Nadine Dorries, the UK’s new Culture Secretary, has had some colourful clashes with the media over the last decade.
She has brought IPSO cases against local and national papers, had a spat with one of the titles in her Bedfordshire constituency, but also defended a free press on multiple occasions.
She is also a known sceptic of the BBC licence fee and a critic of the broadcaster’s history on representation of women having organised a Parliamentary debate on gender balance in broadcasting.
The mid-Bedfordshire MP since 2005 became best-known when she appeared on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity in 2012.
Of her new job at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Dorries said on Thursday evening: “It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours and I’m already loving it.”
Nadine Dorries and the media: A chronicle of colourful encounters
Dorries last year accused the Liverpool Echo of publishing “fake news” – a claim which the newspaper’s political editor Liam Thorp quickly debunked by sharing her own words in Hansard, the Parliamentary record.
Just months earlier Dorries was one of a number of MPs rebuked by Downing Street for sharing a video posted by a far-right account on Twitter wrongly claiming Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer blocked the prosecution of grooming gang members when he led the Crown Prosecution Service.
A No 10 spokesperson said: “The MPs involved have been spoken to by the whips’ office and reminded of their responsibility to check the validity of information before they post on social media sites.”
Sharing a Guido Fawkes blog on Twitter, Dorries said of the BBC: “‘Are they bothering with impartiality any more?’ The answer is no. The public are paying a fee/tax for a biased left wing organisation which is seriously failing in its political representation, from the top down.”
Dorries backed the Government’s resistance to Labour MPs and peers pushing for an inquiry being established into allegations of data protection breaches committed by or on behalf of news publishers.
“Nobody in this or the other House should ever fail to stand up and question the press,” she said. “We know what has happened in the past, and people should always question the press, but there is a line, and it is that line to which the Government are adhering today.
“I have full respect for [Tom Watson] and his campaign, as he knows, but there is a line, and that line should not be crossed.”
She said on Twitter she was not backing the curbs on the press but said: “Given cavalier attitude of press pre-Leveson I hope there will always be an MP regardless of party speaking out in order that cowboy days of phone hacking/misreporting/lying/destroying lives/paying for unfounded gossip never return. I support a free press and will be voting against.”
Dorries also revealed herself as a Times reader in Parliament.
Dorries condemned David Cameron following reports he asked Daily Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere to rein in the pro-Brexit views of Paul Dacre, then suggested he sack him, ahead of the EU referendum.
She said this was “distressing”: “I say this with a degree of shame: a leader of my party allegedly attempted to manipulate and distort the freedom of the press—not the editor of The Guardian, the editor of the Daily Mirror or a paper that subscribed to his world view, but the editor of the Daily Mail.”
Dorries asked a question in favour of the free press during a Commons debate about the EU-Turkey agreement. She raised “very disturbing reports recently of a newspaper office in Turkey being closed down for doing nothing more than publishing critical commentary about the Turkish Government”.
Dorries slammed the Barclay brothers, owners of the Telegraph, in the Commons, calling them “hypocritical” for being “notoriously aggressive in defence of their own reputations”.
“Some might call it hypocritical for owners of a British newspaper that regularly dishes out dirt to sue competitor journalists in a foreign jurisdiction,” she said, referring to their libel cases against BBC journalist John Sweeney and the Times in France.
Dorries also complained to press regulator IPSO about two stories and lost both.
She had claimed a Sunday Mirror story putting her at the centre of a police investigation into a potential breach of electoral law was inaccurate, despite police repeatedly confirming it to the newspaper.
She also argued against the Bedfordshire on Sunday, a local newspaper in her patch, describing a rival candidate as a marketing consultant who lived in the area and had campaigned against injustice. The candidate provided all the biographical details himself.
Dorries, who is also a best-selling author, banned the Telegraph’s Mandrake diary column team from a book launch party over what her publisher’s PR described as a “slew of nasty coverage”.
Her literary agent Piers Blofeld told Press Gazette: “I have never before in my career encountered this level of sustained abuse by a media organisation against one author,” claiming the Telegraph had published “sneery attack pieces” almost every day for a week. Readers can revisit the relevant coverage here and judge for themselves.
Later that year Dorries complained that she had “every national newspaper against me and not just for a day but for a month” because of her stint on I’m A Celebrity.
She told Parliament: “Of course, none of those newspapers said that Parliament was in recess. None of them said that I did not miss any Government legislation. None of them said that I had spent every day of the summer in my constituency office and the trip was my holiday. There were even Members who joined in the outcry against me, giving comments to the newspapers from their sun loungers from Barbados to Benidorm. Nobody said, ‘Oh, by the way, we are in recess’, and a massive media storm ensued.
“Even my local radio station, BBC Three Counties, went to my constituency and vox-popped constituents. It did not take comments from constituents who were backing me—it refused to do so. The national media created a perfect storm and rode on the crest of it for an entire month, giving them thousands of column inches.”
She added: “There was no national newspaper, political programme or radio station that did not have it in for me during that month when I was in Australia.”
Dorries backed proposals to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence fee.
She wrote in a blog post: “In this day and age, a tax on the ownership of a television is a completely outdated concept that totally fails to take into account changes in the media environment over the past 50 years… The BBC as an organisation has become too big, too badly designed and consistently badly managed.” She said the BBC’s “national treasure” status had been “overblown”.
Dorries threatened to nail a Sunday Mirror journalist’s testicles to the floor after he doorstepped her to ask about her daughter’s taxpayer-funded job.
She tweeted: “Ben Glaze of the Sunday Mirror has an interest in my three daughters which borders on decidedly creepy/ stalker-esque. Here is a message….
“Be seen within a mile of my daughters and I will nail your balls to the floor… using your own front teeth. Do you get that?”
Dorries said she would never again give a quote to her local newspaper, the Bedfordshire on Sunday. She claimed it specialised in “character assassination” and accused the newspaper, which closed in 2017, of indulging in “lazy journalism” by “stalking her Twitter account for easy copy”.
She claimed the newspaper “crossed a line” with a story repeating “lies” about her family, which were also published in a number of national newspapers. She insisted she had a good relationship with its rivals in the area and indeed did give her only interview before going into the I’m A Celebrity jungle that year to the Bedford Times & Citizen.
Also in 2012 Dorries told Press Gazette she planned to vote for statutory underpinning of the press if a Leveson Bill went before Parliament.
A few months earlier Dorries blasted her outgoing colleague Louise Mensch for claiming there was a clear public interest in The Sun’s decision to publish naked pictures of Prince Harry.
In a blog post for Conservative Home, Dorries said: “There was absolutely no public interest in publishing the photos. It was about a British newspaper chasing profit and failing to support our unique Royal family, who are, after all, just a family, with children like the rest of us who mess up every now and then.”
Dorries also opened a Commons debate about gender balance in broadcasting, urging the BBC to do better. She said: “Perhaps it is time the BBC took a long hard look at its political news and current affairs programmes on both radio and TV, because the way in which they are presented says, to me and everyone else, that the BBC believes that women are not capable of presenting such programmes, and therefore by implication that they do not watch them.”
She admitted to calling then-BBC star presenter Andrew Neil an “ageing, overweight, orange toupee-wearing has-been” and, although she said she was not proud of her comments, she said she made them because of the “outwardly sexist comments that that particularly rude man has made about female politicians on his This Week programme”.
She also claimed the BBC was “seen as the holy grail by the left”.
In a debate about self-regulation of the press Dorries said she had been “maligned time after time by page after page of pure lies” but had never gone to the Press Complaints Commission, IPSO’s predecessor, as she viewed it as a “toothless tiger”.
She agreed with former Media Minister John Whittingdale and Labour MP Michael McCann that there was a serious lack of confidence in the system of self-regulation for the press.
In a Parliamentary debate about phone-hacking Dorries described how the media “were allowed to reach a point of arrogance whereby, in pursuit of a sensational headline in order to sell newspapers, they believed that they were above the law, could flout the law, and could adopt the unlawful procedures that have been adopted in this instance.
“I imagine that that does not apply only to the News of the World. The News of the Worldhas been caught out, but how do we know that every newspaper is not acting in the same way? How do we know that our phones are not being hacked into at this moment by other newspapers?”
Picture: PA Wire/Victoria Jones