First Published: October 2019
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
The era of Paul Dacre as Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Mail has come to an end. He'd been in the role for more than 26 years and in that time was at the forefront of right wing media bemoaning and demeaning every step forward in equality. May, Cameron and Blair all suffered his wrath, and they weren't the only people who didn't like the line taken by what's been described by some as a reactionary, neo-fascist tabloid rag masquerading as a "traditional values" middle-class newspaper. So what's the truth?

Shit stirrer or mere mirror to the masses? Has gay hate icon, the Daily Mail, ever shown any sign that it was starting to mellow? OutUK's Adrian Gillan asks veteran mainstream media watcher Terry Sanderson.

"You must have the strength to eschew fashionable opinion and write for your readership - I think a lot of media are now run by liberal, politically correct consensors who just talk to each other and forget that in the real world there are people who feel differently.

I don't think you can have a newspaper editor who's not married with children - they wouldn't understand the human condition.

Many gays are more sensitive to that condition than heterosexuals are, but you really do have to understand those areas of life to edit a paper."

Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief, DMg

HIV and asylum; paedophilia and sex education; new employment rights and army widow's pensions; famous queers and that Corrie kiss - you name it, they've trashed it. Synonymous with homophobia, it's the paper all self-respecting gays have come to hate for its seemingly blatant promotion of prejudice, intolerance and discrimination. But has the Daily Mail always been thus inclined? And are there not subtle tell-tale signs of change?
"It's always been aimed squarely at so-called Middle England," assures veteran media hawk Terry Sanderson who's been grubbing his mits scouring mainstream newsprint for the last thirty years.

"It pitches at those comfortable suburbs and county or market towns which are less used to social change than the bigger cities. It plays on fears of what they don't know but have only heard of, feeding and fanning insecurities - those gays, gypsies and refugees!"

The Daily Mail infamously supported Oswald Mosley and his Black Shirts during the last war and its broad strategy and target readership have been in mind since it launched in 1896. However, it was Sir David English's twenty one year editorship (1971-92), spanning the first two decades of the modern gay rights movement, which really set hot metal aflame.

Presses Sanderson: "English was a populist of the first order. He established the Daily Mail truly within the mass market for the first time. He was a brilliant editor when it came to knowing his audience and pressing the right buttons. And the Daily Mail is still one of the most successful operations in a waning British newsprint market."

He rolls on: "Before English, there was a generation of silence. Apart from major incidents like the Oscar Wilde trial, homosexuality was taboo and people used euphemisms. Then 'gay' entered the language and was great for snappy headlines - as well as words like 'woofter' in the eighties! The whole 'Looney Left' concept was in fact an English invention, used to batter a then left-wing Labour Party for making commitments on gay issues."

"The paper's hostility to homosexuality is quite irrational," rejoins Sanderson, "even though - unlike other tabloids that tend to shoot more from the hip - it tries to rationalise it. Threat to the family and such! But the sinister thing about the Daily Mail is that - unlike the Daily Telegraph - it doesn't report news straight. It distorts it, especially headlines. It also plays on stereotypes - all gay people are like this or that - and states unsubstantiated opinions as if they were plain fact, pandering to ignorance, pre-conceptions and prejudice. And then there's innuendo."

But Sanderson thinks there have been significant shifts since Paul Dacre took over as editor in 1992: "He's softened it a lot - he's out to woo women readers and has done so very successfully. The news coverage is still pretty fierce but features can often be more sympathetic. They might carry the odd 'Furnish with Elton' type piece, focusing more on the clothes and fittings doubtless, but better than some old vile news item about a couple of famous perverts."

"I like to think," he muses, "that things may have also changed in part since the traditional male readership has softened its views too, but I don't know. At least once a week there's still a major gay story, so it's certainly not off the agenda. I still open it now and am shocked by the brutality."

Dacre also has a "strategic role" across other DMg newspapers titles, including the Metro and the Mail on Sunday. The Sunday paper launched in 1982, is bigger than the Daily Mail and has its own editor but a similar agenda, perhaps with more celebrity and sex stories. Interestingly - although there is an unsurprising dearth of gay journalists on staff - both titles employ token left-wing columnists, perhaps in order to stir up the odd outraged letter whilst also immunising the papers from charges they are utterly one-sided, should push come to shove.

Sanderson even partly agrees with Dacre's claim that much left-wing press is overly PC, failing to examine both sides of an issue or discuss things fully and honestly: "There is sometimes a grain of truth in the arguments the Daily Mail puts forward on various issues, but then they take it a stage too far and become extreme - which doesn't help the debate."

Meantime, our watchman keeps his eyes peeled on other papers jostling the Mail's realm: "It will be fascinating to see what happens should the Daily Telegraph run a tabloid version like other broadsheets now do - it might then be aiming for a very similar reader. And since Rosie Boycott left the Daily Express, that paper has been lurching right again - in direct competition with the Daily Mail - especially on asylum-seekers. So there's clearly a huge market there."

But is the Daily Mail - alleged arch inciter of gay hate, which arguably even has queer blood on its hands - in fact little more than a highly-attuned barometer, merely reflecting certain deep-seated insular responses within the Great British Psyche and that very middle market?

"I've been asking myself that question for the last twenty years," admits Sanderson, "and I still don't know the answer. I wouldn't be surprised if they research their readers' existing views and then - together with a bit of instinct - pitch themselves straight at it. They well know that many social phobias lie just beneath the surface, not least anti-European sentiment at the moment in the light of Brexit. So it's probably a two-way process - they both reflect things and stir them up."

And the Daily Mail's hacks have certainly had much to get het up about recently: new employment law, partnership rights, the Sex Offenders Register, C28 repealed, the Sexual Offences Bill and of course same-sex marriage - to name a few!

"But there's been a significant shift in their coverage of such news," discerns Sanderson, somewhat brightly. "They still routinely trash gay progress - claiming new employment rights were a PC Europe-driven stitch-up which should be done away with and that equal marriage marks the end of traditional marriage as we know it. But instead of doing it in a sustained way like they used to, there's now almost an air of resignation - like putting up a token fight and then moving on, albeit begrudgingly."

"Indeed," he concludes with a faint glimmer, "over the last twenty years they've always had to move with the times. Readers are now better informed and get their information from a wider range of independent sources. So they can't skew facts in quite the way they used to. And more people now know someone who is openly gay - and it's harder to hate what you know."

Writer and columnist Terry Sanderson is author of Mediawatch: The Treatment of Male & Female Homosexuality in the British Media (1995, Cassell).


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