A SENIOR journalist on the Daily Mail has said the newspaper is owed an apology following suggestions its attack on Ed Miliband’s father was motivated by anti-semitism.
Alex Brummer, the Daily Mail’s City editor, yesterday repeated the paper’s stance that it will not say sorry to the Labour leader over a piece that branded his father, Marxist academic and former Jewish refugee Ralph Miliband, as “the man who hated Britain”.
He said: “I don’t think we need to apologise for anything. This was a piece which examined somebody’s views very carefully.”
Mr Brummer added: “I think there are people out there who need to apologise to us because there have been vicious accusations in the last couple of days, from [former Labour leader] Neil Kinnock among others, that somehow this was an anti-semitic attack.”
Mr Miliband, MP for Doncaster North, sought to distance himself from the claims of anti-semitism yesterday, saying: “I don’t believe that of the Mail, that’s not been my issue.”
But he stepped up his demand for the paper’s owner, Lord Rothermere, to launch a full inquiry into his organisation’s culture and practices after the Mail’s sister title, the Mail on Sunday, sent a reporter to question his relatives at a private memorial service.
Lord Rothermere apologised to Mr Miliband for that incident but has knocked back his demands for a wider inquiry into the way his newspapers operate.
However, with proposals for a new system of press regulation expected to be considered by the Privy Council when it meets next week, there are fears within the industry that the Labour leader could use the row to push for tighter rules.
A member of Lord Justice Leveson’s team during his inquiry into media standards said newspapers would be concerned if Mr Miliband’s camp attempted to turn the controversy into “a cudgel to try to beat the press”.
George Jones, a former Daily Telegraph political editor and Press Association special correspondent who was an assessor on the inquiry, said issues of taste and decency in newspaper reporting should not be a matter for regulation.
“In my view, if you go down that road you do seriously compromise freedom of speech,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.
“I think Ed Miliband does have an agenda here beyond what is his perfectly natural and filial right to defend his father and stand up for his own family. He is perfectly entitled to do that.
“Where I worry about it is that if he is trying to broaden this into an attack on the press, an attack on newspapers, I think he is misguided.
“Even though I personally found some of the Daily Mail coverage of Ed Miliband distasteful I still think that newspapers have to be free to report these things and take strong stands, strong opinions, even if people don’t like them.”
Chris Blackhurst, group content director for The Independent and the Evening Standard, also expressed concern that the dispute could affect the Privy Council’s deliberations.
“To only have one article in their minds, in a way that would be really improper and I hope that doesn’t happen,” he told BBC News. “Part of the row is the press versus politicians, the Daily Mail against a leading politician, and you have to hope they put that to the back of their minds, but they are only human.”
Mr Miliband denied that he was “picking a fight” with the Mail.
“I don’t want to be talking about my family but I felt I had to, given what happened with my dad and what happened at my uncle’s memorial service,” he said.
Appearing on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Brummer insisted the culture and practices at his paper were rigorous and that it had some “good ethical roots”.
He said that as a senior Jewish journalist on the paper, he had been asked by the Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre, to do the interview in order to nail the “canard” that the article about Mr Miliband senior had been motivated by anti-semitism.
The aim, he said, had been to try to understand the roots of the Labour leader’s policies in the wake of his party conference speech last week in Brighton.
“It came right out of the Labour Party conference, out of his speech, where we felt... there was quite a lot of rhetoric that was anti-free enterprise,” he said.
Mr Brummer added that newspapers had a right to explore the Marxist views which “were rampant in the house in which Ed Miliband was brought up, and were heard at the breakfast table every morning... it tells you why he has such a low regard for free enterprise”.