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Relax merger laws to help local press survive – Dacre

Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre predicted a bleak future for the regional press last night in a hard-hitting address that electrified the Society of Editors conference in Bristol.

He said that laws on newspaper mergers would need to be relaxed if some local papers were to survive and accused the BBC of “going for the jugular” of the regional newspaper industry with its “preposterous” proposal for 65 local websites.

Mr Dacre also hit out at the effects of “no win no fee” libel legislation claiming it meant regional newspapers were no longer able to defend libel actions.

In a wide-ranging speech, the Mail editor also suggested that at least two national dailies and two national Sunday newspapers would “change hands or go to the wall” in the near future.

While maintaining that Britain’s newspapers were still the best in the world, Mr Dacre predicted there would be “considerable contraction in the printed parts of our industry over the next few years.”

“The provincial press, with its circulations down 51pc since 1989, its editorial costs already cut to the bone and its once lucrative classifieds migrating en masse to the internet, seems locked in a seemingly inexorable downward spiral,” he said.

“Politicians and regulators are going to have to think the unthinkable. They are going to have to allow previously outlawed mergers, particularly in the provincial and local press arenas.

“When local papers are fighting for their very existence, it is crazy to regard the ownership of a few local papers as a monopolistic threat to diversity.”

Mr Dacre also said that “something must be done” about the “growing ubiquity” of the BBC if local papers were to survive and grow.

“The corporation has all but seen off ITV’s news services, is distorting the free market for internet newspapers and now, with its preposterous proposal for 65 ultra local websites, is going for the jugular of the local newspaper industry.”

On the libel laws, Mr Dacre said even wealthy papers like the Mail now think “long and hard” before contesting libel actions for fear of “ruinous” financial implications in terms of legal costs.

“For the provincial and local press, such actions are now out of the question. Instead they stump up some cash to settle as quickly as possible to avoid court actions which, if they were to lose, could close them,” he said.

Mr Dacre pulled no punches in last night’s speech on the SS Great Britain in Bristol which opened this year’s Society of Editors conference.

He reopened the feud with Express proprietor Richard Desmond, calling him a “pornographer,” and described former premier Tony Blair’s decision to allow him to buy the Express as “one of the great acts of perfidy to our profession.”

Mr Dacre also launched a coruscating personal attack on the High Court judge, Justice David Eady, whom he accused of conducting a one-man campaign to introduce a privacy law into Britain by the back door.

It was Judge Eady who recently ruled against the News of the World in the recent libel action brought by Formula One boss Max Mosley.

  • Read the whole of Paul Dacre’s Society of Editors Lecture here.


    adrianh (10/11/2008 10:35:58)
    “Unimaginable sexual depravity” Oh come ON Mr Dacre. Get a grip. Max Mosley’s goings on were a good giggle but to try and pretend the nationals had some high moral motive for printing them fools no one and it’s not worth going to the barricades over. Press freedom is too important to pretend everything we do is defensible

    Watchman (10/11/2008 11:16:55)
    Fair play to Dacre – he has stepped up to the bar to defend a print industry which is under attack on all sides. We need concerted and unified action across the industry.

    All Subbed Out (10/11/2008 18:15:42)
    Elsewhere in his speech Mr Dacre blathers: “Too often, large parts of our industry only see the dog mess at the bottom of the lamp post and not the illumination and light at the top. Now, in these difficult times, is the time to celebrate that light.” Well, when it comes to low paid reporters and other staff at the bottom of Associated Northcliffe’s staffing levels, and the highly-paid likes of Mr Dacre and his ilk at the top (who never seem to suffer very much in the endless rounds of cutbacks) then I think we know who he’s referring to as the dog mess.