Magazine article The Spectator

Why Does Downing Street Encourage Dirty Des? Because He Threathens the Daily Mail

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Does Downing Street Encourage Dirty Des? Because He Threathens the Daily Mail

Article excerpt

MEDIA STUDIES

One of Richard Desmond's heroes is Rupert Murdoch, who was profiled in glowing terms in the most recent Sunday Express. The proprietor of the Express group regards the Australian-born adventurer as an outsider like himself. In fact, Desmond is far more of an outsider than Murdoch. His fortune is based on his pornographic magazines and television channels, some of which by my definition are hard-core. By comparison Murdoch - Oxford-educated, son of Sir Keith - is almost out of the top drawer. But Murdoch's Sun did take on and topple the established Daily Mirror, introducing a new brand of popular journalism including `Page Three girls'. Desmond hopes to work a similar trick on Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail.

It is tempting to write off Desmond as a loudmouth who knows very little about national newspapers. But there is no question that he is making advances. The pornographer not infrequently pops into No. 10 - he was there last week with his editors - and is on good terms with Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications. His newspapers are not in too bad shape, either. He has made enormous cost savings at the Daily Express, and more or less stabilised its circulation decline. While continuing to support New Labour, the paper has become a sort of clone of the Daily Mail, admittedly without its resources or its brio. (Here I must again declare an interest as a columnist on the Mail.) Desmond's success with the Daily Star is more marked. Its new editor, Peter Hill, certainly has the magic touch when it comes to tit 'n' bum. The paper has increased its sales by more than 15 per cent over the past year from a relatively low base. Although the Daily Star's circulation is still less than a quarter of that of the Murdoch-owned Sun, there is no doubt that it is beginning to worry its powerful rival, which, unless I am mistaken, has increased its own quotient of tit 'n' bum by way of a response. One may wonder, by the way, why Murdoch should be friendly towards Desmond when the Daily Star is attempting to do down his mass-circulation red-top. Perhaps because they share a common enemy in Associated.

To stem the decline of the Daily Express, and to make some progress with a paper like the Daily Star, may not seem an enormous achievement. But it suggests that Mr Desmond should be taken seriously. He did, after all, successfully launch OKI magazine as a rival to the established Hello!. Now he is planning to launch a free London evening newspaper in competition with Associated Newspaper's London Evening Standard and its free morning title, Metro. On the face of it, this seems a near-suicidal challenge. Associated has considerably deeper pockets than Desmond. The company also understands the complexities of distributing hundreds of thousands of newspapers within London in a few hours. It was largely poor distribution which did for Robert Maxwell's London Daily News in the late 1980s. But Desmond probably understands newspapers better than Maxwell ever did. If he cracks distribution, he might succeed with a down-- market free sheet which offers the celebrity mix he understands so well. Such a paper would hardly drive Metro or the Evening Standard out of business, but it would certainly irk Associated.

The question is whether Richard Desmond is the next Rupert Murdoch. I doubt very much whether he has Murdoch's twisted journalistic genius. But, like the young Murdoch, he is dangerous because he has no reputation to lose. …

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