisfied, that there can never be a better world than this, is the instant that the future shuts down and change becomes impossible.

Utopia is the search for Utopia. It is the no-place by whose light you plot a course through a harsh and unnavigable present. By the time you reach the horizon, it is no longer the horizon but that doesn’t mean you stop going forwards.

Right now, the future seems dark and frightening and it is precisely now that we must continue to imagine other worlds and then plot ways to get there. In the midst of multiple global crises, the only truly ridiculous proposition is that things are going to stay exactly the same.

Human societies are going to change beyond recognition and from the conference table to the streets, our best shot at surviving that change starts when we have the courage to make impossible demands – to face down ridicule and say, “We want more.”

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State