Sun associate editor Trevor Kavanagh warned today that the Leveson Inquiry into phone-hacking appears to be “out to get the tabloids” who are seen as “uncultured, malpractised and unethical”.
He asked why nobody with tabloid experience, “representing the overwhelming majority of readers and sales”, is on the six-strong inquiry panel.
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And he added: “Could it be that at least some of those scrutinising our activities are covertly, if not overtly, hostile to everything we stand for?”
Kavanagh was speaking at a seminar which is being held in advance of the inquiry-proper to bring Lord Leveson and the inquiry panel up to speed on issues around the press.
Kavanagh said: “I have had the privilege of knowing as friends and working alongside George Jones and Elinor Goodman for a quarter of a century. I know neither will demur if I recall their occasionally disparaging view of what George summed up this morning as the tabloids from ‘down below’. It was an alarming moment for those who fear this inquiry is a Trojan Horse with an agenda.”
Speaking to Daily Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher this morning, Jones had asked him whether pressure from “down below” had led him to pursue a more celebrity-focused news agenda.
Kavanagh said that as a jourrnalist on the Sun for 30 years “I wish to record my admiration for the sheer professionalism of gifted colleagues both at Wapping and among our rivals on other tabloids”.
He said: “It is the tabloids that drive the daily news agenda. The Sun, for instance, breaks major world exclusives about politics, sport, the monarchy and the City which are not just interesting but in the public interest. They are followed almost without question by the broadsheets and the BBC.
“In today’s climate, a great many of those stories would never see the light of day. The nation would be all the poorer.”
Kavanagh said that the Sun’s greatest achievement of recent years had been leading opposition to Britain joining the Eurozone.
“We have been condemned for cheque-book journalism. Yet I understand the best story in recent years – MPs expenses – was bought and paid for by the Daily Telegraph, not by a tabloid.
“Would Human Rights judges have stopped it being published if MPs had got wind of it early enough? And would that have been in the public interest?
“Publishing news is not a public service. It is a ferociously competitive industry in a rapidly shrinking market. But we do provide a public service. We turn complex subjects – politics, commerce, war – into crisp easily-understood copy.”
Responding to former Daily Star journalist Richard Peppiatt’s attack on tabloid culture from earlier in the day, Kavanagh said that “while it contained a few elements of truth it was a grotesque caricature of the newspaper world I have known for 50 years”.
Kavanagh concluded: “I say all this not just to blow the tabloid trumpet, but to paint a picture of a vibrant and dynamic industry which despite all its flaws is a force for good. It continues to flourish despite some of the world’s toughest libel laws.
“Journalists contend with secretive super-injunctions, an abuse of judicial power.
“Information is power. And local and national government, councils and quangos, go to great lengths to keep information to themselves, even when – especially when – it is in the public interest.
“Tony Blair described Labour’s Freedom of Information Act as his greatest mistake. But even the doors opened by this legislation are being slammed shut by politicians and others who know how to get round it.
“Much government business is now conducted not on traceable paper but through email and mobile phone calls, on the hoof.
“The losers are not just diligent journalists but Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and the civil servants who find legitimate ‘usual channels’ blocked.
“The biggest loser of all, if we go further down the road of regulation, is the British public.
“When dealing with politicians and increasingly the commercial and commercial lobbyists, it is worth remembering Jeremy Paxman’s famous mantra: ‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’
“It’s a crude question, but it is the right point to start.
“Gagging the media on the pretext of the public interest is one way to ensure the public never learns the answer.”
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