Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

As Westminster rails against the Daily Mail, advertisers' silence speaks volumes

Don't you just love the Daily Mail? It's not something you always hear on London's media circuit, but the popularity of Lord Rothermere's 117-year-old news brand is irrefutable.

Monday to Friday, the newspaper enjoys readerships in excess of four million, which rise to more than 4.7 million for The Mail on Sunday. Meanwhile, Mail Online plays a pioneering role as one of the most successful news sites in the world. Its heady, celebrity-induced mix of more than 200 daily news and video posts attracts more than 46 million visitors.

As different as they are, collectively the Mail brands really do occupy rarefied space in British media. The papers are among the last true, mass market print products, while many users of Mail Online visit its homepage several times a day. Among the claims being made by the publisher this year is that its digital output is "more addictive than Twitter", based on monthly visits per user (15.3 versus 10.8).

Don’t forget this backdrop. As twisted as it sounds, it takes a certain confidence to launch a full-bloodied attack on the deceased father of the Leader of the Opposition.

This time, Middle England’s flag-bearer appears to be out of kilter with the public. The majority of readers think the portrayal of Ralph Miliband was wrong and that the paper should apologise for labelling him as "the man who hated Britain", according to a YouGov survey. But it’s not as clear-cut as you might think, with only 57 per cent feeling it should say sorry. Its editor, Paul Dacre, is clearly not among them.

'It takes a certain confidence to launch an attack on the deceased father of the Leader of the Opposition'

As poisonous as I found it, the truth is the Mail’s attack on Miliband is entirely in keeping with the brand and has failed to truly spark outrage outside Westminster. So when Lord Sugar, among others, called on advertisers to boycott the title, he was whistling in the wind.

Agency sources confirm they did field concerns from advertisers asking if they should respond to pressure groups and individuals targeting them on Twitter. The response was clear: "Do not comment in any way."

Surprising, perhaps, given the fate of the now-defunct News of the World. But, unlike the murder of the 13-year-old schoolgirl Milly Dowler, this is still considered to be a 'political story' – meaning any brand dragged into it would have become highly-politicised, and the political cycle is notoriously erratic and quick to move on.

A precedent was set during the phone-hacking scandal, when some believed that clients could play an active role in keeping media owners in line. John Whittingdale, the chairman of the media select committee, raised the idea of advertisers using their spending power to bolster a new press regulator as an alternative to statutory underpinning. It is now becoming increasingly apparent this would have created as many problems as it solved, just like the two competing royal charters that have been tabled, and rejected, since then.