In Depth

Kavanagh fears witch-hunt as Leveson Inquiry begins

Respected Sun journalist defendsthe tabloids as editors turn outat the start of the investigation

Trevor Kavanagh

THE TABLOID press has had few defenders since the phone-hacking scandal broke, but one respected Fleet Street heavyweight, fighting from the red-top corner, has come out swinging at the start of the Leveson Inquiry, warning the panel not to turn their investigation into a witch-hunt.

Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor of the Sun, who spent 23 years as the paper's political editor, mounted an impassioned defence of his employers at the inquiry's opening seminar, which was attended by the great and the good from across the journalistic spectrum. But not everyone saw things his way.

Speaking towards the end of the session Kavanagh expressed concerns about the aims of the inquiry.  "It is hard to escape the impression it is out to 'get' the tabloids, implicitly seen as uncultured, malpractised and unethical," he said. "Why, for instance, is nobody with tabloid experience, representing the overwhelming majority of readers and sales, on this panel?"

He went on to describe his colleagues at the Sun as "the finest creative professionals in the business, men and women who could adapt to working successfully on any other paper".

Kavanagh added: "The great sin of the popular Press is to be popular. Our lighter, brighter, brasher papers are commercially successful... [but] newspapers are commercial, competitive businesses, not a public service."

He insisted that the red-tops often led the way for other media. "The tabloids drive the daily news agenda," he said. He gave examples including exposés of Bill Clinton and Dominque Strauss Kahn's affairs as stories pushed by the so-called 'gutter press', that could have been suppressed were there not a "free press".

He didn't mention it, but he could also have brought up the News of the World Pakistani match-fixing scoop. Two international cricketers are currently on trial in London as a result of the now-defunct paper's efforts to unmask corruption.

However, not everyone was singing from Kavanagh's hymnsheet. Former Daily Star journalist Richard Peppiatt said that when working for a red-top: "The job is about making the facts fit the story, because the story is almost pre-defined."

He described the tabloids' agenda as "a crude, morally deplorable play on the politics of fear in the pursuit of profit".  

Writing in the Guardian, the paper that uncovered the phone hacking scandal, former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade appeared to suggest that the papers do have something to hide.

He noted that "a line was emerging" across Fleet Street. "It's an extension of the initial defence used by News International to quash speculation on the extent of the phone-hacking scandal," he explained. "Now, it appears, editors are trying to distance themselves from the dark arts of the News of the World by urging the public to regard to it as a lone 'rogue newspaper'."

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