Cameron’s Mail tampering is bad news for press freedom

Benedict Spence

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Topics Politics UK

It’s not entirely surprising to hear that former prime minister David Cameron urged Lord Rothermere, the proprietor of the Daily Mail, to dismiss its editor Paul Dacre. According to Newsnight, it was on account of the Mail’s vehement Euroscepticism and fierce criticism of the government in the run up to the EU referendum.

The revelation has made headlines across the British press, with many quick to highlight the longstanding personal animosity between Cameron and Dacre as a key reason for this botched assassination. However, it is the deeper current here, of the political class’s attitude towards the press, that is more concerning.

Elected politicians meddling in the media is nothing new. In fact, this is exactly the sort of behaviour that has so alienated politicos from the masses. That Cameron thought he could warp the will of the people and derail Brexit by getting the Mail onside is not only illiberal, it’s insulting to the intelligence of readers.

That, for so long, politicians like Cameron have been so friendly with the press does not sit well with the public. And such intimate ties can soon give way to outright hostility and temper-tantrums when a powerful politician doesn’t get his or her way. But Cameron’s attempt to directly dictate the Mail’s editorial line is enough to make your skin crawl.

We can expect to hear far more of this sort of thing in the coming months – not only as Brexit nears, but also as the government decides whether or not to push ahead with Section 40, which would force publications to sign up to a new state-backed regulator or else face harsh financial penalties.

Perhaps all this is a sign that, post-Leveson, politicians feel more emboldened than ever to meddle in newspapers’ affairs. In a way, we should be grateful to Cameron. His bungled attempt to flex his muscles with the Mail has revealed how little respect he and others in the political class have for the free press.

Benedict Spence is a writer based in London.

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Topics Politics UK

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