An over-regulated newspaper industry coupled with an unregulated internet could be a ‘potentially mortal blow’to the UK press, according to Sun editor Dominic Mohan.
Giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, Mohan said the biggest challenge facing his paper was from the digital area and the ‘massive increase’in the use of tablets and other mobile devices over the last year.
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The subsequent drop in circulation, and the rise in social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook, meant national newspapers could struggle to maintain their relevance, he said.
As an example he referred to last year’s controversy over footballer Ryan Giggs’s privacy injunction.
While his identity was common knowledge among Twitter users, the mainstream press was at risk of legal action if they named the Manchester United Star.
On the day the paper was finally able to name the footballer, after he was named in the House of Commons by the Lib Dem MP John Hemming, Mohan drafted the headline: ‘It’s Ryan Giggs”.
He told the inquiry: ‘And as I wrote it my heart sank because I realised there were probably several million people out there who already knew that, because they weren’t subject to the same restrictions that we’d been under.
‘One thing I would ask out of this inquiry is… that there’s a level playing field in terms of the way they’re dealt with [the internet and press], because I do think it could be a potentially mortal blow to the newspaper industry that’s already wounded.”
He added: ‘I think the combination of an over regulated press with an unregulated internet is a very, very worrying thought for an industry that employs many thousands of people.”
But asked by Lord Justice Leveson how this could be achieved, Mohan replied replied: ‘I don’t know. All I would say is there should be a level playing field.”
Mohan, who took over as editor of the paper from Rebekah Brooks in 2009, went on to list some of the campaigns that aim to ‘improve the lot or ordinary people’including its 2007 campaign supporting the Help the Heroes charity, ‘The Millies’awards for the armed forces and a drug awareness campaign launched after the death of Amy Winehouse.
Mohan later revealed that The Sun in discussions to re-establish a readers’ ombudsman to deal with complaints.
The paper had a readers’ ombudsman in the 1990s but the position was later taken over by the managing editor due the lack of complaints, former editor Kelvin MacKenzie had told the inquiry earlier.
Capturing the nation’s zeitgeist
The counsel for the inquiry, Robert Jay QC, questioned Mohan on the paper’s decision to back Tory leader David Cameron in September 2009, switching allegiance away from Labour for the first time since 1997.
When he was asked by Jay whether he had any involvement in that decision, Mohan replied: ‘Of course I did, yes, I’m the editor.’
He said the decision was taken because the paper’s readership felt it was ‘time for a change’and that The Sun had ‘captured the zeitgeist of the nation”.
Asked whether Rupert Murdoch supported the decision he responded: ‘I believe he did, yes”
Mohan added: “It was a group decision. I and my fellow executives felt this was the right way to go and we made our feelings known to Mr Murdoch.”
Cheap shot at the Mirror
He was then asked about a joke he made at the Shaftas, an awards ceremony for showbiz journalists, in 2002, when he thanked “Vodafone’s lack of security” for the Mirror’s showbusiness exclusives.
‘It was said purely as a joke, it was a cheap shot at the Mirror,’he said.
‘It was deliberately attempting to undermine the quality of their journalism because they’d had a particularly good year.’
He told Jay the joke was a reference to phone-hacking and said the practice was ‘well known’because there had been several national press articles written on the subject.
He added: ‘There are always rumours in the industry about various methods but this wasn’t based on any evidence at all. It was just the Fleet Street rumour mill.”
Quizzed on the paper’s use of private investigators, Mohan said they can no longer be used at News International without the ‘express permission’ of the chief executive officer.”
While the paper had used them in the past for various investigations, he was ‘not aware of any private investigators being commissioned under my editorship”.
The paper does, however, use news agencies and search agents to trace addresswa and phone number, he said.
These are ‘typically desk-bound individuals or agencies who source addressed and other information from publicly available databasea”.
In his witness statement to the inquiry Mohan said it cost between £50-£100 to get an address or phone number – and that last year The Sun paid £165,000 to agents.