Steve Coogan
Steve Coogan criticises Mail Online's popularity Reuters

Actor Steve Coogan has launched a scathing tirade against Mail Online comparing its popularity to paedophilia.

A fierce opponent of the British tabloid press, Coogan, made the bizarre comparison during an interview with Total Politics Magazine after he was asked about the huge readers' traffic to the world's biggest news website, which he branded 'Mailbait'.

"Well, you know, paedophilia is pretty popular too," he told the magazine.

"Mailbait'...the website that has all the photographs about 12 and 14-year-old girls and talks about their bras and how fast they growing up and all the rest of it, which is on the Mail Online, and clearly has an appeal that goes beyond just the curious. That's hugely popular and all for the wrong reasons. It's at best creepy and at worst sinister."

The Alan Partridge star said neither was the popularity of its print edition, Daily Mail, Britain's biggest-selling daily, a good enough defence for its publishing practices.

He said: "During Weimar Germany people pointing the fingers at the Jewish community – that was very popular, it was a convenient scapegoat. Interestingly of course the Daily Mail played on people's insecurity in the 1930s.

"There was an influx of Jewish refugees from Germany and the old Lord Rothermere was an arch supporter of Adolf Hitler. As a newspaper it panders to people's worst prejudices and people like to have their prejudices reinforced and that's what the Daily Mail does. The notion that purely by definition of its popularity its beyond reproach is a nonsense."

Coogan, a prominent figure in the News International phone hacking scandal, who now feels the press has effectively made him "immune" to further attack, as his "closet is empty of skeletons", described the resistance of Paul Dacre – the Daily Mail's editor – to the Leveson Inquiry as a "kind of almost wilful sociopathic arrogance". But said Dacre's editorial approach distinguished him from media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

He said: "The one thing I would say in his favour, that I think elevates him in some way or, depending on your point of view, differentiates him from Rupert Murdoch, is I think Rupert Murdoch is all about business: it's about the bottom-line, it's about shifting units and building his empire, unimpeded by any sort of regulation whatsoever. Morality and ethics are purely an academic concept to him. He is an amoral propagator of his own empire.

"Paul Dacre on the other hand, I think he genuinely believes all the xenophobic crap that he writes in his newspaper. I'll let him have that."

Mail Online is the UK's biggest news website. It had 165,886,627 monthly browsers in January,