Murdoch lashes editor shock

Click to follow
The Independent Online
It was a firm and very public put down that bore all the hallmarks of being caned by the headmaster in front of morning assembly.

Rupert Murdoch was cross with Piers Morgan, editor of the News of the World, over his coverage of Lady Spencer's private life and told the world so.

"The young man went over the top," Mr Murdoch, said in stentorian tones. The tycoon responsible for elevating British journalism to new heights with long lenses and fat cheque books had just "reminded" his editor "forcefully" of his obligations to the newspaper industry's code of practice. "This company will not tolerate its papers bringing into disrepute the best practices of popular journalism which we seek to follow," thundered Mr Murdoch.

He was reacting to a letter from Lord Wakeham, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, informing him that the News of the World was guilty of a "serious" breach of the code of practice for its front- page revelation that Lady Spencer was receiving treatment at a private addiction clinic in Surrey.

Under the headline "Di's sister-in-law in booze and bulimia clinic", the paper reported that Earl Spencer's wife was receiving "secret therapy" and featured a photograph of her in the grounds of the clinic. Earl Spencer argued that the story and photograph, taken using a telephoto lens, were a clear invasion of privacy which could not be justified on any public interest grounds.

In a vitriolic defence the following week, the News of the World accused Earl Spencer of hypocrisy, saying he had never shied from publicity when it suited him or the price was right.

It also castigated him for claiming to act in his wife's best interests when he himself had confessed to an affair.

In its submission to the PCC, the paper also contended that Earl Spencer was a "public figure whose privileges by birth made him open to a degree of public examination".

The commission's firm ruling and Mr Murdoch's put-down of his editor will be seen as a boost to the commission as it fights off demands by backbench MPs for statutory control and attempts to beef up self-regulation.

Mr Morgan said last night: "I am sending my sincere apologies to the Countess for any distress that our actions may have caused at an obviously difficult time for her."

Piers Morgan is 30.

News Analysis, page 17

Shares soar, page 32