Sun editor David Dinsmore said this morning that women had been the most vociferous supporters of Page Three when the paper ran focus groups on the issue earlier this year.
In a question and answer session organised by the London Press Club this morning he also revealed:
The Sun stands by its front-page story claiming that former Conservative Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell called police officer plebs at the gates of Downing Street
He is a big fan of the website Buzzfeed
He has a target of reaching four million subscribers
Fleet Street colleagues should not have stayed silent while 25 Sun journalists were arrested
- He would have done things differently than the Daily Mail in the row over coverage of Ed Miliband’s dead father.
Asked by session host John Pienaar of the BBC about the issue of Page Three he said that The Sun was edited for its readers, not “the No More Page Three Campaign or the Twitterati or for readers of The Guardian”.
He added: “I did look at this issue in some depth and did focus groups and so on and the word that came back loud and clear was to not touch it. The women were more vociferous than the men.
“They felt it’s intrinsic to the brand and they don’t want to be told by someone else what should go in their paper…I have parked the issue and moved on.”
But he appeared to also leave some wiggle room adding: “Never say never.”
Returning to the issue later when questioned from the floor, he said: “It is not set in stone that there must be a pair of breasts in The Sun. We are producing a living, breathing organism every day. How that lives or breathes depends on the material that is available to us on that day.”
Asked whether there was still a ban in place on surgically-enhanced Page Three girls, he said: “Yes, because a lot of this is about body image.”
Fleet Street's silence over Sun arrests
Talking about the many arrests of Sun journalists, he said: “It pains me every day that colleagues have been treated in the way they have been treated.”
He said that “quite rightly” editors have signed petitions and backed journalist Kieron Bryan who has been imprisoned in Russia for filming a Greenpeace protest, but he added: “25 of my colleagues have been lifted out of their beds at 5am in the morning, in front of their families in most cases…With one or two exceptions, other newspapers stood by without comment…That’s a terrible place to be.”
Asked by Press Gazette whether the arrests, and the Bribery Act, have had a chilling effect on journalism he said: “The way that newspapers went about their business was not in the right spirit. What we are focusing on now is going back to knocking on doors which is a good thing.
“We opened an office in Manchester 18 months ago. In the year after it opened we produced 67 splashes out of that office.” He said these were produced by focusing on things like following up stories from the local papers.
Admitting that the relationship between newspapers and the police had got “too close” in some cases he added: “There’s a danger that’s gone completely the other way.”
Noting that Paul Gambuccini was arrested last Tuesday, he said that police refused to confirm his identity until shortly after it was revealed on The Sun website at 5.30pm on Friday evening. He added: “The Sun took seven months to name Rolf Harris [as a Yewtree suspect], it woudn’t be in the public domain if it wasn’t for The Sun.”
'Buzzfeed is the best thing on the internet'
Asked for his impression of Buzzfeed, the US-based website which launched in the UK this year, he said: “Buzzfeed is the best thing on the internet because it is The Sun on the internet. The way that they tell stories is brilliant. I do see them as competition and the way that they mix light and shade is very Sun-like.”
Dinsmore was also asked about the way the Plebgate story is "unravelling". Last year The Sun published a front-page report claiming that former Conservative Party chief whip Andrew Mitchell had called police officers at the gates of Downing Street “fucking plebs”. It is currently the subject of an ongoing libel action.
He said: “It has an awful long way to run..It’s easy not to get all the right conclusions.”
Asked whether The Sun still stood by its original front page story, he said: "Absolutely.”
Paywalls, website numbers and reader loyalty
Talking about how the job of editing The Sun has changed (Dinsmore was appointed at the end of June), he said: “My predecessor (Dominic Mohan) was in charge of a six-day a week print product with a website that sat in the corner.”
He said that the Sun editorial team today is working on multiple platforms "non-stop" including: print Monday to Friday, print Sunday, tablet computer, smartphone, website, video, Sun Goals and social media.
Of that last one he said: “It is something we are just coming to the party on. “
He declined to be drawn on website readership figures since The Sun went behind a paywall at the beginning of August. But he did say that a report that traffic had gone down by a third since the paywall came into force was not accurate.
He said: “You are comparing apples with pears. We are trying to build a subscription membership base. That is a completely different proposition from some of the other newspaper websites in the UK.”
He added: “Youu may have 100 million coming to your website but how many are coming in on a regular basis? Our people are coming in day in, day out, and they are heavily engaged with our content.”
'Unedifying' Labour leader Ed Miliband
Asked whether The Sun has “lost its mojo” since its 1980s heyday he said: “I don’t think The Sun will sell four million print newspapers again. But I don’t think there is any reason why we can’t have four million subscribers in the future. That’s what we should be aiming at.”
On the Daily Mail’s portray of David Miliband’s father as “the man who hated Britain” he said: “My first reaction was that I’m probably a little more pragmatic, I would have run the right of reply and that would have been it.”
But he added that he was “quite struck” by the way that Daily Mail deputy editor Jon Steafel was treated on Newsnight by presenter Emily Maitlis and former Labour PR man Alastair Campbell when he appeared to defend the paper. “It wasn’t so much an interview as a gang-beating session…it was indicative of where we have got with this left versus right fight”.
He added: “I also didn’t think it was particularly edifiying for the Leader of the Opposition to be making such a meal of this.” And he expressed concern that if Miliband was made Prime Minister he might deal with Vladimir Putin the same way.
Refusing to be drawn on who The Sun might back at the next General Election, he did say that there was now “clear blue water” between Labour and the Conservatives and that voters would have a clear choice between left and right.
On the issue of press regulation he said: “If you ask chaps at the BBC…whether they are free to do what they want…The answer is no because there is a Royal Charter in place.
“The BBC has been hauled in 20 times in the last six months to various committees. There is a lot of Government control on the BBC. I don’t want the press to go that way and this would be first step down that road.”