Ex-Sun editor defends ‘bullish’ style

KELVIN MacKenzie defended his “bullish” approach to editing The Sun newspaper as he acknowledged the paper has now become “more cautious”.

He told the Leveson Inquiry he did not spend much time worrying about journalistic ethics or which stories would sell more copies, leaving it to his readers to decide whether his decisions were right.

MacKenzie, who edited The Sun from 1981 to 1994, also insisted that Rupert Murdoch never put him under commercial pressure and, in fact, often felt that he went too far.

“I didn’t spend too much time pondering the ethics of how a story was gained nor over-worry about whether to publish or not,” he said in a witness statement. “If we believed the story to be true and we felt Sun readers should know the facts, we published it and we left it to them to decide if we had done the right thing.

“They could decide if we were correct and carry on purchasing us (in my time in ever-increasing numbers) or could decide we were wrong, in which they could decline to buy us again, ie Hillsborough.”

This was a reference to The Sun’s sharp circulation decline on Merseyside over its controversial coverage of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool football fans died.

Murdoch was furious when he found out The Sun was to pay £1 million in damages to Elton John after a story falsely claimed the singer had hired rent boys, the inquiry heard. MacKenzie recalled sending the media mogul a fax about the case then receiving a 40-minute phone call of “non-stop abuse”.

He stood by comments he made in a Leveson Inquiry seminar in October, when he said: “My view was that, if it sounded right, it was probably right and, therefore, we should lob it in.”

He said he had looked up the definition of the word “lob” in an online dictionary, and found it meant “to throw in a slow arc”.

“The point I’m making is that we thought about something, and then put it in,” he said.

MacKenzie told the hearing that, when he was Sun editor, he would meet then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher twice a year, and might see cabinet ministers between six and ten times a year.

“I was always astonished that a prime minister would want to meet a tabloid journalist with one GCSE, and wondered where the equivalence was in that discussion,” he said.

MacKenzie has previously described the Leveson Inquiry as “ludicrous” and suggested it is only being held because of Prime Minister David Cameron’s “obsessive a***-kissing” of Rupert Murdoch.

The colourful former editor was behind a number of contentious front-page Sun headlines, including “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster” and “Gotcha”, about the sinking of the Argentine warship, General Belgrano, during the Falklands War in May 1982.

He rejected Anne Diamond’s evidence to the inquiry in November that Murdoch’s editors waged a vendetta against her after she asked the media tycoon how he slept at night knowing his newspapers ruined people’s lives.

The former TV-am presenter spoke of her distress when The Sun published a front-page picture of her and her husband carrying the coffin of their baby son, Sebastian, a victim of cot death, at his funeral in 1991.

But MacKenzie told the inquiry: “I have had the advantage as distinct from Ms Diamond of working with Rupert Murdoch for 13 years closely. Why she should believe her career has suffered because of one conversation is beyond me.”

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