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Unfair and unbalanced – a decade of Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail

Paul Dacre - Credit: Getty Images

LIZ GERARD crunches the numbers on how Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail covered BBC stories and finds evidence that makes a mockery of the idea of him as an impartial arbiter.

Over the last ten years of the Dacre reign, the Daily Mail carried more than 4,000 news stories with BBC in the headline or subhead, about 500 front-page stories mentioning the Corporation, plus around 2,500 opinion columns and leaders.

About 40% of the news stories were pure showbusiness – about programmes or their stars.

Of the rest – the general news coverage – some were straightforward reports on audience figures and suchlike, but the vast majority were antagonistic.

There were two pronounced themes:

1) Profligacy – spending “our” money, paying stars too much, wasting money that should be spent on better programmes, constant questioning of the licence fee and how it was spent;

2) Bias – specifically being too left-wing and too Remainiac.

Over that decade, the words “fury”, “waste”, “bias” or “pay” appeared in headlines on stories about the BBC more than 8,000 times.

MORE: Don’t let Paul Dacre loose on Ofcom

While there is clearly a difference between a public broadcaster and a commercial newspaper when it comes to partiality and expenditure, Dacre’s Mail also applied different standards in other areas.

The BBC was not only wrong to pay people so much, it was also taken to task for failing to ensure that its staff – and freelancers – paid their taxes.

The Mail did not say if it checked that its six-figure writers were not availing themselves of tax shelters. When the Carrie Gracie gender pay row blew up, the paper made much of the BBC’s discomfort – but neglected to mention the differentials in its own organisation.

At the time, the BBC’s median pay gap was 7.6%; the Mail’s was 15.4% (and its median bonus gap 26.7%).

It also delighted in the criticism over the Cliff Richard police raid and his subsequent court case – before noting that his victory over the BBC might have serious implications for press freedom.

Criticism was not confined to the corporation’s own activities. If there were a prevailing view of which the paper disapproved, it would attack both that view and the BBC for reporting it – for “fomenting misconceptions”.

On the other hand, if it failed to report something Dacre cared about, it was guilty of censorship – rather than making a judgment, as all editors do, on which were the most important stories.

Columnists were given free rein to vent their displeasure. Stephen Glover wrote almost a hundred op-eds mentioning the BBC over that last decade. Other pieces criticising “the left” and institutions from the Guardian to the Church of England included random jibes at “their friends at the BBC”, even where the BBC had nothing to do with the case in point and was never mentioned again.

Articles from disenchanted former BBC staffers, such as Jenni Murray, Libby Purves and Jan Leeming were welcomed. John Humphrys was (and still is) a regular.

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