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Sunday 13 October 2013


Holmes versus Moriarty, but which one is which?

Real villain of piece when it comes to 'The Guardian' and the 'Mail' on press freedom in the UK is not so elementary

Locked in a fatal embrace, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty seem about to topple over the press equivalent of the Reichenbach Falls.

For Holmes, read Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian since 1995, and valiant warrior against an oppressive state and campaigner against the vulgar tabloid press. Moriarty, of course, is the sinister Paul Dacre, editor since 1991 of the Daily Mail, a horrid profiteering organ whose most recent outrage was the monstering of the kindly Ralph Miliband ('The Man Who Hated Britain') just for being left-wing – in a desperate effort to smear his son Ed, leader of the Labour Party.

This titanic struggle is driven by two huge issues. To force a public debate on how we're all at risk from scrutiny by sinister security services, a fearless Rusbridger has published selected documents from the cache of secret intelligence documents provided by an idealistic whistleblower, Edward Snowden, forced to seek refuge in Russia from a vengeful US. Rusbridger uses his power responsibility, exercising his judgement to decide what intelligence material might be damaging to Britain's national security.

Yet as it traduced Miliband, so the Mail traduced The Guardian, with such hysterical headlines as 'The paper that helps Britain's enemies'.

A dignified Rusbridger showed that attack to editors of distinguished newspapers from all over the free world who have flocked to defend him. Enlightened politicians in Britain and elsewhere called for – in the words o fHillary Clinton – a "sensible adult conversation" about the boundaries of state surveillance.

But Dacre was already at war with Rusbridger, for it was The Guardian that broke the story about phone-hacking that led to the Leveson Inquiry into the conduct of the press, that aired the shocking stories of innocent victims, who formed the "Hacked Off" pressure group to press for the proper implementation of Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations.

The three main political parties in Britain have agreed to pass a Royal Charter to set up a regulatory system to safeguard the innocent from the worst excesses of an irresponsible press, with which Rusbridger is broadly happy. Dacre, however, is the driving force behind press opposition.

But what else would one expect when one looks at the priorities of both newspapers?

The Guardian has neither proprietor nor shareholders, but is owned and directed by a Trust that reinvests any profits "to sustain journalism that is free from commercial or political interference" and maintain the paper's liberal values of "honesty; cleanness (today interpreted as integrity); courage; fairness; and a sense of duty to the reader and the community."

The Daily Mail, however, is purely commercial: its chairman, the fourth Lord Rothermere, inherited his controlling interest and its success has been founded on peddling prejudice, bile and low gossip.

However, there's another interpretation. After all, Rusbridger's breathtaking arrogance is destroying his newspaper and now threatens the security of the West. Devoted to the online edition, he has allowed the physical newspaper's circulation to wither to 189,000 and losses run at £100,000 (€118,000) a day.

He has also endangered his country and the West. Sir David Omand, once Britain's homeland security adviser, says Snowden's leaks are "the most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever" and that it's "pretty much inconceivable" that Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies haven't copied all the material he stole.

Jack Straw, who under Tony Blair served as Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Lord Chancellor and so might be expected to know what he's talking about, says of The Guardian: "Their sense of power of having these secrets and excitement – almost adolescent excitement – about these secrets has gone to their head. They're blinding themselves about the consequence and also showing an extraordinary naivety and arrogance in implying that they are in a position to judge whether or not particular secrets which they have published are not likely to damage the national interest, and they're not in any position at all to do that."

Where domestic press freedom is concerned, ironically Rusbridger has been in the censorship camp, influenced by one-issue bullies like Hugh Grant of Hacked Off to support a back-of-the-envelope deal conducted at 2am in Ed Miliband's office between politicians and Hacked Off, with no press presence. Since the expenses scandal, politicians have been bent on revenge, and if this Royal Charter goes ahead, Britain will face press censorship for the first time in the last three centuries.

Rusbridger despises the Mail, which, incidentally, sells two million copies, because, as Dacre put it: "[It] constantly dares to stand up to the liberal-left consensus that dominates so many areas of British life.'' It is despised by the metropolitan elite for representing the traditional values of Middle England, and given no moral credit for such brave campaigns as the search for justice for Stephen Lawrence and for the victims of the Omagh bombing.

Could it be that Dacre is Holmes and Moriarty is Rusbridger?


Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards