I don’t know Steve Coogan but I thought he did a very good job on Newsnight last night, in particular in seeking to make sure the focus from the phonehacking scandal is not just restricted to the News of the World.
He asked where Paul Dacre was in all this, and when I tweeted my support for this observation, I got the usual ‘who’s Paul Dacre?’ queries from some. It is a measure of the success of the Mail Obergruppenfuhrer’s deliberate policy of hiding away from a public profile that he is so well-known and influential within the media, (though even today they rarely write about him), yet so little known by the public.
Rupert Murdoch has been something of a household name in many parts of the world for years. Now James Murdoch, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks have reached that status where their names are echoing round pubs, cars, factories, kitchens and sitting rooms, and not in circumstances they would welcome. But Dacre can walk down any street in the country, whether in London and the Home Counties, or near his enormous Scottish country estate, without anyone batting an eyelid.
He will however be a central figure in any public inquiry into the standards and practices of the modern press, because the Mail’s influence has been so strong upon the rest of the media and because there is already the previous work of the Information Commissioner for a judge to have as a useful starting point when seeking answers as to why newspapers need to spend so much money on private detectives like Stephen Whittamore, Jonathan Rees, Glenn Mulcaire and many more.
The Mail was the biggest user of Mr Whittamore. When police investigating a murder trial involving Mr Rees raided his home, they found invoices totalling thousands and thousands of pounds relating to inquiries into many public figures for many different papers. The inquiries on me, for example, were made by my former paper, the Mirror. As for Glenn Mulcaire, well we know a lot about him, but there is a lot more to come.
So Mr Dacre and his Mail Group, whose coverage of the phonehacking scandal has been minimal until recent days -wonder why? -will be an important part of any serious and rigorous inquiry.
It was reported last night that within minutes of David Cameron’s announcement of a judge-led inquiry, and a review of press regulation, the Mail and the Telegraph were on the phone to Downing Street to complain. Number 10 should politely tell them to put any concerns in writing, and for the time being go away.
Seemingly the Mail today is full of pompous and portentous articles peddling the Dacre line that anything but the toothless PCC would be an assault on the free press. This is as self-serving as their oft-stated line that the Human Rights Act is an abomination, and that judges are creating a backdoor privacy law, when what their real concern is that they should be allowed to fill their papers with celebrity trivia and stories of who is shagging whom.
I would also be interested to know if at any point Dacre declares the interest that he holds the chairmanship, laughably, of an important PCC policy-making committee. Er, I doubt it, but then one of the reasons they are in the mess they are in is that they believe the standards by which they judge others should not apply to themselves.
But for him and his generation which has so damaged journalism, that may well be about to change.