Former chief reporter of the News of the World Neville Thurlbeck has said that the Leveson Inquiry should be ‘the spark that ignites a tabloid revolution”.
Writing on his own blog, Thurlbeck said today: ‘Without radical reform, tabloid newspapers will slowly fade from any meaningful prominence in our lives.”
Thurlbeck was arrested in April last year on suspicion of involvement in phone-hacking and was released on police bail without charge. In September last year he was sacked by News International.
He insists he was not involved in hacking and he is in the process of suing NI for unfair dismissal.
Warning that he believes tabloid newspapers have become out of touch, he says: ‘To the under 25s, we are as cutting edge as Alvar Lidell reading the BBC news on the wireless in a dinner jacket.
‘Vicious character assassinations, bogus public interest defences, gross invasions of privacy, sensational misleading headlines, clichÃ© ridden copy. They don’t like the cut of your jib or mine. And they don’t buy us in numbers that matter anymore.”
While some anti-tabloid criticisms have been ‘exaggerated, and often one-sided”, he says, ‘many are painfully accurate”.
‘We need to rein in our worst excesses, re-establish a bond of trust with the reader and refine each newspaper’s unique personality and attitude which has remained frozen since the 1950s and 60s.”
Management ‘brutality’ must end
Thurlbeck also warns that management styles at tabloids need to change.
‘I still cringe at the memory of one poor freelance who was on a shift and a little late with some copy. In full earshot of the office, the executive walked over to her desk and told her: ‘Put your coat on, go home, don’t come back.’
‘Another gimlet-eyed executive told a well respected staffer being sent on a big buy-up: ‘Your wife’s just had a baby, you have a big mortgage, don’t f*** up! You need this job.’
‘And I am unable to forgive News International for making one of our most respected and valued colleagues redundant when his young wife was battling cancer.”
Thurlbeck adds: ‘Staff brutality like this takes place on a regular basis. When I was news editor, I was asked to attend several News International seminars organised by HR where the chief theme was, ‘How to Sack Your Staff and Not Give Them a Pay-off’.”
Leveson Inquiry’s ‘sneers’
Whilst broadly backing the need for the Leveson Inquiry, even though it has now emerged that the News of the World probably did not delete the voicemail message which gave the Dowler family false hope Milly was still alive, Thurlbeck does have some criticisms of Leveson and his team.
And he states that the appearance of former News of the World deputy features editor Paul McMullan ‘did most to damage the credibility of Leveson and his team”.
‘They smiled indulgently as he poured out his vicious parody of tabloid journalism. Worse, they failed to step in when he began to hurl unfounded allegations against Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, seriously prejudicing any possible criminal proceedings against them.
‘When I took the stand and offered an alternative account, it was met with sneers.”
Thurlbeck alleges that this attitude was also in evidence behind the scenes at the Royal Courts of Justice ‘when Robert Jay QC introduced himself and announced that in his opinion, the News of the World was ‘nothing but smut’.
‘I felt like Cinderella being mocked by one of the Ugly Sisters for her shabby clothes.
‘You may or may not agree with him. But on that day, I began to suspect the Inquiry had a pre-conceived conclusion of what tabloid journalism is about before it had heard the evidence. I hope not.”
Thurlbeck concludes: ‘We need a tabloid press. It is a massive force for good, as the Daily Mail’s bold coverage of the Stephen Lawrence murder has shown.
‘We need Leveson to allow us to see ourselves as we are, to move on and reform. And there must be the desire within us to do so.
‘But he must ensure the mirror he holds before us is shining and true and not a twisted fairground distortion.”
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