The Sun has accused Labour of targeting its owner, News UK, with a threat to tackle media plurality “as a direct result of our opposition” to the party.
The newspaper’s editorial today also aimed an apparent attack at former Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer for his part in prosecuting Sun journalists on Elveden offences, and said Labour’s election promise to implement Sir Brian Leveson’s press regulation recommendations was aimed at “neutering papers like The Sun”.
In its general election manifesto, the Labour Party has pledged to ensure that no “one media owner should be able to exert undue influence on public opinion and policy makers”. In an apparent reference to News UK and the phone-hacking scandal, it said: “No media company should have so much power that those who run it believe themselves above the rule of law.”
Media plurality campaigners want to see a 30 per cent limit on ownership in any one particular market. Such a limit would affect News UK, which publishes The Times, Sun and Sunday Times.
In its editorial today, The Sun highlighted the fact it had backed the party from 1997 until the 2010 election and “Labour said nothing about the size of our company”. It said: “Now, as a direct result of our opposition, it is sworn to use the law to dismantle News UK if it wins power.”
In June 2013, Labour deputy leader and shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman said that the party did not address media ‘plurality’ in 1997 for fear of losing the election. But she said: “We’re in different times now.”
Earlier this week, The Independent reported that News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch – who owns The Sun as well as The Times and Sunday Times – told journalists on his tabloid newspaper to do more to prevent Labour winning the election.
The paper quoted a source as saying: “Rupert made it very clear he was unhappy with The Sun’s coverage of the election. He basically said the future of the company was at stake and they need to get their act together.”
The Sun responded to the report by saying that its political coverage is informed by how Labour policies affect its readers.
Also in its editorial, The Sun backed journalists’ complaints about being barred from a Conservative event yesterday – but said the Labour Party was also guilty of excluding journalists.
Yesterday, Times sketch writer Ann Treneman and The Guardian’s Marina Hyde complained about not being allowed into a nursery school for a joint appearance with David Cameron and Boris Johnson.
The Sun said that this “this cuts both ways”. It said: “Labour has barred The Sun from theirs.
“Both main parties should be more open to all-comers from the press, especially at election time.
“But there is a big difference between the two: Labour actively seeks to silence critics.”
The editorial added: “Dozens of innocent Sun journalists, now cleared, were prosecuted on the say-so of a man later handed a safe Labour seat.
“Meanwhile the party remains determined somehow to enforce the Leveson Inquiry’s conclusions.
“It is all aimed at neutering papers like The Sun.
“This is what sinister state censorship really looks like.”