It’s very rare to see a real live media magnate skewered in public but that’s what happened yesterday to Express Newspapers (and Channel 5) owner Richard Desmond yesterday at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics in the UK.
Desmond even tells the Inquiry’s probing lead counsel Robert Jay that he doesn’t understand what the word ‘ethics’ means (did he think it was the way people with a lisp pronounced Essex?) although he may have been a tad disingenuous.
He also completely failed to justify the Daily Express’s outrageous coverage of the abduction of three-year old Madeleine McCann back in 2007, at one point the paper virtually accused Kate and Gerry McCann of doing away with their daughter themselves.
Desmond was on rather firmer ground when he said that the phone hacking scandal that began at the News of the World (and led to the establishment of Leveson) had been disastrous for the commercial fortunes of the UK newspaper industry: “If [people] believe that newspapers are basically dishonest, hacking, low-lifes . . . then they’re not going to buy newspapers, and [in] the last few months, the sales of newspapers have never been so bad.”
But Desmond himself (who originally made his money publishing porn magazines and still owns a number of TV pay-per-view porn channels) has hardly been an ornament to his grubby trade. His daily and Sunday newspapers have been accused by former employees of inventing stories and he seems more eager to use the papers to boost his other businesses, like Channel 5 television and OK! magazine than report the news.
That Desmond is a shrewd businessman there can be no doubt. And his willingness to take on the mighty Daily Mail, inter alia he called Mail editor in chief Paul Dacre a ‘fat butcher,’ shows he isn’t afraid of a fight. Beyond that, arguably the UK’s most powerful home-based media magnate is a bit of a worry.