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Dacre defends the Press, questions powers of judicial inquiry

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

October 12, 2011 | 3 min read

In a speech to the Leveson Inquiry seminar today , Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers editor-in-chief started by unequivocally condemning phone hacking and payments to the police.

Paul Dacre

"Such practices are a disgrace and have shocked and shamed us all. They need to be purged from journalism and reforms instigated to prevent such criminal activities ever happening again," he said.

But he urged that things be kept in proportions: " Britain’s cities weren’t looted as a result. No-one died. The banks didn’t collapse because of the News of the World. Elected politicians continued to steal from the people they were paid to represent.

"The nation didn’t go to war. Yet the response has been a judicial inquiry with greater powers than those possessed by the public inquiries into the Iraq war."

Dacre said an Inquiry included a panel of experts "who – while honourable distinguished people – don’t have the faintest clue how mass-selling newspapers operate."

He asked if he was alone in "detecting the rank smells of hypocrisy and revenge in the political class’s current moral indignation over a British press that dared to expose their greed and corruption."

This was the the same political class, he said, "who until a few weeks ago, had spent years indulging in sickening genuflection to the Murdoch press."

Supporting the Press Complaints Commission, he said he would like to persuade the Inquiry that self-regulation – albeit in a considerably beefed up form – was, in a country that regards itself as truly democratic, the only viable way of policing a genuinely free press.

"I’d also today like to persuade you that there are thousands of decent journalists in Britain who don’t hack phones, don’t bribe policemen and who work long anti-social hours for modest recompense – and if they’re in the regional press often for a pittance – because they passionately believe that their papers give voice to the voiceless and expose the misdeeds of the rich, the powerful and the pompous."

Dacre said the newspaper industry was in a sick financial state." Several of our quality papers are losing awesome amounts of money. More worrying, Britain’s proud provincial and local press – currently subject to closures, mergers and swingeing cuts – is arguably facing the severest challenges.

"This diminishes our democracy. Courts go uncovered. Councils aren’t held to account. And the corrupt go unchallenged. That is a democratic deficit that in itself is worthy of an inquiry."

The growing clamour for more regulation ignored "the uncomfortable truth" that the Press was already on the very cusp of being over regulated. "Over the past twenty years, restriction has been piled upon restriction,"he said.

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