Mail editor warns MPs against a privacy law

A POLITICALLY inspired privacy law would destroy freedom of the press and send Britain on the slippery slope to becoming like Robert Mugabes Zimbabwe, the Editor of the Daily Mail told MPs yesterday.

Paul Dacre told the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee that a privacy law, replacing self-regulation of the press, would be a “law for the rich” since only the powerful could afford the legal fees required to take a case to court. He said that editors needed to take no lectures on regulating the press from MPs, when they had effectively kicked out Elizabeth Filkin when they did not like her rulings as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

MPs are holding an inquiry into alleged intrusions of privacy suffered by individuals to examine whether the Press Complaints Commission’s code of conduct is a satisfactory way of addressing grievances.

Mr Dacre said that if MPs introduced a privacy law it would “take away freedom of the press and bring cheers to anyone who believes in authoritarian regimes everywhere”.

In a submission to the committee, he added: “Self-regulation is the only acceptable way to regulate the press in matters which are not already covered in law. This is a course which is being adopted by many of the countries of Europe, the Commonwealth and elsewhere. It would be astonishing if this country were to change course and resort to more government control.

“A free press inevitably has its warts. It is also frequently an irritant to those in power who would like to silence it — as evidenced by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe’s disgraceful treatment of that country’s media.

“A special law on privacy would not benefit people not generally in public life. Those who believe they have been offended would have to employ lawyers and be prepared to go to court. A privacy law would be a law for the rich.”

Referring to Ms Filkin, he said: “You MPs judge yourselves but when you didn’t like the findings, you drove her out of her job.”

He contrasted that self-regulation with the PCC which had a majority of lay commissioners and dealt with matters speedily and cheaply.

Mr Dacre rejected an allegation from the PR guru Max Clifford, who said that Britain had the “most savage media in the world”.

He said: “We have a very good press which I am very proud of. It has energy and plurality and I don’t believe it is particularly savage.”

Earlier Mr Clifford surprised the committee when he told them that placing celebrities in newspapers was just a small part of his job. He said that he devoted a large amount of time to keeping ordinary people out of the newspapers when they have contacted him and claimed to have been harassed.

Mr Clifford said: “I don’t work with the PCC — it is a waste of time. I do not want a privacy law but I would like to see legal aid for libel claimants.”

He recommended that independent individuals whom the public might respect, such as Mo Mowlam, should be appointed to a beefed-up Press Complaints Commission.