Thanks to Malcolm for mentioning Nick Davies' book. I must try and read that. My recent interest in the DM is because I have been working in a paper shop, and I was getting intensely irritated by the lead stories I see every day, especially those in the Mail and Express.
My post will refer to an earlier book about the British press, written nearly 30 years ago.
The Sun, 1984 wrote:
Great is truth and mighty above all things
This is a chapter heading in Henry Porter's 1984 book "Lies, Damned Lies, And Some Exclusives". The headline was the paper's response to being found out (by World In Action) for sending a "dossier" on Tony Benn (during the Chesterfield by-election) to an American psychiatrist (who was unaware he was commenting on a major British politician, and that his remarks were going to be printed in a newspaper, in an article entitled BENN ON THE COUCH).
At the time we had a Press Council, the PCC came along in 1990.
I reread Porter's book recently, and my overwhelming feeling is that nothing has changed.
Today Fleet Street is in a sorry state indeed, perhaps worse than at any time since the war. Newspapers lie to entertain, to compete with each other, to propagate their political convictions and to persecute those with whom they disagree. And when there is no obvious reason journalists continue to lie out of indolence and habit. The editors are often no better. In the recent past two have allowed themselves to be bamboozled into endorsing the obvious work of a sinister confidence trickster, four did everything in their power to deceive the very body that is charged with protecting the freedom of the press, another crumpled under official pressure and released material that incriminated his paper's source, and others involved their papers in financial deals of such grandiose stupidity that their fitness to run national newspapers must surely be called into question. [...excepting the Guardian and Sunday Times...] little remorse was shown. [...] Thus the incidents described in this book are hastily forgotten and national journalists remain as unconcerned as if they had never happened
The incidents in the book are a great trip down memory lane. Here is a selection.
The Sun fabricating an interview with the widow of Falklands VC winner Sergeant McKay. The tabloids all denying offering money to Peter Sutcliffe's relatives until Sonia Sutcliffe's solicitor produced a file of sample contracts which had been stuffed through her letterbox. A cat belonging to a working miner reported to have been tortured and daubed with the word SCAB (locals said the incident was done by a local youth with a history of animal cruelty, and not by anyone connected with the strike). Heseltine reported to have been dragged to the ground and kicked and punched by the Greenham Common women outside Newbury Town Hall (he said himself that he fell over). Peter Tatchell being demonised during the Bermondsey by-election. A fabricated story in the Express about the Peoples March For Jobs 1983 turning down every job being advertised in the Carnforth job centre (apparently "a land of golden opportunity", with thousands of jobs available - in fact at the time there were 6,610 unemployed in the region). A CHAOS AT CND RALLY headline (17 arrests for minor offences at a rally attended by 200,000 people) - the Press Council said that the paper was entitled to be biased in its coverage. The Mail's story that Nissan would cancel their new factory in Britain if Labour won the General Election (story based on quote from an anonymous Nissan official, with no attempt made to contact the company for an official statement).
If the press were bad then, they are just as bad now, and the PCC are just as big a failure as the Press Council was.
Apparently (according to Wikipedia) the Calcutt report recommended that the new Press Complaints Commission would be given 18 months to prove non-statutory self-regulation could work effectively and if it failed to do so, then a statutory system would be introduced. Surely we need to do that now!
Our forum's front page says "We are not here to hate readers of the Daily Mail, we are here to show them they are being lied to". As we all know, the current system allows newspapers to lie to and mislead their readers, sometimes in the political interests of the papers' owners (or editors), and sometimes just to increase sales. I don't see how any solution other than a body like OFCOM can enforce acceptable standards on the national press in this country.