Tabloid editors appear at UK media ethics inquiry
London: A blunt-spoken former newspaper editor who once said that if a story "sounded right it was probably right" told Britain's media ethics inquiry on Monday that tabloids are the victim of snobbery and double standards in the media.
Kelvin MacKenzie, who edited the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun between 1981 and 1994, was the first in a string of past and present newspaper editors due to appear this week, and gave a robust defense of media muckraking.
"There is a tremendous amount of snobbery involved in journalism," MacKenzie told the inquiry, arguing that a tabloid would be punished for using underhanded investigative techniques, while a more highbrow paper would not.
He gave the hypothetical example of "if you had Tony Blair's mobile number and you hacked into it and discovered that he was circumventing the Cabinet in order to go to war."
"If you publish it in The Sun, you get six months in jail," MacKenzie said. "If you publish it in The Guardian, you get a Pulitzer."
Prime Minister David Cameron set up the judge-led inquiry last year after evidence emerged that Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World tabloid eavesdropped on the cell phone voice mail messages of celebrities, politicians and crime victims to get stories.
The case has triggered soul-searching about the balance between media freedom and individual privacy. MacKenzie said that he had not given much thought to privacy when he was The Sun's editor.
He said he took "the First Amendment approach, the American approach" to journalism.
"I basically took the view that most things as far as I could see should be published," MacKenzie said.
He said his successors had been more cautious.
"When I left, that attitude certainly changed," MacKenzie said.
Britain does not have the same constitutional free-speech protection as the United States, and the UK's libel laws are more weighted in favour of plaintiffs than those of many countries. Britain's tabloids regularly pay out substantial sums to settle libel suits from celebrities.
The phone-hacking scandal has engulfed the News of the World shut down by Murdoch in July but some alleged victims have accused other newspapers of wrongdoing, too. The Sun, Britain's best-selling newspaper, faces a lawsuit from actor Jude Law for allegedly listening to his voice mails.
Also due to appear today is The Sun's current editor, Dominic Mohan. Mohan could be asked about reports that in 2002 he thanked "Vodafone's lack of security" for exclusive stories he got while at the Daily Mirror.