Today’s Daily Mail provoked outrage in some quarters with its front page suggesting the welfare state moulded the appalling Mick Philpott into a self-centred sponger who killed six children.
There is no doubt it was a powerful splash that was bound to attract criticism.
I was one of its detractors. This is what I said in a tweet:
— John Wilson (@johnwilsonWN) April 3, 2013
But thanks to the febrile post-Leveson environment in which newspapers are currently operating, some of the criticism of the Mail is beyond the pale.
Some commentators claimed it is further justification for the regulation of the Press.
But let’s be clear about something. Under the admittedly discredited Press Complaints Commission’s Editors’ Code of Practice, newspapers have a duty only to be accurate. They are entirely free to be partisan.
Critics of the Mail might not agree with its editorial stance on the Philpott case (and many other issues besides), but they are misguided in trying to bully the paper into reflecting their own views of what is right and wrong. Or, worse, wishing to invoke a regulator to prevent it speaking its mind (a taste of things to come?).
The strength of the British Press lies largely in it being boisterous and opinionated.
Hacked Off and its righteous supporters want a tame, imparital, bland Press to dutifully inform us without raising our hackles.
Frankly, they are living in cloud cuckoo land. If all we had were newspapers like that, no one would read them.
We need newspapers to be colourful and lively, to take a stand, to provoke us, and to question on our behalf the rich and powerful and the systems that govern us.
We should not resent newspapers that pursue their own agendas. The more the better. We are free, after all, to read those that share our outlook on life and reject those that do not.
I would certainly rather have two sides battling for my heart and mind than one.
The enemies of the Mail passionately believe they are in the right. But the paper is bought by nearly two million people every day. Many of them would, I suspect, beg to differ.