Paul Dacre, Abuse and Defamation

As some of you might already be aware if you follow me on Twitter I received a rather dire warning from my webhosts today informing me that I had breached their terms and conditions. I immediately logged into my account to discover whether I had accidentally hosted any hardcore pornography or broken any superinjunctions. But no. It turns out some big and powerful lawyers working for Associated Newspapers had threatened my webhost and myself with legal action over an article I posted on my old blog way back in November 2009. You see, as much I try to write considered, thoughtful and sometimes philosophical posts occasionally I reveal the side of me that best represents the anger and frustration of constantly wading through the fetid mire of tabloid journalism, and the post that so upset the Daily Mail – part of Associated Newspapers – was one of these occasions.

You see I’m one of those lilly-livered liberal-lefties who kind of gets a bit annoyed when newspapers make stuff up about people with different colour skin just to appeal to the basest, most ignorant desires of their readership and this particular Mail article really pissed me off. So, naturally I wrote some unpleasant things about Paul Dacre because I assumed he’s the kind of tough-talking, thick-skinned adult that probably expects – editing the torrent of hatred that is the Daily Mail – to get a lot of stick. Indeed, this is the man who – according to Nick Davies in Flat Earth News – calls so many of his colleagues ‘cunts’ that his morning daily editorial meetings were given the name ‘The Vagina Monologues’.

But sadly, currently using Google to search for ‘Paul Dacre’ reveals my lowly little blog post as the second result:

Paul Dacre must die

And the lawyers for Associated Newspapers decided that the above blog post was ‘material which is seriously abusive and defamatory of Mr Dacre’. Hence they felt the need to rush off an email to my webhost giving them 3 working days to remove the offending article or face being taken to court – an event they kindly illustrate with a case ‘which ultimately resulted in a six-figure settlement’. I un-published the post immediately to placate my Webhost and Tweeted about it. Thanks to a lot of advice both on and off the record I slowly began to realise – along with a little bit of reading up on what constitutes defamation – that their threat was utterly hollow and that abuse in itself is not libellous (hence the continued ‘writing’ career of Richard Littlejohn who abuses the living and libels only the dead). It was the idle threat of a bully that knows it is too rich and too powerful to be challenged by an individual like myself who will choose to remove the article rather than invite them to sue and see where we all end up.

In the end, thanks to choosing a UK webhost, the decision is not really mine to take, the webhost has nothing to gain by defending me and everything to lose, they will simply point to their Terms and Conditions which cover no defamation / libel and will suspend your account if needs be. I understand their position, they are effectively hamstrung by a legal system that favours the powerful.

Anyway, putting that aside, let’s just take a few seconds to consider what I actually wrote. Firstly, you can read the post here because it has been cached by Google and logged by others on Twitter (thanks to therealsim_o for this). Secondly, you can read this post by Unity over at Ministry of Truth who goes through the post bit-by-bit and concludes that:

In short, there seems to be next to fuck all in Kevin’s article to warrant a claim of defamation – abuse, of itself, is not defamatory – if it were, then Dacre would, based on his reputation, spend half his life defending actions for slander from his own employees.

Having put what I wrote into context, I can now give you some clues on what is and isn’t defamation by looking at some of the stuff that the Daily Mail prints and can provide you with some simple tips to avoid receiving such scary emails in future:

  1. Be a well-paid columnist for the Daily Mail. Take Richard Littlejohn for example. He can call Gordon Brown a ‘sociopath’ and provide a list of ‘evidence’ including that he displays ‘Glibness and superficial charm; manipulative and cunning… Grandiose sense of self and entitlement… Pathological lying; absence of remorse, shame or guilt; callousness and lack of empathy… Authoritarian; secretive; paranoid; narcissism; grandiosity; an over-inflated belief in their own powers and abilities… Prone to rage and abuse; outraged by insignificant matters.’ and so on. If you are well-paid columnist this is not abuse or defamation; it is ‘opinion’. Indeed it is the kind of stuff we should all cherish as a wonderful example of a free press.
  2. Don’t mention individuals stupid! If you want to do a good ol’ bit of defaming pick a big group of people that you can just slag off in its entirety. Say like gypsies or immigrants, then it’s fair game. Go on, check with the Press Complaints Commission, they’ll tell you that yes: being hateful towards one named immigrant and you’ll get a slapped wrist (sort of, the PCC doesn’t really have enough power to do even that) but just slag off every single immigrant in one go and the PCC will give you a big thumbs up and possibly a badge.
  3. Don’t pick on on the kind of hypocrite that – for example – runs a national newspaper bemoaning the sexualisation of society whilst at the same time arguing against privacy laws that prevent him from reporting on ‘acts of unimaginable sexual depravity’ (which is, by the way,  bit of an oxymoron. How can they be ‘unimaginable’ if you are certain they actually took place?). Or who fights for the right for the press to be free of fines (i.e. stick with the powerless PCC exactly as it is now) and scrap no-win, no-fee libel cases because they don’t like being sued for honest mistakes or what in most cases is simply being caught making stuff up. Don’t pick on him because it seems to me that this sort of person would have no hesitation using the libel laws he finds so restrictive when they are aimed at his newspaper.

I think the main lesson is: don’t criticise the critics because they only like to dish it out. Dacre’s argument for invading the privacy of Max Mosley was that he was kind of in the public eye and had been up to no good, therefore invading his privacy to break the story was justifiable. Well, surely Mr Dacre is just as much in the public eye as Mr Mosley and certainly Mr Dacre holds substantially more influence and power. So why does he not expect – when he edits a newspaper recently described by John Bercow as a ‘sexist, racist, bigoted, comic cartoon strip’ (I wonder if Mr Bercow received a nice letter from the Associated News lawyers?) – to receive public scrutiny for what he does and the kind of insults that I aimed at him way back in 2009?

Whatever insults I could write here now aimed at Paul Dacre would always pale into utter insignificance when compared to the carefully constructed and energetically maintained media narratives about immigrants, single mothers, the public sector, asylum seekers, gypsies, gays and the disenfranchised in general that the Daily Mail has printed under his stewardship. My feeble words – which were only really a demonstration of how little recourse we have against institutions like the Daily Mail, so all we are left with is to wish those in charge of this offensive mess an early death – result in a threatening letter. Whilst Mr Dacre continues to exist as a highly-paid editor.

I think what bothers me most about Paul Dacre – and this applies to a lot of the Mail writers as well – is just what a coward he is. It’s that expectation that the Daily Mail can print the most horrific, made-up shit just to sell a few copies and stoke the fires of Middle-England rage and if anyone doesn’t like it they’ll just send out threatening letters. It’s Paul Dacre’s insistence that the PCC really works and that any criticism comes from people who are too stupid to understand how it works. Paul Dacre, chairman of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, edits the newspaper that consistantly breaches the code more than any other newspaper, yet he still insists that the PCC works.

If freedom of the press exists then it should extend to all writers. As the Daily Mail – and most of the mainstream press – have demonstrated over-and-over again the informal code of ethics followed by most bloggers is incomparably superior to the moral vacuum in which most journalists exist, yet somehow the official label of being a ‘journalist’ somehow gives you the freedom without any of the responsibility.

Anyway, that was a disorganised ramble, so let’s try and wrap things up. I guess what I’m trying to say is that a lot of people think Paul Dacre is a piece of shit, not everyone wishes him an early death and a few people probably think I was stupid or going too far by even writing it. However, let’s not pretend it was libellious. It was just a frustrated insult aimed at someone who I see as being at the heart of a very evil newspaper, but someone whom the general populace is powerless to challenge because he will not engage with us.

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