The Mail, Miliband and Leveson

by Brian Cathcart


We all know that the Daily Mail likes to ‘play the man and not the ball’ – in other words it prefers ad hominem attacks to arguing an issue on its merits. In the case of Ed Miliband the paper is exploring a new approach, ignoring both ball and man and instead going for the man’s dead father.


Page after page of the Mail is now devoted to attacking the late Ralph Miliband, all of it delivered with a nastiness that would make Damian McBride squirm. (You would never think this was the paper that, after Margaret Thatcher’s death, published the headline: ‘This bilious hatred and lack of respect for the dead is a disturbing new low in British life’.)


Ordinary Mail readers have seen a lot of this stuff over the years, but even many of them must surely feel the need to wash the bile off their hands after reading the articles about Ralph Miliband.


And as usual it may be tricky for readers to identify what the ball actually is – in other words, what it is that has got up the paper’s nose. Being up-front about that, after all, would defeat the point of the smear. It is increasingly clear, none the less, that in this case the problem is the prospect of meaningful press self-regulation, on which Ed Miliband has taken an admirably robust stand.


When the Labour leader had the effrontery to challenge the Mail about the attacks on his father, the paper came up with this:


‘More chillingly, the father’s disdain for freedom of expression can be seen in his son’s determination to place the British Press under statutory control. Next week the Privy Council, itself an arm of the state, will meet to discuss plans — following a stitch-up with Hacked Off over late-night pizzas in Mr Miliband’s office — for what will ultimately be a politically controlled body to oversee what papers are allowed to publish. If he crushes the freedom of the Press, no doubt his father will be proud of him . . .’


This is almost certainly not a record for the Daily Mail, but in those 87 words there are at least six substantial misrepresentations or sleights of hand. Here they are:


1. Ed Miliband is on record as opposing statutory control of the press. What he wants – like David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Lord Justice Leveson, the victims of press abuse, every party in Parliament and the public – is effective, independent press self-regulation that will protect ordinary people from press cruelty of the kind that made the Leveson Inquiry necessary.


2. The Privy Council is indeed an arm of the state. The reason it is involved is to placate the press – that’s why David Cameron said there should be a Leveson Royal Charter rather than a Leveson Bill. And if the Mail objects to the Privy Council, why is it currently petitioning the Privy Council to give it (and its friends) a royal charter of their own?


3. There was no ‘stitch-up with Hacked Off over late-night pizzas in Mr Miliband’s office’. Don’t take our word for it; a Tory minister who was there says so. The Mail knows this, so why does it continue to say something that is untrue?


4. The body to be considered by the Privy Council next week will not be ‘politically controlled’. By careful design, politicians will be allowed nowhere near it. Yet the alternative backed by the Daily Mail would be wide open to political meddling and would even allow working party politicians to be members.


5. Nor will the body in question ‘oversee what newspapers are allowed to publish’. In fact it won’t deal with newspapers at all. It will check every few years that the press self-regulator meets certain basic regulatory standards.


6. The freedom of the press is not at stake here. That is to say, freedom of expression is painstakingly protected under the Leveson scheme. On the other hand, the freedom of powerful press corporations to ‘wreak havoc in the lives of innocent people’, as they have been doing for a decade – yes, let us hope that is at stake.


It is no wonder, given that the Mail has got all of this wrong, that it is unable to mount a sensible argument against the modest steps Ed Miliband (with Cameron and Clegg) is taking in relation to reform of press self-regulation.


And since the Mail hates even the idea of effective self-regulation (which might, for example, try to ensure that inaccuracies such as these were corrected) it resorts to the tactics of the bully-boy, attacking the Labour leader by piling abuse on his dead father.


Curiously, the paper knows that these tactics do not impress even its own readers. Ever since the phone hacking scandal broke the Mail has been pumping out propaganda and bullying in print everyone who disagreed with it, yet a majority of Daily Mail readers stubbornly defies the paper’s line – and a poll in July showed that 59 per cent of Mail readers wanted their paper to accept the Leveson reforms.


IMPORTANT NOTE. Nothing in this article suggests that the Daily Mail should not be free to express its opinions. It should (and equally we should all be free to judge the Mail by its actions, preferably without having our dead relatives maligned as a consequence). At the same time, under the code of practice it publicly accepts, the Mail promises to be accurate and fair and to correct its mistakes. We look forward to it doing that in this case.  

We rely on people like you to make a difference.

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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Máire Messenger Daviesreply
October 1, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Well said, Brian. Proper journalism, factually based and reasonable. Unlike the Fail.

October 3, 2013 at 6:50 pm
– In reply to: Máire Messenger Davies

the mail can not be accurate,they print their news with bile

Derek Hipkinsreply
October 1, 2013 at 4:27 pm

The Daily Mail’s attack on Milliband is loathsome, yet it should be allowed to express such vile views. Freedom of the press is paramount, but
not to be free to abuse this freedom as they have done.
If you forget all other abuses do not forget what they did to the Dowlers.

Pauline Fackrellreply
October 1, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Surely the paper should be taken to court for liable slurs. I suppose the person in question would be wary of having more poison aimed at him or his family

Margaret Watsonreply
October 5, 2013 at 2:53 pm
– In reply to: Pauline Fackrell

Hi Pauline, sadly you can defame the deceased with impunity in this Country. May I refer you to my post on this very subject, below?

Warren Raffertyreply
October 1, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Good luck, what we’ve seen over the past few days has been a disgrace

John Colmanreply
October 1, 2013 at 9:03 pm

The mail editor P. Dacre is a despicable excuse for a journalist. A boycott of the hateful rag seems a moderate response till its owners sack him

Jonathan Mylesreply
October 2, 2013 at 8:57 am

I was against Hacked Off’s aims at first. Not now.
The Daily Mail’s article on Ed Miliband was pure, unadulterated invective deliberately disguised as a supposed investigation of some sort of issue.
The paper’s attempts to justify its actions have been nothing short of hypocrisy.
As a former journalist myself it makes me weep to see how low some of our newspapers have sunk.
I will now sign the Hacked Off petition. Well done, Daily Mail. As they say: You reap what you sow.

Margaret Watsonreply
October 2, 2013 at 10:02 am

We have been fighting to highlight defamation and the exploitation of innocent murdered victims for over 20-years. As the parents of an innocent murdered victims, 16-year-old Diane Watson, we have had to endured repeated spurious publication over the over the last 22-years about the true events leading up to the brutal murder of our lovely daughter Diane.

Yes, the Daily Mail has every right to publish information about Ed Miliband’s deceased father, but the Daily Mail has absolutely no right to publish malicious falsehoods about Ed Miliband’s father.

For the information of the readers of your blog, ordinary members of the public who have suffered similar spurious publication are instructed by the editor of the deeply offending publication(s) are instructed to write a letter that may or may not be published in the letter page of the offending publication and like the Miliband family if published their letter would be torn apart by the offending publication. Ordinary members of the public do not have the backing of influential or individuals or powerful organisations as their deceased love one case’s are not important enough to be taken forward buy those who have the ear of political leaders.

We truly trust that the Daily Mail publishes a full retraction of the false and deeply offending information it published about Ed Miliband’s deceased father and ends their vile campaign of hate against the Miliband family once and for all. No family should be forced to endure this sort of clear injustice no matter what their position they hold in life. Defamation of the deceased is a crime against humanity perpetrated by cowardly journalist and their editors who hide behind the lack of human rights given to families of the deceased under the current UK and Scottish defamation legislation.

John Allanreply
October 4, 2013 at 8:56 am
– In reply to: Margaret Watson

Is this the same Daily Mail who wrote articles supporting Hitler? The final paragraphs of its article on Miliband gives the game away – this is a pitch to avoid regulation.

October 2, 2013 at 11:28 am

Surely this is the Mail’s “Milly Dowler” moment? Attacking the dead (and they’ve done it before – don’t forget Stephen Gately) – unless it’s Thatcher, of course – seems to go hand-in-hand with the daily smears and scaremongering for which the Mail is rightly ridiculed.

October 3, 2013 at 11:39 am

Loving the Mail’s hilariously hypocritical response to Ed Miliband’s anger, accusing him of “a calculated show of hysteria” …”sinister…menacing” – and Dacre would know more about menace and calculated shows of hysteria more than anyone else since those are the Daily Mail’s weapons of choice. At least politicians are no longer fearful of saying so.

October 3, 2013 at 11:39 am

Loving the Mail’s hilariously hypocritical response to Ed Miliband’s anger, accusing him of “a calculated show of hysteria” …”sinister…menacing” – and Dacre would know more about menace and calculated shows of hysteria than anyone else since those are the Daily Mail’s weapons of choice. At least politicians are no longer fearful of saying so.

Steve Hopkinsreply
October 3, 2013 at 5:06 pm

It’s obvious what the Mail is about and there are certainly Mail readers who would understand and sympathise with the message. Ed’s father was a theoretical Marxist and for the right any notion of communism is viewed as being evil, just as fascism is to the left wing. The Mail was clearly drawing its reader’s attention to the political influences in Ed’s life, and his father is clearly a very profound one. Ed loved his father dearly as can be seen by the photo of the two together. He admits that he sought bereavement counselling after his father died, so deeply was he affected by his death……

October 3, 2013 at 6:19 pm

That Paul Dacre is Chair of the PCC Editors Code of Practice Committee should be sufficient to demonstrate that the ‘Son of PCC’ system supported by Rothermere, Barclay brothers and Murdoch would be as equally as useless as the current PCC.

Kim Millerreply
October 4, 2013 at 2:20 pm

A timely reminder from the Daily and Sunday Mail that the press has no intention of changing it’s ways voluntarily and that it couldn’t be trusted an inch to regulate itself to a standard considered acceptable to most people.

Paul Dacre Fisked | Edinburgh Eyereply
October 12, 2013 at 8:05 am

[…] the Daily Mail is totally not corrupt. It’s pure and innocent and sort of sweet, spreading light and joy wherever it goes. Yes […]

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