Comment un événement singulier, une disparition, un fait-divers simple mais poignant car enfance et innocence en formaient le cœur, devint, porté par une houle médiatique déferlante, une effervescence nourrie comme un grand fauve, une ténébreuse affaire. Comment la liberté d'expression s'y trouva en danger. Et ce qu'on peut en apprendre sur la nature humaine.
Grâce à la liberté dans les communications, des groupes d’hommes de même nature pourront se réunir et fonder des communautés. Les nations seront dépassées. Friedrich Nietzsche (Fragments posthumes XIII-883)
Robert Jay : You explain
that you're the founder and owner of Northern & Shell plc,
acquired the Express group of newspapers, in which I'm of course
including the Daily Star and the Daily Star Sunday, in November 2000;
is that right?
Richard Desmond : To be
precise, we actually launched the Daily Star Sunday about seven years
ago, in fact.
RJ : Okay. And you also
explain that you've been a media entrepreneur throughout your working
life. You founded Northern & Shell in 1974. Your first career was
in magazines, then you moved into television -- of course you didn't
lose your magazines -- Channel 5. In 1993, you started OK! Magazine,
and then in November 2000 you acquired these newspapers.OK! Magazine
you describe as one of the most successful magazines in the world. We
are going to hear from them next week. What is your business model in
relation to OK! Magazine?
RD : To
provide great editorials and great -- and a great product they all
want to buy every week.
RJ : Okay. How would
you define, if I ask you this question, your business model in
relation to the Express Group of newspapers?
RD : If you
go back to November 2000, basically Lord Hollick, who owned the -- or
should I say at United Newspapers Lord Hollick was the chief
executive of that newspaper group. I don't believe he owned any
shares, I believe it was about 3 per cent of the United News business
and he didn't like newspapers, he didn't like the Daily Star. He had
turned the paper to Labour, to be a Labour paper, I believe he's a
socialist peer, and the paper was a left-wing paper and when we
walked in -- I mean, basically the only other people that were going
to buy it were the Daily Malicious -- sorry, Daily Mail, who
obviously would just close down the Express and pick up the
circulation, and the other person that was looking to buy it was the
disgraced Conrad Black. So, really, Express Newspapers had had its
day and in 2001 they budgeted to make a loss of GBP 21 million, which
is quite a lot of money, even 11 years later, but it was certainly a
fortune 11 years ago. So our first thing we had to do was take a grip
of the economics of that group, and basically get rid of what I would
call -- or as Jethro Tull would call living in the past, because, you
know, these guys -- you know, I remember comments from the editorial
people, "What are you talking about? The Express is like roast
beef, it will be there forever, it's part of the history of Britain,
there's no problem at all with the Express". In the meantime, it
was losing, as I say -- budgeted to lose GBP 21 million, and the
Daily Star was selling around 400,000 copies a day, and one of the
reasons why it was selling 400,000 copies a day is because it wasn't
being given enough money in particularly in the photographic area,
and we felt that the Daily Star had an opportunity to grow because it
was so badly produced in the past. So we felt by backing the editor,
by putting more money into the editorial on the Daily Star, by
looking at the chess correspondent, who was based in Latin America,
or the New York bureau, one person in New York, all this sort of
nonsense and grandism that surrounded the paper at the time, we felt
that by taking a firm control of that we could, you know, get the
magazine -- get the newspapers back into profit. Plus, of course, we
were able to -- you know, we enjoy selling advertising space, and we
enjoy partnering with people, and basically, you know, we like to
work with advertisers as opposed to being arrogant and stiff-necked
with these people, and we were able to increase the advertising. So
basically that was the main thing. And, I mean, they had -- an
example, I don't know what this means to you, but they had 100 reps
on the road with cars. From our experience of running magazines,
we've tried every single aspect of trying to increase circulation,
and basically the way it works is the whole -- the way it works is
you have around 50,000 retail outlets and you have the wholesalers,
and the wholesalers get delivered magazines or newspapers and they
deliver to the retailer. Now, the only way the wholesaler makes money
or the retailer makes money is on their sale, okay, and they don't
want returns. So another example of our good business was cutting the
amount of copies that were coming back. I think at the time it was
something like 300,000 copies a day of the papers coming back on
returns, which we took down to 200,000 copies a day, because what is
the point in just having waste? So all these sort -- I can go on and
on, but that was basically the -- that was basically the way that we
-- that was the first priority, was to -- you know, West Ferry
Printers, they had 690 staff. You know, we were able to operate quite
efficiently with 550 staff, the West Ferry Printers.
Lord Justice Leveson : So
what you're talking about is sharpening up the business ethic?
RD : Yes, or
running it as a business. It really wasn't -- you see, the trouble
is, with media, they are living things and you have to -- well,
probably I'm sure if you're a baked beans manufacturer it's the same
thing, but certainly with media, my experience, you have to love
these products, you have to live these products, and if it's just
part of a huge group which isn't loved and lived and looked after,
then, you know, the end result is going to be what it was. It's the
same, frankly, with Channel 5. We bought that last year, I think it
was, and it was owned by a German group called RTL and they managed
to lose GBP 15 million a year for 14, 15, 16 years. We were able to
turn that into a profit within a month just by simple housekeeping.
Not because they weren't good, because they weren't in this country.
You have to live and breathe these things, and you have to understand
the business. I think a lot of these other groups don't really
understand that it is a business, and, you know, there's more to life
than the chess correspondent based in Latin America.
RJ : So when you took
over this business, you grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, you
reduced costs where they could be reduced, you sought to increase
advertising and were you successful in both of those objectives, Mr
RD : Yes,
we were. It was very easy, very quick. Within three months we had it
into a profit. You know, I remember one of the things -- we were
talking about the private investigators, and one of the things I
remember is walking around the floor and there was a room with a lot
of scruffy geezers and I said to the editor, "Who are they?"
"Oh, I can't tell you who they are". "What do you
mean, you can't tell me?" "Oh, it's the investigative
department." So I said, "What is it?" "I can't
tell you." So Paul, who is in charge of that area, found out
what they did. They were special investigators, you know, sort of
bugle stuff, Dan Dare stuff. And then the final thing was I think the
first week they asked for £5,000 or £10,000 of cash, or the editor
at the time asked for that, to pay these geezers, shall we call them,
to do their private investigative work. My reaction was the last
thing we're going to do is to start paying out cash to people, we
don't know what they're doing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So I
said to Paul, "You know what? I don't like the whole thing".
Paul didn't like the whole thing. "You know what, cut the whole
area. No one knows what it is and it seems a bit dodgy." What
makes me laugh is a few weeks ago we're sitting on the Parliamentary
Committee around the table and there's my friend Lord Hollick sitting
there asking me about newspapers, whereas he was the chief executive
of that company that employed these people. I do find it ludicrous,
RJ : Were these people,
as you've put it, were they employees of the company?
RD : Yes.
Employees of the company.
RJ : So they weren't
freelancers, they weren't independent contractors?
RD : No. It
was a very important area, you know. Very important, very secretive,
important area. But we cut it out within -- I think within a week or
two weeks. I think that's probably why we made so many friends in the
first few weeks, because we did cut a lot of these type of people
out. If we didn't know what they did, we got rid of them.
RJ : Were you applying
here some ethical principle or was it simply a commercial principle?
RD : Well,
it was a legal thing, really. I mean, you know, we do not pay out
cash without receipts. I mean, I never have done since I started my
news magazine in 1975, and I certainly wasn't go to start 25 years
later paying out thousands of pounds of cash every week to -- you
know, without ... ridiculous. That was the ethos of the company. I'd
never seen anything like it, hundreds and hundreds of people, all
very important. In the meantime, the circulation is going down, the
advertising is going down. As I say, budget to make a loss of GBP 21
RJ : Some have said,
particularly in relation to the Daily Star, that costs have been cut
too much and that has led to a diminution in standards and a cutting
of corners. Would you accept that?
RD : Absolutely not. We've invested more in the Daily Star than, you know
-- just look at the product. It's fantastic. At the end of the day
the reader decides, and 11 years ago we were selling about 400,000
copies a day and now we're selling 700, 800,000 copies a day in a
mature newspaper market, shall we say. I think it's fantastic what
we've done on the Daily Star, but the readers have decided, you know,
they can't get enough of it.
RJ : What interest, if
any, do you have in ethical standards within your papers, or is that
purely a matter for the editors?
RD : Well,
ethical, I don't quite know what the word means, but perhaps you'll
explain what the word means, ethical.
RJ : I think it's
paragraph 22, perhaps, of your statement. You make it clear
everybody's ethics are different:"We don't talk about ethics or
morals, because it's a very fine line."
RD : I'm
RJ : Paragraph 22.
RD : Is it
on page 6?
RJ : It is, yes.
RD : Yes.
RJ : "It's a very
fine line". The very use of that term or language would suggest
that certain things are on the right side of the line and certain
things are on the wrong side of the line. Can we agree about that?
RD : As I
say in my statement, we don't talk about ethics or morals because
it's a very fine line and everybody's ethics are different.
RJ : It may be you
don't talk about ethics or morals because you simply don't care less
about them, or it may be, as you say, that there's a very fine line
and it's often difficult to say what falls on which side of the line.
I'm not quite sure what you are trying to tell us there, Mr Desmond.
Could you clarify?
RD : I'm
trying to tell you exactly what I said in my statement, which is we
do not talk about ethics or morals because it's a very fine line, and
everybody's ethics are different.
RJ : One should go on,
in fairness to you: "We do, of course, care about the title's
reputation and so would not run a story if we thought it would damage
that or seriously affect someone's life."
RD : Well,
RJ : Yes. So that is an
ethical consideration, isn't it?
RD : Of
RJ : Different
proprietors enter this business for different reasons. Some because
they think they might acquire power and influence, some because they
think it might flatter them in some way, but what would you say was
your reason both entering this business and continuing in it?
RD : Just
about over the 25 years of magazines, we covered music magazines is
where we started, bicycle magazines, mountain bike magazines, adult
magazines, reader magazines, attitude magazine, stamps magazine,
Liverpool Football Club -- you know, every single magazine, venture
capital magazine, OK! Magazine, you know, which is the biggest
magazine in the world on the news stand. And so therefore we were a
bit stuck as to what to do, and I had offered, or we thought we had
tried to buy Express years before, because we'd seen the way the
management -- we thought the management was useless, hopeless, and we
thought we could do a better job, and we thought the price was around
400 million, which was in fact turned down, and then we saw a
leaflet, what do you call it, a flyer from Merrill Lynch saying how
Express Newspapers were finished and how it was only worth between
GBP 75 and GBP 100 million, and I thought, oh, GBP 75 to GBP 100
million, we're making around 20 million at the moment and we had
about 30 million -- well, we didn't have about, we had exactly 30
million, so I knew that we could borrow the rest and buy that group
and make it better and restore it back to its true glory, which is
what we did.
RJ : So you make it
sound as if -- but I may be wrong -- that it was largely because it
was commercially attractive, it was a business opportunity?
RD : Of
course. The same way as Channel 5.
RJ : Apart from it
being a business opportunity, is there anything else which attracted
you to the idea of being a newspaper proprietor?
RD : No.
RJ : Okay. Because some
proprietors in the past have had enormous influence over politicians.
RD : I'm
not a -- you know, I remember meeting Mr Blair for the first time
when we bought the papers. He was very nice, we talked about --
fortunately, we talked about music and drums, which is my passion,
and as we walked out of the door, he said to me, "Well, who do
you support then?" I said, "Pardon?" He said, "Who
are you, left, right, you know, one of us?" I said "Honestly,
mate, I'm not really interested in politics". And he said to me,
"You will be", and interestingly on my way back to the
office I got hijacked by Porter who said, "What are you? Are you
a Tory or a socialist?" I said he seems a nice fellow, Blair, so
I was a socialist.
RJ : We've heard from
Mr Hill that the paper changed direction, perhaps re-entered its
natural habitat before 2005.
RD : Yes.
RJ : Did you have any
interest in or influence over that decision?
I felt that I betrayed Tony, as a mate. I felt he was a good bloke, I
thought he was doing a good job, I liked him. You know, he came to my
house, I went to his house or flat or whatever you want to call it. I
thought he was a good guy. So I felt on a personal level bad, but at
the end of the day Peter Hill runs the editorial of the paper and
that was the decision that he made.
RJ : And it's a
decision, therefore, which from my understanding of what you just
told us that you didn't oppose. Because you could have overruled it,
it could be said?
RD : We
don't really work that way.
RJ : Okay.
LJL : That's quite important. So for you, a proprietor of the newspaper,
that's not to persuade people to adopt your approach to anything; for
you it's a commercial venture?
RD : A
commercial venture, of course. I say of course because -- I mean,
that was -- you're right, because I remember when we first walked
into Express, the then managing director said, "How often are
you going to be coming in?" I said, "Mate, I've just
written out every penny in the world I have, plus mortgaged the
company up plus mortgaged myself up, I'm going to be here every day
from 7 o'clock in the morning until 10 o'clock every night seven days
a week", and that confused everybody. You know, they thought it
was a wicked plot, or I don't know what they thought, but I was there
that amount of time to turn the company or to help turn the company,
with the team, into a profitable business.
not to exercise editorial influence?
RD : No.
I'm not an editorial man. I'm an advertising man. My father was in
Pearl and Dean advertising. I started off selling classified
advertising. That is my area of expertise, but I'm not even sure of
that any more. I think I'm probably a bit past it in that. But that
is an area of expertise, that's my expertise.
RJ : Did Mr Hill
explain to you that moving back to the Express's natural allegiance,
the Conservative party, might improve circulation or did that not
enter into it?
RD : I
think the conversation was really -- it was a radical move for Peter
to suggest, but I knew the facts were my mother and father bought the
Daily Express, who were middle market Conservatives, and I knew --
yeah, he was right to do that. He wasn't wrong to do that at all.
RJ : In terms of having
one's finger on the commercial pulse, you explained in paragraph 13
you look at your ratings -- this is the last sentence of it -- and
your competitors' ratings, and of course here we're talking about
circulation figures, aren't we?
RD : Mm-hm.
RJ : Do these come to
you daily, the circulation figures?
RD : We see
the figures daily, but they're meaningless, really, because nothing
really moves. I don't know why you look at them every day, really,
because all you're doing -- we're praying for miracles, but the
circulation figures of newspapers are pretty static. I mean they're
only going one way. But apart from that, there's nothing really
exciting to see.
RJ : But of course you
have improved over the years the circulation figures you say of both
the Star and the Express?
RD : We
haven't increased the circulation of the Express. We're in line with
the market on the Express. The Daily Star, we have increased the
circulation and we have launched the Daily Star Sunday from nowhere
to selling around 800,000 copies every Sunday now.
RJ : There are
fluctuations, though, in the circulation figures. Are you able to
identify what it is, if anything, which is causing them?
RD : The
fluctuations, I mean, you know, I don't know what world these people
live in. The fluctuations, we're talking about on 700,000 or 800,000,
you might be talking about a fluctuation of 10,000 copies, which is,
just to put it in commercial terms, which is 10,000 times 30p, which
is £3,000, less the cost of production, less the cost of
distribution, less the cost of everything. You're talking about maybe
£1,000. So the only growth you really get is if you do, you know,
cut the cover price, which we have done in the past, where you've
given DVDs, where you stick £5 notes on the front page -- that's
always a good thing, you always increase the circulation with that.
What else is there? That's about it, really. Or £50 is even better.
But that is really the only way, you know, with respect to
journalists, editors in this country, that is the only way that you
increase circulation. And having a good story, you know, an idea of a
good story to one person, you know, might be a bad story to the other
person. In any event, we're talking about such a small amount of
copies that it doesn't translate into meaningful figures profit-wise.
RJ : I might come back
to that point in a moment, Mr Desmond, but I'm dealing now with
general points. Mr Ashford told us that when you started in 2000 you
were somewhat of an outsider, culturally and geographically?
RD : Oh,
did you see the cuttings?
RJ : Mr Desmond, it
helps if you don't ask me questions.
RD : Okay.
RJ : Just give me an
answer which makes it clear where you're coming from.
RD : We
were vilified, we were pillared, we were attacked. The only thing I
wasn't accused of was murder. I think that was the only thing I
wasn't accused of. I think I was accused short of murder.
RJ : Are you referring
to all your competitors or are you referring just to some of them?
RD : Well,
no, pretty much -- you know, I mean the Mail were the worst, because
they were upset that they hadn't bought the Daily Express. In fact,
you know, a day after we bought the Express, they came in and said
aren't I lucky I made £100 million because they wanted to buy it
from me and I said that's not what I want to do. The Mail were upset.
The Telegraph were upset because they had this joint venture with a
printing company and basically they were having, you know, a great
time with the previous management of Express running rings around
them and they knew they weren't going to run rings around me. So they
were upset because they weren't able to steal the printing plant from
us. Then the Guardian were upset because we came from left field, so
nobody knew who we were and, you know, we didn't really, you know --
you know, we were cutting their friends' jobs, so they didn't like
us. Then we had the Sunday Times, I can't remember why they didn't
like us, but, you know, they wrote lovely things about us. No, it was
pretty evenly spread. The Independent. The Mirror, the Sun, I can't
remember them, but they probably did have a go, but compared to the
others, I think we were let off lightly.
RJ : So the notional
proposition that there might be some sort of anti-aggression pact
between you as a proprietor and other proprietors is something you
would laugh out of court, wouldn't you?
RD : I
would. I mean, only two weeks ago, Baker vilified me in his horrible
RJ : Are there
non-aggression pacts between other papers, to your knowledge?
RD : I
RJ : I think you made
it clear that the Daily Mail is, as it were, your worst enemy. Is
that a fair way of characterising it?
RD : I
think it's Britain's worst enemy, the Daily Mail.
RD : I
think, you know, their tone on the -- their tone and everything is so
negative and so disgusting, that --
right, yes. I think we'll just move on.
RJ : I think we will
progress. Looking further on in your statement, Mr Dacre --
RD : I'm
RJ : Sorry, Mr Desmond.
You've got me completely on the wrong --
RD : Dacre
is the fat butcher.
right, all right. We'll allow you one, Mr Jay.
RJ : I lost sight of
the ball only temporarily. I'm aware where I am. Paragraph 17, this
is your relationship with editors about issues and giving your
opinions. Can you identify, please, the sort of issues which you
would be interested in and the sort of opinions which you give?
RD : I like
to go down -- you know, if you work for a company -- when I was a kid
of 15, 16, I worked for Thomson Newspapers, I used to like it that
Lord Thomson would come around and have a little chat about the
classified advert. I don't know if everyone remembers who Lord
Thomson was, but he was -- does everyone know who he was? He was the
-- I'm sure everyone knows who he is. Was. And, you know, I liked
that style. So when it comes to the editorial floor, you know, we
employ around 500 editorial people and I think it's good that they
see that I'm interested enough to walk around at 6 o'clock or 7
o'clock or 8 o'clock at night and have a little chat about, you know,
the City or about football or around these sorts of things. And I
will hopefully look at the cover the next day and sometimes I will
say, "Why don't you look at changing the top part, the colour of
the top part, because it's not quite, you know -- it could be
brighter", or, "Have you thought about putting caps on",
or, "Have you thought of this or that?" Sometimes they say,
"Good idea", and sometimes they say, "No, we're doing
it like that". It's more to show interest than anything else.
RJ : You're
demonstrating a keen interest rather than to influence the direction
in which the paper might go, is that --
RD : Yeah.
I do walk around the finance department, and do similar things, you
know, to the credit controller, you know, "How's the ledger",
or to the paper buyer, "What's the price of paper?" or to
the advertising department, "How is this advertiser doing, how
is that advertiser doing?" I think that's important as the boss
to show interest and sometimes come up with an idea that might help
RJ : Can I move on to
paragraph 18, the withdrawal from the PCC, which is a decision the
board took --
RD : Yes.
RJ : -- in January of
last year. So it's obviously not one that the editors took.
RD : Mm-hm.
RJ : Was it you who
drove that decision?
RD : Not
really. I think -- you know, this whole, you know, association thing,
we're not natural members of any clubs. When we were magazine --
well, we are still magazine publishers, but when we were only
magazine publishers, we were never members of -- what was it called?
The PPA, Periodical Publishers Association, because they didn't
respect the people involved in it. So we weren't ever members of it.
The fact is we ended up, after many years, having the biggest
magazine on the news stands of the world, so, you know, most of these
guys have gone out of business. So when it came to the MPA, it was a
similar attitude. We call it the biscuit and tea brigade, they all
sit there and talk a lot of rubbish and be hypocritical and then try
to stab you in the back, so it wasn't our natural area. They had a
thing called the Newspaper Marketing Association, which was around
GBP 50,000, GBP 60,000 a year, which I didn't want to do but the
board decided to carry on with. It went on for four or five years and
then the managing director in charge of advertising sales said to the
board, "We need to spend now a quarter of a million pounds a
year on this Newspaper Marketing Association", and I said,
"What's it going to do?" He said -- he tried to explain
what it was going to do and I couldn't understand it, so I asked them
to bring in the chief executive of the Newspaper Marketing
Association and they explained to me that everyone was putting a
quarter of a million pounds to help sell advertising to advertisers
and to give awareness to newspapers, which I couldn't quite get,
because I think newspapers are pretty prominent in 55,000 outlets and
millions and millions of copies every day of newspapers are being
sold, and we ourselves have a sales team of over 100 people selling
advertising, and so do the other newspaper groups, they may have
more, so what was the point in being members of this newspaper
marketing association? "Oh, you have to be part of it, you'll
see your revenues go down and you'll see the future of newspapers"
and da da da da da. What finally did it for me was what we do -- we
try and encourage promotion in the group and, you know, one the
little girls at reception was working in my office three days a week,
17-year-old, 18-year-old kid, bright girl, and we were paying her, I
don't know, £17,000, £18,000 a year, and she gave her notice in.
Out of interest I said, "Where are you going?" She said,
"I'm going to the Newspaper Marketing Association". I said,
"Oh, very good, congratulations". She said, "Yes, I'm
going to get £35,000 a year." This was an association that our
competitors, idiots, I say, had basically -- just nonsense. So when
it came to the PCC, you had that thinking behind it, plus you had the
fact, you know, of the way they strung out poor old Peter Hill,
because at the end of the day, all the newspapers were doing the
same, you know, plus or minus, you know, it was a major story, and
basically I saw it that we were the only honest ones and
straightforward ones. We stood up and said, "Yes, we got it
wrong, there's the money for the McCann fighting fund, let's try and
help find McCann", the poor little girl, "Let's get rid
of it, put it on the front page and apologise properly", which
is what they did. Then to see the chairman of the PCC, whatever his
name is, you know, stand on BBC television and vilify Peter Hill and
vilify Express Newspapers was sort of a final -- you know, like a --
you know, that was like the final straw. Because I felt it was a
useless organisation run by people who wanted tea and biscuits and
phone hackers, you know, and it was run by the people that hated our
guts, that wanted us out of business, that tried every day to put us
out of business, and yet smiled at us and were completely
ineffective. I mean, what else do you want me to say about the PCC?
RJ : Can I ask you two
follow-up questions, please, in the context of that answer? The first
is: aren't you treating the PCC as if it was some sort of trade or
marketing organisation rather than at least an attempt to regulate an
RJ : I'll come back to
that, if I may. Secondly, in relation to the McCanns, if one accepts
that other newspapers also defamed the McCanns, accept that, would
you not accept, though, that given the, if I may say so, the
systematic and egregious defamations which your newspaper perpetrated
on the McCanns, that it's a bit rich to blame the PCC for failing to
provide you with guidance, as you say under paragraph 18 of your
RD : Yes.
RJ : Because, after
all, it was up to your editor not to behave in such a way. Would you
RD : No,
not at all. Every paper -- I didn't bring every paper with me, but
I'm sure we can justify my statement -- every paper every day for
that period of time was talking about the McCanns. It was the hot
story -- it was the story. And poor old Peter Hill, you know -- I
remember that night after he was attacked by the chairman of the PCC,
I remember calling him at 11 o'clock at night. I think he was
convinced I was going to fire him. But I didn't fire him, I spoke to
him from 11 o'clock for about two hours and my ex-wife spoke to him
for about an hour afterwards, you know, because he'd done to the best
ability -- report the facts. And unfortunately, when it came to it,
as he said earlier, I mean, it's fair to assume that the Portuguese
police that were giving him the information would have been a
RJ : Hmm. When the
stories were being published between, I think, September 2007 and
January 2008, did you take any interest in those stories at all?
RD : Not --
interest, of course, but -- you know, I would go down, "What's
happening now? What's happening?" It was a big -- I remember
going to people's homes or social functions or charity raisers and
10, 15 people would come up to me, "What's going on with the
McCanns?" It was a big, big, big story. Everybody was interested
in the McCanns and everybody had a view about the McCanns.
RJ : I understand that,
Mr Desmond, but in your discussions with Mr Hill, did it come out
that in his view the perpetuation of these stories increased
RD : No,
RJ : But you had your
finger on the pulse of circulation, did you not?
RD : Well,
I saw the figures every day and basically the figures don't move, as
I said earlier on.
RJ : I think you're
saying Mr Hill's perception is incorrect and that the McCann stories
could not have increased circulation; is that right?
RD : With
respect to editors, editors have to believe that by putting a good
story in, they're going to sell more papers. They have to believe
that. The day they don't believe that is the day they go home and
play golf, or whatever ex-editors do. They have to believe by running
a big story that the sales will go up, but that doesn't necessarily
correlate, or it may do for a week. You know, you have to understand
that, you know, the commercialities of a newspaper basically is
selling advertising. And advertisers, you know, if the circulation
goes up by 100,000 copies in the month, 100,000 copies in the month
is divided by 25 days, which it is 4,000 copies a day, which is not
going to make -- the advertiser isn't going to go, "Whoopee, I'm
going to pay you 4,000 of 700,000 or 800,000 extra money, but the
advertiser is sophisticated and looks upon the circulation over a
six-month period or maybe a 12-month period and the advertiser is not
stupid. He knows that, you know, if a paper gives away a DVD and it
goes up by 200,000 on a Saturday, you know, 200,000 copies divided by
25 is only 8,000 copies a day and it's not on that day anyway. But
the editors have to believe by writing a -- I don't want to be rude
to editors. They have to believe and it's right they believe that it
will lift copies, but unfortunately, you know, we are in a non-growth
business, and, you know, that's where it is. You know, this Inquiry
is probably the worst thing that's ever happened to newspapers in my
lifetime, because it means -- you know, it's very hard at the moment
in Britain in business, you know, it's very, very hard. The banks are
very tough on everybody, it's very difficult to get money and borrow
money. It's very difficult to do anything, frankly, and therefore
people are looking at every single penny they're spending, and if
they believe that newspapers are basically dishonest hacking low
lifes, I suppose is the word, you know, then they're not going to buy
newspapers. And the last few months, the sales of newspapers have
never been so bad. One of the reasons is -- and I'm not blaming the
Leveson Inquiry, I'm blaming the source of the Inquiry, which is the
hacking thing, which should have been nailed on the head years ago,
and not left to go on for so many years. I've never known anything
like it. Hacking is illegal. Why are these people still walking the
streets? You know, it's ridiculous that we're all -- the amount of
money, time, expense, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, we're all
putting in to look at, you know, this, that and the other, when these
companies have committed criminal acts and should be prosecuted.
LJL :Don't you think it goes beyond that?
RD : Beyond
Don't you think that there are significant areas where it is
important to see how one can ensure that people buy papers because
they trust the content that they see, they trust the way it's been
obtained appropriately -- I won't use the word ethically, but
RD : Right.
with respect to people's rights, and it is measured and balanced and
accurate, as opposed to what you just see on the Internet?
RD : I
agree 100 per cent. Absolutely.
isn't this, therefore, an opportunity to make sure that that is how
your business proceeds? I'm not talking about you personally; I'm
talking about across the range.
RD : I hope
so. Frankly, I'd rather get rid of this, you know, prosecute the
people that have committed offences and get on with business. And
have a proper RCD board of proper business people, legal people. You
know, I like Lord Hunt. He came in to see me, I think he's a very
good fellow, very sensible guy, you know, grey-haired guy. There's no
angles, he wants to do a good job, have proper people that, I think
Paul said earlier on, when things are being written at the time,
bring it up then, not at the end and not try and pretend it's a
little cosy club and, you know, definitely in the new committee ban
do you mean -- I'm sorry, you have to explain -- RCD?
RD : Richard Clive Desmond.
I see. Sorry, I'm obviously slow myself.
RJ : Can I just go back
to the McCanns and raise one question? You're concerned, I think, at
the lack of consistency in the position the PCC took in singling out
RD : Yes.
RJ : -- the Express in
particular, is that --
RD : Absolutely. First of all, I apologise to the McCanns and we have
apologised to the McCanns and we have put it on the front pages and
nothing would give me greater pleasure to find Madeleine and, you
know, we've tried on many, many, many occasions to, in spite of some
bad editorial, to try and find Maddie. So if I can just put that.
Basically, every other paper was doing the same thing and yet, I
forget his name, the ex-chairman and his cronies thought, "We'll
hang out Peter Hill and the Daily Express". They should have all
stood -- I think they should have all stood up and said, "You
know what, we've all wronged, let's all bung in 500 grand each",
which would have been GBP 3 million. In fact they did in the end,
they probably spent more than £500,000. But we could have all done
it as a united body, which might have been better instead of singling
RJ : But isn't it fair
to say, Mr Desmond, that if you look at the hard facts, I think the
McCann litigation involved 38 defamatory articles. It is right, and
Mr Ashford has drawn to our attention that there are other newspapers
who also perpetrated defamations, but not to the same extent as your
RD : Is
that -- I'm not sure that's right. I'm not sure that's right at all.
RJ : If it's wrong, Mr
Sherborne here, who -- the McCanns are his client -- will demonstrate
that in due course, but it's certainly my understanding that we're
talking about 38 defamatory articles over a four-month period and
that your paper was guilty, if I can put it in those terms, of the
most egregious and serious defamations, and other papers were guilty
of defamations of perhaps less severity in terms of quantity. Do you
RD : Once
again, I don't wish to minimise it, right? But four months is -- let
me see now, it's 12 weeks?
RJ : It's 17 weeks, on
RD : 17
weeks, thank you. 17 weeks times 6 -- you have to help me again.
RJ : 102, is it, Mr
Desmond? I don't know. You're the businessman.
RD : Well,
I don't know. 102, very good. Is 102.
RJ : Yes.
RD : And
there were 37 --
RJ : 38.
RD : I'm
not trying to win points here, because we did do wrong, but I could
say there were more, if there were 102 articles on the McCanns, there
were 38 bad ones, then one would say -- and I'm not trying to
justify, please, I'm not trying to justify anything, but you could
argue there were 65 or 70 good ones.
RJ : But the effect of
the bad ones are really twofold. One, the possible pragmatic effect,
namely if people thought that Madeleine had been killed, there would
be less interest in trying to find her. Do you follow that?
RD : From
my memory, and it was a long time ago and -- but I mean it was just
the story every day. It just went on all the time, was she killed?
Was she --
RJ : You are not
listening to my question and the, I would suggest, inexorable logic
behind it. If people thought Madeleine might have been killed,
particularly by her parents -- it doesn't matter by whom actually --
there would be less incentive to try and find her. Do you agree with
that proposition or not?
RD : No.
Because if you take Diana as an example, you know, all these
situations where no one actually knows the answer, as it turns out,
it just goes on and goes on.
RJ : Mr Desmond, I'm
beginning to sound irritated, but I am. There is no comparison
between these two cases because to be absolutely stark about it, in
the case of Princess Diana we have a dead body. What has that got to
do with the McCann case, please?
RD : Well,
you know, there has been speculation that Diana was killed by the
RJ : Mm?
RD : And
the speculation has gone on and gone on and gone on and there has
been all sorts of speculation about Diana, and you know what? I don't
know the answer. And if you go into a bar or coffee shop or whatever
the thing is, and you start talking about Diana, you will get a view
on Diana and you will get a view, and once again I do apologise to
the McCanns, you know, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, but there are
views on -- there are views on the McCanns of what happened. And
there are still views on the McCanns of what happened.
RJ : But that argument
would justify newspapers such as yours publishing anything it liked
at any time because it could say, "There's always another point
of view"; would you accept that?
RD : Probably not.
RJ : Again, there's an
inexorable logic behind it which must be right, isn't there?
RD : What I
think is free speech is very important and if we get any more
regulation -- I mean, what are we trying to do in this country? Are
we trying to kill the whole country with every bit of legislation and
every bit of nonsense? You know, I go to Germany, I put OK! Magazine
into Germany. A British company, we go into Hamberg. The Mayor of
Hamberg -- we have 30 people working there six years ago -- the Mayor
of Hamberg welcomed me in, gives us, the company, 500,000 euros and
says, "Welcome to Hamburg", you know. In this country I
want to put a new print plant up in Luton. We go to Luton, you know,
we have a warehouse, we buy a warehouse in Luton, 11 acres, 12 acres.
Luton, as you may know, is on a road called the M1. The first
objection is that we may clog up the roads at 2 in the morning by
having lorries come out of our printing works. Okay? Then we go the
next objection and just more objection, more objection, more
objection. The bottom line is how much more -- at the end of the day,
we put our printing plant up and the MPs walk round it on our opening
night and I said thank you very much but what have you done to (a)
encourage me, to encourage businesses, to encourage anything, to
invest in the future the newspapers? So, I mean, if we think that
newspapers are important, which I do, and you do, otherwise you
wouldn't be here, you'd be doing other things, we have to be in a
situation where people do have opinions and ideas, et cetera, et
cetera, et cetera, which, to the best of their ability, if you take
the case of the McCanns, you know, we did send journalists or
reporters or whatever you want to call them to Portugal to get the
facts. We did do, you know, everything reasonable, or Mr Hill did
everything reasonable to make sure he was getting the facts and
getting the stories across. At the end of the day, the McCanns, you
know, as I understood it, although I've never met them, were
perfectly -- if we ran it for four months, you know, it took them a
long time to get involved in a legal dispute with us. They were quite
happy, as I understand, in articles being run about their poor
daughter, because it kept it on the front page. I think it was only
when new lawyers came along, who I think were working on a
contingency, that the legal --
RJ : I can't --
RD : Well,
that's the facts. I'm sorry, that is the facts.
RJ : Mr Desmond I'm
going to interrupt you.
RD : I'm
sorry, that is the facts.
RJ : That must be a
RD : I'm
sorry, that is the facts.
RJ : Your paper was
confusing the McCanns on occasion of having killed their daughter.
Are you seriously saying that they were sitting there quite happy,
rather than entirely anguished by your paper's bad behaviour?
RD : I'm
sitting here --
RJ : Just think about
the question before you answer.
RD : I'm
going to answer your question, and I've already answered it. We ran
-- on your suggestion, we've run 102 -- your figure, 102 articles.
For four months you say we ran it, right? Nothing happened, to the
best of my knowledge, until a new firm of lawyers were instructed,
who were on a contingency, that then came in to sue us. And, you
know, I mean that's a fact. Up until that stage, as I understand Mr
Hill, they had a PR company who were working alongside Peter Hill and
the team. But once again, please, I do apologise to the McCanns. I'm
not trying to -- I am very sorry for -- you know, I am very sorry for
the thing and I am very sorry that we got it wrong, but please don't,
you know, try and -- every paper was doing the same thing, which is
why every paper, or most papers, paid a -- paid money to the McCanns.
Only we were scapegoated by the chairman or the ex-chairman of the
RJ : Mr Desmond, it's
clear that your position is, in relation to regulation, that really
you think newspapers should be left to get on with it, and you don't
think there should be any regulator at all, do you? That would be
your truthful answer?
RD : The
truth of the matter is in 1976 --
RJ : Can you say "yes"
or "no" and then expand?
RD : Well,
I'm going to answer you.
RJ : Okay, please do.
RD : In
1975 when we started International Musician, you know, when you start
a new publication and you're 22, 23, it's very important -- the
advertising is very important. And basically in the first issue one
of our major advertisers was called Marshall, Marshall Amplifiers. In
the first issue, Marshall had brought out an amplifier which was
solid state. Before that he was known for valve amplifiers. The
reviewer in the first issue said, "This amplifier will
electrocute you, this amplifier should be withdrawn from the market."
You know, you can imagine how I felt, having sold Marshall loads of
advertising and, you know, a friend, in inverted commas, a business
friend in inverted commas, but at the end of the day the article went
in, Marshall went berserk and we lost the advertising for six months.
But what happened was after six months Marshall did withdraw the
amplifier, yeah? And he did then put his advertising back in for his
valve amplifiers. The point of a long-winded story is that I learned
at the age of 22 that actually the editorial integrity is the most
important thing, and you -- you know, thank God we did the right
thing and nobody was electrocuted, and back to papers, to answer your
question directly, I think that Lord Hunt of Wirrell, surrounded with
a couple of lawyers, surrounded by a couple of proper editorial
grandees, not malicious people with -- what's the word? -- whatever
the word is, and, you know, I think we'd all be very happy. You know,
if you have this body, you have to have people you respect. You can't
have people you don't respect. And you can't have people in there
that are hanging you out to dry and you have -- who have ulterior
motives and who lie.
RJ : So you would
return, is this right, to a newly constituted body or whatever it's
RD : I
think RCD's a good name, isn't it?
RJ : With a
constitution you would respect; is that right?
RD : As
RJ : But unless and
until that happens you would not return?
RD : As
simple as that. At the end of the day, I stay in this country because
I respect the government and I respect the laws of this land. If I
didn't respect the government and didn't respect the laws of the
land, I would leave. As you would.
RJ : I think you've
made your position clear about regulation and the sort of body we're
looking at. Do you hope to expand your stake in other national
newspapers if the opportunity arose?