Former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre was named the London Press Club’s first ever “journalist laureate” at its annual Press Club Ball, at which the Fleet Street titan used his speech to take a swipe at the BBC.
He said the public-funded corporation “still plunders our journalism while missing no opportunity to denigrate the press and, by implication, our millions of viewers”.
Paul Dacre donated his £5,000 cash prize to the Journalists’ Charity, for whom the Ball raises money, and said he would use the gift of a “magnificent pen” to write his autobiography.
“It’s a running joke of course that I’m utterly useless at computers,” he said. “So I plan to use it to write my autobiography – its working title, by the way, is a Dish Best Eaten Cold.”
Dacre, 69, stepped down as Daily Mail editor this summer and is now chairman and editor-in-chief of Mail publisher Associated Newspapers.
More than 400 attended the Press Ball held at London’s V&A Museum with soprano Camilla Kerslake, the Brit award-nominated classical crossover singer, providing the entertainment.
Press Club chairman Doug Wills said: “It was a wonderful evening that celebrated the best of journalism in spectacular surroundings. We are grateful to all those in the industry who supported this special annual Press Club occasion which will have raised a substantial figure for the Journalists’ Charity. I would also like to pay tribute to the unstinting work of Press Ball co-chairman Ray Massey and Robert Jobson. They have been magnificent in selflessly giving their time and passion to making the evening such a success.”
Ray Massey and Robert Jobson said in a joint statement: “The London Press Club Ball is about fun and fund-raising for the Journalists’ Charity which aids those in our trade who hit hard times whether through ill-health, unemployment or sheer bad luck. We are once again exceptionally grateful for the support and generosity of all those attending.”
They added: “We are also pleased to have begun a new ‘tradition’ with the awarding of the inaugural Journalist Laureate honour – for excellence and leadership in journalism – to Paul Dacre.”
Mr Dacre was presented by London Press Club president Lord Black of Brentwood with a Montblanc pen in a specially inscribed case. He was also allocated £5,000 to be donated to the charity of his choice and chose the Journalists’ Charity, where it will form part of the total to be given to the charity from the Ball.
Paul Dacre said he was “delighted” to receive the award of “journalist laureate”, telling guests: “If only my old dad could see me now – a real life laureate.”
Dacre jokingly named Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn and Max Moseley in his speech, saying: “I can only hope that all these saintly individuals now see me in a new light and will give me the respect and affection I deserve.”
He said his father, Peter, who worked most of his life at the Sunday Express, was chairman of the Press Club between 1975 and 1976, while Dacre himself was in Washington working for the Express.
“In those days computers were an exotic technology and no-one had heard of the internet,” he said.
“It seems almost remarkable that back then journalism tools included carbon paper, scissors and glue, while in the print rooms and newspaper offices molten lead glistened in buckets…
“Well today Mail Online, a total digital operation, is the world’s biggest newspaper website.
“So, yes, much water has flown through the river Fleet since those days – and print journalism has had to cross many perilous bridges.
“But make no mistake, this is still a great industry that still punches way above its weight and still sets the news agenda for a BBC that still plunders our journalism while missing no opportunity to denigrate the press and, by implication, our millions of viewers.
“Well tonight, I salute you Fleet Street.
“Yes Fleet Street is going through a challenging time at the moment, but I promise mankind’s need for information… is as old as time itself.
“And authentic, as opposed to fake news, that obeys the law, that is self-regulating and is produced by brilliant, creative minds will survive and flourish.
“But also as old as time itself is the compulsion for the rich and powerful to control the free press, as we have seen so worryingly in Britain over the past few years as politicians – particularly in the second chamber – try to impose statutory regulation on newspapers.
“And we should also remember, as we learn of the Saudi journalist [Jamal Khashoggi] reportedly tortured and murdered, that our colleagues in other countries die for our trade.
“As [Lord] Northcliffe said the power of the press is great, the power to suppress is even greater.
“For my part… I have had a fabulously privileged life in journalism. Thank you again for this magnificent London Press Club award. I can’t tell you how proud I am to receive it.”
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