Leveson Inquiry: Could this be the end for The Sun?
The past few days have been the worst that anyone can remember at The Sun, where there are genuine fears that the paper could follow its sister publication’s path to oblivion, taking its place among thousands of other defunct titles in the archive of the British Library.
James Murdoch, the News International chairman, declined to guarantee The Sun’s future when he was asked whether he would close the paper if it was found to have engaged in phone-hacking. “I don’t think we can rule out any corporate reaction to behaviour or wrongdoing,” he told MPs.
The comments came three days after the News International chief executive Tom Mockridge told staff at The Sun that the company (which has sent 300m emails to Scotland Yard) was obliged to give the police evidence on the behaviour of its reporters because the alternative would be officers arriving in the newsroom with search warrants. The Sun’s editor Dominic Mohan had called the paper’s staff together to address their fears in the wake of the arrest this month of long-standing reporter Jamie Pyatt, who is accused of making illicit payments to police. Mohan told his colleagues that Rupert Murdoch was committed to their future. James’s comments on Thursday will have compounded their concerns that the paper is actually being prepared for sale or closure.
The mood at the paper is described as “almost funereal”, with worries about further arrests. “Good reporters are hearing the sound of the cat flap at 6am and thinking it’s the police at their door,” said one source.
It might seem madness to throw away the most powerful brand in British newspapers but no-one thought the 2.7 million selling News of the World was in peril – even after the Millie Dowler revelations. When it was breaking agenda-setting stories almost every weekend, the tabloid’s place at the centre of the Sunday news-stand seemed to exist in perpetuity.
But we didn’t know then what we know now. The work of the red top reporter has never been so distrusted, nor so lowly valued. Today Lord Justice Leveson begins an inquiry which will subject the practices of the tabloid press to an unprecedented level of scrutiny. A reputation that is already frayed and torn as a result of the phone-hacking scandal may disintegrate entirely in the light of weeks of further damaging revelations.
The tabloid press has few obvious supporters on the six-strong Leveson panel, none of whom has experience of working in the sector. In its preliminary seminars, the inquiry invited not a hardened red top chief reporter but Richard Peppiatt, who had quit the Daily Star in disgust. He told them that of 900 stories he had written “I can probably count on fingers and toes the times I felt I was genuinely telling the truth”.
Last week former tabloid editors were burying personal enmities to discuss the gravity of the situation and what they might do, if anything, to resist the onslaught. But the chances of unity in a traditionally cut-throat market are diminished by the fact that News International’s ills are providing oxygen to its rivals. On the morning of Murdoch’s Westminster appearance, Trinity Mirror announced that the Sunday Mirror was up 61% since the demise of the News of the World and The People has grown 58% in the same period. The Daily Mirror, with sales close to falling beneath 1m, would benefit from The Sun’s absence, though many tabloid readers would be lost forever.
Richard Desmond is a potential purchaser of The Sun, having previously expressed an interest. His Daily Star (down more than 16% on sales this year) will this month begin printing in full colour at new presses in Luton – an investment in tabloid print media for a further generation. It might be the last such act.Tagged in: hacking, journalism, Leveson Inquiry, Murdoch, news, the sun
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