If The Sun is the flagship in Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid fleet, then yesterday, although far from sinking, it took on a little water. At the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers of the Met, heading up the investigation into dodgy dealings and proscribed payments, indicated that the scope of the scandal was perhaps more serious than it first seemed. She spoke of a “culture at The Sun of illegal payments”, and “not only to police officers, but a wide range of public officials”.
As admiral of the fleet, if not the whole street, Mr Murdoch was swift to state that the practices described “are ones of the past, and no longer exist at The Sun.” The little-disguised disquiet in the ranks at the paper, caused by the plausibly unexpected editorial co-operation with the investigation, would suggest the flagship is indeed being made shipshape, whether the decks wish to swept or not.
The singer Charlotte Church this week received £300,000 and a public apology following the publication of thirty-three stories in the News of the World, derived from phone-hacking. Speaking outside the High Court, she said “nothing was deemed off limits by those who pursued me and my family, just to make money for a multinational news corporation.” She promised to put the payment towards protecting her family’s privacy in the future, adding; “they are not truly sorry. They are just sorry they got caught.”
News Corporation pulled the plug on The News of the World, through penitence or pragmatism, because it had been publicly discredited. So, if The Sun, the daily newspaper with the largest circulation in the UK, is also proven to have an empire built on pernicious practises, will it retain its readers? As a race, we have feelings, but we’re fickle. Baring a revelation of Milly Dowler proportions, it seems unlikely The Sun will set. Indeed, it’s spawned a satellite. The timing of the Sun on Sunday is brazen if not unexpected. Much mooted, it may yet harness the many that did not nail their colours to another Sunday media mast when the News of the World was scuppered. Adapt or die is the essence of evolutionary survival, and Murdoch can mutate like Madonna when minded to, but hopefully without the need for cone-shaped corsetry.
The Leveson Inquiry has thrown up a necessary dialogue about freedom of the press, and the right to feel at liberty to express oneself and seek the truth. Whilst many in the media represent a potent force in holding our leaders to account, their rights are brought into question by the tendency of others to abuse those freedoms by taking liberties, in which case the process devalues the product. Isn't a pursuit of truth by dishonest means just one oxymoron too far?