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Raymond Snoddy 

Not merely a witch-hunt against The Sun...

Raymond SnoddyRaymond Snoddy says the very least the marketing community can do is realise where self-interest lies and stand more vociferously behind The Sun... and its three million daily sales and the £200 million a year advertising revenue it attracts...

It is probably safe to predict that The Sun, despite mob-handed dawn police raids on its journalists, will not close this week.

News International chief executive Tom Mockridge has spoken at length to Mr Murdoch and News Corp has announced a "total commitment" to The Sun, despite the allegations of payments to police and other public officials.

NI's commercial chief Paul Hayes has warned media agencies of the dangers of knee-jerk reactions and pre-judging people who have not yet been charged with any offence.

The media sector, at least for now, seem to be taking the line that this is a corporate matter that does not affect their brands and that there is no sign of a advertising boycott. Mumsnet has not decided it's time to try to close down another national newspaper.

The events of this week surely suggest that The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh is not alone in thinking that things are getting seriously out of hand. Just as Lord Justice Leveson takes a half-term break from his labours, up pops the Met raiding the houses of journalists, tearing up floorboards and rifling through personal possessions.

The purpose of dawn raids is to surprise criminals who would otherwise abscond and to prevent the removal of evidence such as drugs or firearms is it not? Whatever you may think of Sun journalists we can agree none of that applies. The evidence, such as it is, has already been handed over by Lord Grabiner's Management and Standards Committee, which seems to have a poor grasp of sacred journalistic principles about not exposing contacts. Is there any compelling reason why police could not have used the telephone to arrange interviews with those they wanted to question?

As Kavanagh argued in a brave article in Monday's Sun, some of his senior colleagues have been treated like members of an organised crime gang - behaviour that helps to justify the UK's lowly place at a mere number 28 in the world's Freedom of Speech league table.

Ludicrously Scotland Yard insisted that its behaviour in this investigation had not been "in any way disproportionate" given the scale of the task. They pointed out that it was quite untrue to say that in one case as many as 20 officers were involved in the raid on the home of one Sun journalist.

A Met statement insisted that "no more than ten officers" attended each of the homes of those detained. You really couldn't make it up.

As Kavanagh also points out paying for stories is a very widespread phenomenon historically that includes many national newspapers, though obviously not all.

We are now getting to the dangerous situation where this is not merely a witch-hunt against The Sun but one that concerns all the supposedly free press in a supposedly free country.

The cumulative effect of Leveson, the MSC, three separate police investigations and Parliamentary inquiries could add up to an hysterical over-reaction. This is particularly so when the most unambiguous abuse, phone-hacking, is already a thing of the past.

It is inconceivable that any journalist on any paper will ever think phone-hacking a good idea - and anyway the technical loopholes that allowed it to happen have probably now been closed.

The very least the marketing community can do is realise where self-interest lies and stand more vociferously behind The Sun... and its three million daily sales and the £200 million a year advertising revenue it attracts.

The law on payments - by definition made before last year's Bribery Act - will take its course. The future of The Sun as a result must not be in doubt.

But there is a dramatic way for the press to fight back against its many tormentors, one that would take real guts. Rupert Murdoch could re-launch the News of the World in time for the first anniversary of its closure in July and in time for the Olympics.

In retrospect the closure looks more and more like a mistake - bowing to emotional impact of the unprecedented Milly Dowler scandal.

Now we know the most shameful act of all, which provided the coup de grace for the NotW, the deletion of Milly Dowler's voicemails may never have happened - or if it did, it wasn't the work of the Screws.

A seven-day Sun would help attract some of the hundreds of thousands of lost readers back to newspapers. But can you imagine the publicity that a re-launched, totally spring-cleaned News of the World would garner.

It would be rough on the innocent individuals who lost their jobs but for the sake of perceptions the paper would have to have a new editor and senior editorial staff untainted even by previous geographical proximity to the scandal. There is no shortage of unemployed journalists who would welcome the prospect of a freelance shift or two.

It would be a very dramatic way for the popular press to begin a fight-back against its many tormentors. It would also be a last hurrah for Rupert Murdoch, who must feel some pangs of regret and guilt for closing a paper founded in 1843.

If News International believes the controversy caused by such a bold move would be unsustainable then the company could distance itself by allowing the paper to reappear under licence.

With the co-operation of NI over the title, including its printing capacity, a new News of the World could rise from the ashes and could be economically viable with a sort of virtual staff structure. There would have to be a tiny permanent staff - essentially an editorial commissioning team drawing on a network of freelance journalists around the country.

It will probably never happen. Dead newspapers never come back to life do they? But it would be bloody marvellous if it did.

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