Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre has revealed that he thinks Rupert Murdoch has been responsible for dumbing down The Times and that Daily Express owner Richard Desmond "doesn't respect journalism".
In a rare interview, Dacre said: "I revere Rupert Murdoch and am critical of him in equal parts. With the Wapping revolution he has freed up newspapers more than any other force, which led to a huge renaissance in British journalism. That's him at his best. At his worst, I think he has dumbed down The Times and must bear some responsibility for that."
Murdoch is believed to have offered Dacre the editor's chair at The Times in the early 1990s, while Dacre was editing the Evening Standard.
Dacre said: "Yes, he's autocratic. I decided not to join him because I felt in the end — without being arrogant — that he would not accept my desire to edit with freedom."
Discussing the Express, the Mail's mid-market rival, and its owner, Richard Desmond, Dacre said: "It sells 800,000. It's run by a man who doesn't respect journalism, doesn't like journalism. I don't know what it says about politics when politicians take donations from people like that in order to get permission to buy a newspaper.
He added: "His circulation is in permanent freefall. He produces a very poor paper. I'm not going to mince my words. I thought it was a very sad day for Fleet Street when a pornographer was allowed to buy a once-great national newspaper."
In the Leeds Student article, interviewer Kevin Widdop noted that the only front page on the wall in Dacre's office is one headlined "Murderers" from February 1997 showing the five youths accused of Stephen Lawrence's murder.
In July this year, the Mail reprinted the splash following new evidence on the Lawrence case emerging in a BBC documentary.
Asked if his heart was beating heavily going to bed the night after printing the story, Dacre said: "It certainly bloody was, I could have gone to jail over it. We knew all the background on those thugs. We knew how evil and bad they were and how guilty they were, and it was monstrous that we were to remain silent.
"I do think the way Stephen Lawrence was treated was appalling. I am very proud of everything the Mail did on his behalf and also to change both the public's and the police's perception of justice for black people in Britain."
Dacre denied that Stephen's father, Neville Lawrence, had been his decorator, but did admit "he had done several days plastering work in my house some years previously".
He said he believes the quality press were now in direct competition with the Mail. "We've put on about 800,000 circulation in the past 10 years, and every year more and more people have moved their tents onto our lawn. The Times is clearly going for the Mail, the Telegraph is going for the Mail. Even The Independent, in going tabloid, is a less serious paper. And they're all obsessed by the middle market."
Widdop approached Dacre, a former editor of Leeds Student, a year before the interview took place this summer, after three cancellations.
Widdop said: "I spoke to a number of journalists and a couple of government sources about him, and a couple of people said, ‘he's a monster', but far from being the ogre-ish character beloved of Private Eye's Street of Shame, he was charm personified."
n Dacre is to give the next Cudlipp Lecture at the London College of Printing under the title: "Britain has a gloriously free and diverse media. Pull the other one…!"
He follows in the footsteps of Michael Grade and Andrew Marr when he gives the third annual Cudlipp Lecture at the LCC in Elephant and Castle on 22 January.