In 1695 the UK government stopped censoring newspapers and overnight a vibrant, commercial industry grew that has made this country great. Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail, last week celebrated the 175th anniversary of industry charity NewstrAid with an speech setting out why selling newspapers is a socially important business. Here are some highlights
The way I look at it, we have always had to fight to survive, ever since the birth of the mass media in the 1890s – the decade in which Alfred Harmsworth launched the Daily Mail.
In more than a century since then, we’ve grown and we’ve changed out of all recognition – more so in the last 10 years than at any time in the previous century. But one thing has always been a constant – that this is an industry which is always having to fight, tooth and claw, against those who would destroy us.
In the 1980s we faced the battle with militant trade unionism which was slowly and surely throttling our industry. The debt we owe Rupert Murdoch for facing down that enemy should not be forgotten.
In the 1990s we had to take on a Government in whose veins the desire to regulate and control ran deep. A chilling power to jail journalists who offended against The Data Protection Act. A Human Rights Act that introduced a law on privacy for the first time and ushered in the horror of super-injunctions.
In the 2000s we faced an altogether different battle, as we had to re-engineer the entire shape of our businesses, and the skills of our journalists, in the face of the digital revolution.
And, of course, in the past three years we’ve had to fight for press freedom itself and our most precious heritage – the right to report free of Government control of editorial content.
On the Leveson inquiry.
It was set up with indecent haste to save the face of the Prime Minister who decided to invite a man who became a convicted criminal into the inner sanctum of No10.
It was a draconian inquiry, with more powers than those granted to Lord Chilcott in his investigation of an illicit war. One, whose authoritarian prescriptions, I have little doubt, were, in reality, decided long before the first witnesses for the press took the stand. A kind of show trial in which the industry was judged guilty and had to prove its innocence.
Britain’s newspaper industry is not the devil. It’s a great industry composed of countless decent men and women who do not break the law and who work in very difficult conditions to expose the truth, to fight for their readers’ interests, to give a voice to the voiceless.
Yes, we make mistakes – who doesn’t – but the fact there is relatively so little corruption in Britain is, I honestly believe, down to a rumbustious free press that must have the freedom both to behave badly – for which there must be safeguards and proper punishments – and to behave well. Politicians must not be allowed to decide which is which.
On future progress
First, IPSO has been safely launched and no one can deny that Sir Alan Moses has made clear his determination that this really will be an Independent Press Standards Organisation.
Second, there is the merger of the national press and the regional press into one new representative body, the News Media Association, [which] gives us far more clout than we have ever had before to oppose those things that undermine us and fight for the changes we need.
Third, we are – probably thanks to the imminence of a general election, if that doesn’t sound too cynical – in relatively quiet political waters. I know in my bones that this won’t last, but let’s use the opportunity to move ahead.
In our fiercely competitive business it’s always heart-warming when there is something which unites us and on which we can all agree.
The industry’s charities are a vital part of the glue that holds us together even in the most fraught of times. We genuinely are an industry that wants to take care of any of our own who need help – and we take that responsibility seriously.
It’s a pleasure to be able to support NewstrAid’s sterling work and to applaud everything that Murdoch MacLennan and his team are doing to ensure the sustainability of such an important organisation, which supports our heroically hard-pressed newsagents and the circulation, distribution and wholesale trades on which we depend to get our newspapers to the people who really matter – the readers.