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Mail row with Miliband deadlocked

Ed Miliband's bitter battle with the Daily Mail appears deadlocked after the newspaper made clear it would not apologise for an article denouncing the Labour leader's late father.

Alex Brummer, the Mail's City editor, said it was the paper that was entitled to an apology after some Labour Party figures suggested its attack on Ralph Miliband, a Marxist academic, was motivated by anti-semitism.

"I don't think we need to apologise for anything. This was a piece which examined somebody's views very carefully," he said.

"I think there are people out there who need to apologise to us because there have been vicious accusations in the last couple of days, from (former Labour leader) Neil Kinnock among others, that somehow this was an anti-semitic attack."

Mr Miliband sought to distance himself from the claims of anti-semitism. "I don't believe that of the Mail, that's not been my issue."

But he stepped up his demand for the paper's owner, Lord Rothermere, to mount a full inquiry into his organisation's culture and practices after the Mail's sister title, The Mail on Sunday, sent a reporter to accost his relatives at a private memorial service.

Lord Rothermere has apologised to Mr Miliband for that incident but refused his demands for a wider inquiry into the way his newspapers operate.

However with proposals for a new system of the press regulation expected to be considered by the Privy Council when it meets next week, there were fears within the industry that the Labour leader could use the row to push for tighter rules.

A member of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry team said newspapers would be concerned if Mr Miliband's tried to use it as "a cudgel to try to beat the press".

George Jones, a former Daily Telegraph political editor and Press Association special correspondent who was an assessor on the inquiry, said issues of taste and decency in newspaper reporting should not be a matter for regulation.

"In my view, if you go down that road you do seriously compromise freedom of speech," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

"I think Ed Miliband does have an agenda here beyond what is his perfectly natural and filial right to defend his father and stand up for his own family. He is perfectly entitled to do that.

"Where I worry about it is that if he is trying to broaden this into an attack on the press, an attack on newspapers, I think he is misguided.

"Even though I personally found some of the Daily Mail coverage of Ed Miliband distasteful I still think that newspapers have to be free to report these things and take strong stands, strong opinions, even if people don't like them."

Chris Blackhurst, group content director for The Independent and the Evening Standard, also expressed concern that the dispute could affect the Privy Council's deliberations.

"To only have one article in their minds, in a way that would be really improper and I hope that doesn't happen," he told BBC News.

"Part of the row is the press versus politicians, the Daily Mail against a leading politician, and you have to hope they put that to the back of their minds, but they are only human."

Mr Miliband denied that he was "picking a fight" with the Mail.

"I don't want to be talking about my family but I felt I had to, given what happened with my dad and what happened at my uncle's memorial service," he said.

Appearing on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Brummer insisted the culture and practices at the paper were rigorous and that it had some "good ethical roots".

He said that as a senior Jewish journalist on the paper, he had been asked by the Mail's editor, Paul Dacre, to do the interview in order to nail the "canard" that the article about Mr Miliband senior had been motivated by anti-semitism.

The aim, he said, had been to try to understand the roots of the Labour leader's policies in the wake of his party conference speech last week in Brighton.

"It came right out of the Labour Party conference, out of his speech, where we felt ... there was quite a lot of rhetoric that was anti-free enterprise," he said.

The newspaper had a right to explore the Marxist views which "were rampant in the house in which Ed Miliband was brought up, and were heard at the breakfast table every morning ... it tells you why he has such a low regard for free enterprise".

Labour seized on a suggestion by Mr Brummer that the article should have been clearly labelled as comment as evidence that the newspaper's defence was "crumbling".

"Sometimes articles which are comment should be labelled and made clear that they are comment," Mr Brummer told Channel 4 News.

"So perhaps it should have said 'comment' on it to make clear absolutely it was comment instead of a special report.

"But I think people understood that it wasn't just reporting, there was an element of commentary to it, just maybe the labelling wasn't quite what it should have been."

A Labour spokesman said: "Six days on from their original article, the Daily Mail's defence is crumbling.

"For the first time, they have been forced to admit significant problems in the way they dealt with the article 'The Man Who Hated Britain'.

"They should now finally have the good grace and decency to acknowledge their grotesque error of judgment and apologise."

The newspaper told the programme that its position had not changed.

From Belfast Telegraph