In a piece published on Saturday, the Mail claimed that Ed’s father, the Marxist historian Ralph Miliband, was ‘the man who hated Britain’. That this claim was based on one diary entry written when the man in question was seventeen didn’t stop the article from extrapolating that Miliband Senior hated the nation in which in lived. Nor did it stop it from alluding that his views may well have been passed on to his sons. The fact that Ralph Miliband arrived in Britain after fleeing from the Nazis, and then served the nation in World War Two, somehow failed to be emphasised.
Fuel was added to the fire when the Daily Mail printed Ed Miliband’s impassioned right of reply. The paper surrounded this response with not only the original piece, but a new article entitled “an evil legacy and why we won’t apologise”.
Commentators have alighted upon the weakness of the Mail’s argument, their own history when it comes to Nazism, and the fact that the loved ones of public figures should not be used as journalistic fodder, but the fact remains that the UK’s second most widely read newspaper published this article in the first place.
The influence of newspapers within British politics is well documented. They have the power to win or lose elections for political parties and are a key factor in shaping public reactions to policies, stories, or in this case, individuals. Whilst it’s crucial to retain a free press, it shouldn’t get personal, and across the political spectrum, many are asking has something not gone wrong when they feel free to print something like this? News publications will understandably have a political bias, but some believe that this latest incident represents an editor using their paper as a public vehicle to pursue a very personal vengeance.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg have spoken out in support of Ed Miliband’s opposition to the piece, alongside the majority of other newspapers. People have expressed their disagreement with the article by posting tongue in cheek examples of why #MyDadHatesBritain on Twitter. The outcry is perhaps a sign that the public are not willing to stand for such journalism in a post-Leveson society. Last night Alastair Campbell turned up the temperature even further, by attacking the Daily Mail on Newsnight.
This incident serves as a reminder to both the media and the public about what newspapers are for. They should inform and interest us, keep us up to date with current affairs, national politics, and global developments, provoke discussion and spark debate. To deviate too far from this – as we have seen this week – is a dangerous game.