Former Sun editor Stuart Higgins has said that he now thinks it was wrong of the paper to expose singer Chris de Burgh as a “love cheat” when he was editor in the 1990s.
In evidence submitted to the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, Higgins – who was Sun editor from 1994to 1998 – said: “I was very aware that a sex scandal, marriage split type story would sell very well the next day and in those days there was always an absolute rule that we would always give involved parties a right to reply.”
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Higgins notes that this is no longer the case because of the popularity of pre-publication privacy injunctions brought out to stop stories appearing.
He added: “Was the Sun’s exposure of Chris de Burgh as a love cheat a fair story? Was he a public figure, had he pronounced on family values etc? Was he going to sell a lot of papers? Was this in the public interest or interesting to the public?
“Undoubtedly, it was Interesting to the public as demonstrated by the big sales spike after publication. But I do not believe in hindsight this was a legitimate story on the balance of public Interest against private interest of individuals.”
He also said that, speaking in general terms about legal considerations when he was editor, there was “the desire to achieve the maximum ‘edge’ to the story through its content and headline without being sued”.
He add: “In other words, the question was: ‘how far can we go without risking a writ?’. I accept that this approach may not be seen by the inquiry as responsible as it may hope but that is the nature of the beast in the competitive tabloid market.”
Talking about the sources of stories, he said that sometimes the editor and the reporter would be the only people in the newsroom to know the name of the sources.
These stories could be, he said: “A story from a political leader or party may be offered to the Sun’s political editor because they would like it to have a ‘soft-landing’ in the Sun rather than be the subject of a sensational expose in another newspaper.
“A new initiative or plan within the Royal Family may be offered up to the newspaper to ‘test the water’ of public reaction – The Sun was and is an important temperature test of public opinion.
“A certain celebrity may have their own reasons to give the showbusiness editor a story about themselves but not wish to be seen as the source of the story, perhaps because it portrays them in a positive light.”
David Yelland, who edited The Sun from 1998 to 2003 before also moving into PR, said that ethical conduct was important to him during his period at the helm of the UK’s top-selling newspaper.
He said: “In my view they (ethics) mean being true to oneself and doing the right thing no matter what the circumstances, remembering that you will not have this power forever and that you will be judged for the rest of your life and career on how you exercised that power. I am on record as saying I took this seriously and I did.”