Saturday, November 15, 2008

Paul Dacre's moral rectitude

According to the Daily Mail's editor-in-chief, tabloids are synonym with 'civic virtue'. Did I blink while public morality benefited from the Sun making up lies about Elton John and rent boys or when the News of the World spread rumours about David Beckham and Rebecca Loos?

From time to time you need to be reminded of the noxious effect tabloids have on British culture. Their presence is so pervasive that it's easy to become desensitised.

Yet, when you read debates about what's happening to British society and "what went wrong", the impact of the 'popular press' over the years is often played down. Very few are ready to rank the red tops amongst the biggest culprits. They'd tell you the fault lays with welfare benefits, single mums, the immigrants and some may even remember what Margaret Thatcher did to entire regions. But you point the finger at the tabloids and you've had it. They'll come to your house and hound you until you retreat, like Ladywood MP Clare Short found out to her misery when she dared to criticise the Sun and Page 3.

A good assessment of the tabloids' overpowering role can be found in Francis Gilbert's book Yob Nation (reviewed here). As he placed "media yobbery" right at the top of Britain's sprawling yob culture, he cited the red tops' "seedy combination of self-righteousness and trivial scandals", along with their "hysterical, hectoring style" and pseudo-cheeky laddishness. In short, the "normal backdrop to our lives".

Which is why, when this week Paul Dacre, Daily Mail editor-in-chief (or rather "the nation's bully-in-chief", in the wise words of the Guardian's Polly Toynbee) grabbed headlines with his tirade about public rectitude, we were reminded of the subtly poisonous nature of tabloids.

In a speech, Dacre lashed out against those who don't understand the role of papers like his as guardians of morality and sentinels of decorum and family values. Referring to last summer's ruling in favour of Formula One boss Max Mosley and against the News of the World, he criticised the judge for making it "perfectly acceptable for the multi-millionaire head of a multi-billion pound sport [...] to pay five women £2,500 to take part in acts of unimaginable sexual depravity with him". Those judges who trample over freedom of press, he said, are "arrogant and amoral". More, he slammed the "wretched Human Rights Act", for jeopardising the red tops' ability to publish revelations that would "benefit" public morality.

Fancy that. Public morality would allegedly benefit from a paper that gratuitously spies on people, takes lurid photos and exposes them to the world for everyone's amusement. It would then run a follow-up story with a generous display of female parts from whichever lady was involved in the scandal and then round it all off with a columnist saying that it's disgusting and Britain's lost its marbles. Incidentally, did I blink while public morality benefited from the Sun making up lies about Elton John and rent boys (ending up in massive legal damages awarded to the singer) or when the News of the World spread rumours about David Beckham allegedly cheating on his wife?

Paul Dacre dubs it freedom of speech. He says it's the 'glue of democracy'.

How do you call that? Is 'hypocritical' too soft? Would 'bare-faced' do? The Italians have a more effective expression called 'faccia da culo', which you may want to look up if you have nothing to do.

There would be nothing wrong if the tabloids conceded it's merely a case of shock-more, sell-more, make-a-fast-buck. Instead they have to fill their gob with "moral rectitude" and "freedom of speech". In the words of Martin Kettle, "ultimately, [tabloids] do not defend themselves to the public on the basis of the right to be foolish, untrue or rude, or even to sell newspapers. They defend themselves, as Dacre did again this week, by asserting their civic virtue".

Only three weeks ago, the Daily Mail was displaying bipolar levels of hypocrisy as it managed to castigate Georgina Baille as "symptomatic of the degradation of standards in society", while publishing what was effectively a whole photo gallery of her raunchiest pictures in the hope that a certain breed of lads would buy copies and jerk off during lunch break.

To this, alas, we've become completely accustomed.


leslie said...

Dacre thinks that adultery poses a "proper cause for public condemnation" - Medieval style or what. Dacre may share more than he thinks with radical imams, after all.

And at no point did Judge Eady suggest that what Mosley did was morally fine. Simply the judgement was about LEGALITY and not MORALITY,

Paul McCoch said...

Lets not forget what the S*n wrote about Liverpool supporters immediately after Hillsborough. Or what the Mail said after the resignation of Piers Morgan when he was set up after allegedly knowingly published the so-called 'fake photographs' of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British squaddies.