Gove defends newspapers' 'right to offend' in Miliband row

Michael Gove says a free press could be upsetting but "that's the price we pay for liberty"

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Education Secretary Michael Gove has defended newspapers' "right to offend" and said the Daily Mail should not apologise to Labour leader Ed Miliband for a story criticising his father.

The newspaper has said using a photo of Ralph Miliband's grave had been an "error of judgement" but stood by its story claiming he had "hated Britain".

Mr Gove, whose wife writes a column for the Mail, said politicians should not "tell editors how to do their job".

A free press was "raucous", he said.

But former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine said the Mail article that caused the row was "demeaning".

In Saturday's article, journalist Geoffrey Levy suggested the beliefs of the late Marxist academic Ralph Miliband, who died in 1994, had influenced his son's politics.

Analysis

Ed Miliband's anger at the Daily Mail was clear enough.

There is no sure-fire way of knowing, though, how many voters share his outrage.

The party says a webpage inviting comments in support of Miliband's position has garnered some 16,000 messages.

The number of complaints to the PCC though is, so far, dwarfed by some previous rows about press conduct.

The sight of a clearly upset Miliband may have grabbed voters' attention in a way few speeches could mange.

Not for the first time, Labour's leader is defining himself by opposing powerful papers, and debating their ethics.

But the Daily Mail stands by its report, its headline, and its view that Ralph Miliband's politics are relevant and important.

And the Mail matters because it is so popular: the second best read paper in Britain, with a successful website.

However many voters sympathise with a son defending their father, this row is highly unlikely to affect the newspaper's success, or its influence.

Ed Miliband has said he does not share his father's ideology but the Daily Mail has maintained it was fair to scrutinise the beliefs of his father as the Labour leader has talked of him being an influence.

In a right of reply in Tuesday's Mail, Mr Miliband said his father, a Jewish refugee who fled Belgium aged 16 to escape the Nazis, "loved" Britain and had served in the Royal Navy.

The Labour leader said he was "appalled" that having allowed him to respond, the paper then repeated its original article and wrote an editorial saying his father had had an "evil legacy".

'Furious'

Labour is seeking an apology from the newspaper for its decision to publish a photo on its website of Mr Miliband's grave, accompanied by the caption "grave socialist", a move the Labour leader said had left him "furious".

The newspaper said the picture had been removed from its website after Mr Miliband had complained.

But it has insisted the original article's headline - "The man who hated Britain... The answer should disturb everyone who loves this country" - was "justified" when read in conjunction with the whole article .

Mr Gove, who was a journalist before entering politics, said the Mail should not apologise for the original story since it was newspapers' job to hold politicians to account and, on occasion, to "upset" them.

"Newspapers should not apologise to politicians for being robust. We need a free press that is robust, raucous and, by definition, will sometimes offend," he told BBC Two's Daily Politics programme.

Ed Miliband, with his father Ralph in 1989 Ed Miliband pictured with his father Ralph in 1989

The education secretary, one of the strongest opponents of statutory regulation of the press following the Leveson inquiry, said a free press was "precious" and he would continue to make the case for it.

"I don't think politicians should tell newspaper editors how to do their job.

"I think it is a bad thing is politicians try to cajole, coerce or try to influence editors."

'Hatchet job'

But Lord Heseltine said the article was effectively a "hatchet job" and the newspaper had gone too far.

"I personally thought the article was carrying politics to an extent which is demeaning frankly," he said.

"As everybody knows, the guy [Ralph Miliband] fought for the country and we now live in a totally different world to the clash between fascism and communism."

Former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Moore, who studied under Ralph Miliband at the London School of Economics, said it "beggared belief" that he could be accused of a lack of patriotism.

The Daily Mail's Jon Steafel and Alastair Campbell clash on Newsnight

"I never heard him ever say one word which was negative about Britain - our country," he said in a statement.

"The people of this country are good and decent too. They do not want the Daily Mail attacking the dead relatives of politicians to make political points."

Labour peer Lord Sugar said shareholders of the Mail's owner, Daily Mail and General Trust, should "demand the resignation" of editor Paul Dacre.

Speaking on Channel 4 News, he urged companies "as a punishment, to pull temporarily" their advertisements from the paper.

The Labour leader's office said it had received 10,000 emails supporting Mr Miliband's decision to speak out against the Mail, more than on any other issue.

The Press Complaints Commission said it had received 384 complaints regarding the article, compared with 5,000 for a story in the Sun last year about England manager Roy Hodgson. Labour has not made an official complaint.

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said this was a hugely personal matter for the Labour leader.

But he said Mr Miliband's reaction also had a political spin-off in him being seen to stand up to sections of the press expected to attack him ahead of the next election.

Wednesday's edition of the Daily Mail devotes four pages to the ongoing row and includes an abridged version of its editorial from the previous day.

It also highlights the support given to Mr Miliband from the prime minister and deputy prime minister on Tuesday for defending his father, as well as reflecting views from both sides of the debate by other political figures and its readers.

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