The world according to Paul Dacre

The Daily Mail editor on corrections, self-regulation and liberals who loathe the tabloids.

Don't worry about press regulation; the Daily Mail is going to start running a corrections column. It's taken Paul Dacre 19 years as Mail editor to make the decision, which he announced while addressing the Leveson inquiry into media ethics -- but I suppose you can't rush these things. And it is to be commended that clarifications and corrections will be made more prominent in his very popular paper, as well as the Metro. Perhaps others will follow suit.

Dacre had previously said that "buried corrections" were "one of the great myths of our time", yet has now seen fit to make his corrections less, well, buried. You can't "bury" a correction on page two, much as it's regarded as a bit of an editorial graveyard, so this move is to be applauded. The more cynical observer might venture that it's a very convenient way of avoiding the need for front page apologies, should mistakes ever occur in front-page stories, but let's not be churlish. Not yet, anyway.

If these corrections work, it should be a great advertisement for self-regulation, and would prove the arguments Dacre made today that the tickling stick of the PCC should remain, or at the very most be replaced by an ombudsman system led by retired editors... ah, if only one could think of a prominent newspaper editor with an interest in media ethics who is soon to be retired! Ah well, I'm sure the kind of person suitable for such a cushy job would make himself known when the time was right.

It remains to be seen whether readers will accept this kind of thing as the way forward, and whether this kind of move will be seen as protection enough for those who feel they've been wronged in the press, in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that enveloped the industry over the summer.

What happens, for example, if a newspaper decides against putting in a reader's correction, and there's a dispute over whether there really was an error or not? What happens if a couple of paragraphs on page two replace a larger correction that would have appeared elsewhere in the paper, on page three for example or the front page? Who decides whether that's good enough or not? There are still details to be ironed out, regardless of this move today.

What's faintly dispiriting, though, is the intellectual feebleness of some of Dacre's arguments. If people want to license journalists they should go to Zimbabwe, he says. It's the kind of reduction to absurdity that doesn't befit someone of his stature or his position; "Well if you like it so much you should go to Zimbabwe and see how you like it", is a lazy klaxon used by those who can't think in terms of nuance or shades of grey, and one would rather hope that the editor of a national newspaper could. I'm sure Dacre can; it appears that he has chosen not to.

This kind of argument supposes that there is only vicious state regulation on one hand, or freedom on the other, and nothing in between. It's just plain wrong.

As well as that, he argues that "Britain's liberal classes" are somehow at fault because they dislike popular redtops and that "This liberal hatred of mass-selling newspapers has transmogrified into a hatred of self-regulation itself." Again, Dacre is not a dunce, by any stretch of the imagination, so it's disappointing and dispiriting to see him coming out with garbage like this.

People don't like red-tops because of what they have done, because of the boundaries they have crossed, because of the crimes they have committed -not because of some political or class-driven desire to stamp down on the voice of the people. People don't like self-regulation because they feel it doesn't work. That's the top and bottom of it.

And there's the thing I suppose I take issue with the most: Dacre rails against "liberals" who hate red-top newspapers supposedly because they're popular, and voice the opinion of the many rather than the few; yet he won't countenance changes to regulation of the press, regardless of how many people support it, or how popular that is. Because he says so.

Is that really good enough? And who is representing the voice of the public at this inquiry? When do they get their turn?

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
CREDIT: PETER DAZELEY/PHOTOGRAPHER’S CHOICE
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The overlooked aspect of patient care: why NHS catering needs a revolution

The NHS performs so many miracles every day – in comparison, feeding the sick should be a doddle. 

A friend recently sent me a photo from her hospital bed – not of her newborn baby, sadly, but her dinner. “Pls come and revolutionise the NHS” the accompanying text read, along with a plaintive image of some praying hands. A second arrived the next morning: “Breakfast: cereal, toast or porridge. I asked for porridge. She said porridge would be ‘later’. Never arrived. (sad face).”

Contrast this with the glee with which another friend showed me his menu at a Marie Curie hospice a few weeks later. He seemed to have ticked every box on it, and had written underneath his order for syrup sponge and custard: “extra custard please”. It wasn’t fancy, but freshly cooked, comforting food that residents looked forward to – “like school dinners”, he sighed, “but nice”.

To be fair, though budgets vary significantly between hospital trusts, a reliable estimate suggests £3.45 per patient per day as an average – only slightly more than in Her Majesty’s prisons, though unlike in prisons or schools, there is no legally enforceable set of minimum standards for hospital catering. As Prue Leith writes in the foreword to a 2017 report by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, “this means hospital food is uniquely vulnerable to a race to the bottom in terms of food quality, and patient care”.

Plate after plate of disappointment is not only demoralising for people who may already be at a low ebb, but overlooks the part food has to play in the recovery process. Balanced, appetising meals are vital to help weaker patients build up strength during their stay, especially as figures released in February suggest the number of hospital deaths from malnutrition is on the rise. According to Department of Health findings last year, 48 per cent of English hospitals failed to comply with food standards intended to be legally binding, with only half screening every admission for malnutrition.

The Campaign for Better Hospital Food’s report, meanwhile, revealed that only 42 per cent of the London hospitals that responded to its survey cooked fresh food for children – even though the largest single cause of admissions in five-to-nine-year-olds is tooth extraction. Less than a third of respondents cooked fresh food for adults.

Once the means to produce fresh meals are in place, they can save trusts money by allowing kitchens to buy ingredients seasonally, when they are cheaper. Michelin-starred chef Phil Howard, recently tasked by the Love British Food organisation to cook their annual lunch on an NHS budget, explained that this, along with using cheaper cuts and pushing vegetables centre stage, allowed him to produce three courses rather than the two he’d been asked for. Delicious they were, too.

Andy Jones, a chef and former chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, who was there championing British food in the NHS, told me the same principles applied in real healthcare environments: Nottingham City Hospital, which prepares meals from scratch, saves £6m annually by buying fresh local ingredients – “I know with more doing, and voices like my small one shouting out, we will see real sea change.”

Unusually, it’s less a question of money than approach. Serving great hospital food takes a kitchen, skilled cooks and quality ingredients. But getting every hospital to this point requires universal legal quality standards, like those already in place in schools, that are independently monitored.

Nutrition should be taken as seriously as any other aspect of care. The NHS performs so many miracles every day – in comparison, feeding the sick should be a doddle. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge