The Daily Mail last week it launched a vicious attack on Ed Miliband’s father. Based on one diary entry, which Ralph Miliband made when he was 17, it described him as “THE MAN WHO HATED BRITAIN”. A pretty nasty smear on a man who is not here to defend himself. The claim was also quite dubious, given that Miliband Senior served in the Navy during World War II.
Ed Miliband, unsurprisingly, came out fighting in defence of his father. He demanded the right to reply, only for the Daily Mail to publish his defence of his father alongside a reprint of the original article and a defiant editorial insisting that they were right.
The Mail may have miscalculated. It is drawing criticism from all sides, including from David Cameron and top headmasters. Also, a paper which printed headlines like “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!” in the 1930s should have perhaps been a bit more careful about digging up other people’s dirt from 75 years ago (see Roy Greenslade’s piece in the Guardian for more on this). Alastair Campbell’s rant against the paper on Newsnight is sure to become a viral internet hit. Whatever you think of Campbell (and I don’t think very much of him), his description of the Mail as “the worst of British values masquerading as the best” resonates.
Miliband emerges from this row with his reputation enhanced, while an opinion poll reveals that a majority of people think the paper is in the wrong, and 57% of the Mail’s own readers believe the paper’s editor should apologise.
Paul Dacre himself has kept a low profile during this row. The Media Blog points out that the Mail is usually quick to demand that heads roll at the BBC or Channel 4 when they broadcast something offensive, however it does not extend that standard to its own editor.
Compounding the offence, sister publication The Mail on Sunday is in hot water after it sent undercover reporters to the funeral of Miliband’s uncle – apparently to try and get some juicy gossip. At least that paper apologised.
It’s easy to put this down to the rough and tumble of politics – the Labour party is ahead in the polls, and the Mail want to discredit the party’s leader by any means possible. There’s a good debate to be had about the merits of Labour’s policies… so let’s have that debate, rather than cheap character assassination.
There’s also a wider issue here: how many other people has the Mail attacked, and how many of them, unlike Miliband, have no platform of their own with which to fight back?
Amidst all this, it’s great news that the Government has rejected plans for a new press self-regulation body – PressBoF – which would have meant the newspapers continuing to, as the Hacked Off campaign puts it, “mark their own homework”. The newspaper groups are opposed to the proposed press regulator backed by Royal Charter. They say it would lead to politicians meddling, and an end to the free press.
It’s a difficult balancing act, but self-regulation has been a failure. From the Hillsborough fans to Christopher Jeffries to Milly Dowler to Ralph Miliband, the papers have shown time and time again that they cannot be trusted to police themselves.