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Editor accuses Sun of ‘heaping shame’ on journalism over Ben Stokes story

A regional daily editor has accused The Sun over “heaping shame” on journalism over the tabloid’s decision to publish a story about the death of cricketer Ben Stokes’s half-siblings.

The England vice-captain publicly hit out at the national newspaper this morning after it splashed on a story about the shooting of his half-brother and half-sister in New Zealand more than 30 years ago, describing it as “low and despicable behaviour, disguised as journalism.”

Mr Stokes, 28, has won widespread support for his response to the story – with Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson among those to publicly back him.

James, who is also currently serving as interim editor of JPIMedia sister daily the Yorkshire Evening Post, criticised The Sun for publishing the story in a post on Twitter.

Sun front

Quoting the World Cup winner’s statement, he wrote: “It is decisions like these by editors unlike me that heap shame upon our profession. It kills the trust we work so hard to build.

“It gives every journalist a bad name and legitimises those who seek to discredit the Fourth Estate. I am sorry you have been treated this way, Ben.”

In an editorial published in the Post, James added: “How am I, as an editor, meant to look regulators, ministerial policy makers and most importantly the public in the eye and reassure them they can trust me and my teams to do the right thing when it comes to publishing good, honest, fact-checked journalism that is undertaken without malice and with the kind of care and common decency that right-minded people expect?

“How can we as an industry really say ‘everything has changed’ post-Leveson when it is as plain as the nose on my face that – in certain crevices of the Fourth Estate – the rot remains festering.

“The short answer is; we can’t. Until every journalist, editor and publisher commits to guiding their work with the same editorial principles and standards, we will not – and quite understandably – win the trust of anyone.

“That is dangerous. It is dangerous because it fractures the keystone in the archway that holds up our democracy. Without an effective, trusted, decent free press, malfeasance among the powerful grows. It grows not because nobody is holding the powerful to account, but because nobody will believe those holding power to account. Wolf! has been cried once too often.”

In a subsequent tweet he added:  “Way to treat a national sporting hero, folks. Well done.🤨

Former South Wales Argus editor Kevin Ward also shared his thoughts on the matter online, simply tweeting: “Don’t buy The Sun.”

Speaking to HTFP, Kevin added: “When I saw the story at about 6am this morning, it struck me as a both a poor piece of journalism and a dreadful editorial judgement.

“I can’t see any public interest in running a 30-year-old story. The public backlash on social media has been considerable and this could be another Hillsborough situation for The Sun.

“Today takes us back to the bad old pre-Leveson days. When I was a regional daily editor, I would have spoken out about this story because it tarnishes the industry as a whole. Hopefully those now in editor’s chairs around the UK will do the same.”

Mr Stokes, who was born in New Zealand but moved to England as a child, said in his statement: “Today The Sun has seen fit to publish extremely painful, sensitive and personal details concerning events in the private lives of my family, going back more than 31 years.

“It is hard to find words that adequately describe such low and despicable behaviour, disguised as journalism. I cannot conceive of anything more immoral, heartless or contemptuous to the feelings and circumstances of my family.”

He added: “To use my name as an excuse to shatter the privacy and private lives of – in particular – my parents is utterly disgusting. I am aware that my public profile brings with it consequences for me that I accept entirely. But I will not allow my public profile to be used as an excuse to invade the rights of my parents, my wife, my children or other family members.

“They are entitled to a private life of their own. The decision to publish these details has grave and lifelong consequences for my mum in particular.”

The Sun has defended its story.

A spokesperson said: “The Sun has the utmost sympathy for Ben Stokes and his mother but it is only right to point out the story was told with the co-operation of a family member who supplied details, provided photographs and posed for pictures. The tragedy is also a matter of public record and was the subject of extensive front page publicity in New Zealand at the time.

“The Sun has huge admiration for Ben Stokes and we were delighted to celebrate his sporting heroics this summer. He was contacted prior to publication and at no stage did he or his representatives ask us not to publish the story.”

12 comments

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  • September 17, 2019 at 2:33 pm
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    With papers like the Sun nothing or nobody matters but the story. Even if the news is 30 years old.

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  • September 17, 2019 at 2:59 pm
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    It’s another Sun own goal… or perhaps ‘hit wicket’ is more appropriate.
    National sporting hero Stokes is 1-3 on to be Sports Personality of the Year – and they look very generous odds to me.
    But the Sun dredges up some ancient tragic news to cash in on his name and fame.
    The boycott in Liverpool is still going strong and there will be thousands more across the land who will be joining them in shunning the Sun.

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  • September 17, 2019 at 4:25 pm
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    Once heard Rupert Murdoch described as a cultural Chernobyl. Hard to argue with that.

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  • September 18, 2019 at 9:25 am
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    “The Sun has the utmost sympathy for Ben Stokes and his mother but it is only right to point out the story was told with the co-operation of a family member who supplied details, provided photographs and posed for pictures.”

    Said ‘family member’ was the murderer’s daughter from a previous marriage and clearly completely estranged from Stokes and his family. I’m left wondering if the Sun decided to track her down, offering the customary incentive or did she appear out of the blue, begging bowl in hand? I suspect the former which means it didn’t just drop into their lap, but a premeditated and fairly extensive operation was undertaken to produce the story.

    Tacky, even by tabloid standards.

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  • September 18, 2019 at 10:20 am
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    Just as a matter of ethical interest…I am not a Sun reader so I had no idea what the story was about. I’m not in the country at the moment so couldn’t “accidentally” satisfy my prurience with a quick glance at the front page on the newsstands as I went to buy my Guardian. The BBC didn’t publish the details when it covered Stokes’s comments, our of respect for him and neither did any of the other national websites I read. So – er- why did you give us a big plug of the Sun’s front page?

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  • September 18, 2019 at 10:59 am
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    It’s not just The Sun though, is it? Good taste, along with ethical journalism, went out of the window years ago along with the search for truth, impartiality and accountability.
    Robert Peston summed it up well in a BBC Radio debate when he stated: “The change in newspapers’ front pages over the past five years has been extraordinary. Newspapers are now activists in these culture wars. The notion that most newspapers are impartially trying to present the news is a joke.”
    OK, so most papers have never been impartial, but it’s the increased level of spite and rancour that pervades them now that is depressing.
    I would go further an add that most newspapers (apart from the regional Press) are now part of the “populist” movement that disregards courtesies, plays to the anarchic social media, and routinely serves up propaganda. So blatant lies are acceptable, tribalism is rife, and democracy is no longer considered essential by many.
    Who can we trust?

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  • September 18, 2019 at 11:38 am
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    And as usual, the sports hacks get it in the neck because of the stupidity of the news desk. In my experience, the cricket writers who have to deal with the England team every day will have known nothing about this until it appeared on a news scheduled and/or they were asked/told to approach a sports contact for quotes. Yet they will probably now be banned from pressers or at least life will be made very difficult. Sports and news…not the same world

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  • September 18, 2019 at 12:16 pm
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    James Mitchinson is quite correct and I note his comment that this is “no way to treat a national sporting hero”. Does this also perhaps explain his newspaper’s reluctance to criticise Sir Geoffrey Boycott over past “mistakes” and the fact that it was left to the Sunday Times – not the Yorkshire Post – to uncover the activities of Sir Gary Verity at Yorkshire Forward?

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  • September 18, 2019 at 12:54 pm
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    The Sun is ruthless.I imagine you have to be incredibly self-centred to work for it . Even the stone-hearts of the Sun knew that story would cause distress to totally innocent people. It published anyway.
    Like a lot of nationals it is also desperate for more sales as millions of readers have ditched papers over the past decade.
    The Sun will not care about any comments. It is amoral.

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  • September 19, 2019 at 10:37 am
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    I certainly wouldn’t want to be an apologist for The Sun, and I would hate to have been the reporter tasked with raking over this awful family history. But there is something rather sanctimonious about James Mitchinson’s criticism. These terrible events were already well documented and in the public domain, and there was a family member willing to speak about them to The Sun. Yes, it must be truly devastating for Ben Stokes’s family to see them unearthed again, but as one of the nation’s most prominent sportsmen, it was almost inevitable that some day, in some way, this connection with a tragic family history would be made. Is James Mitchinson seriously saying that, had those terrible historic events happened in Yorkshire, and he became aware of their connection to the greatest sporting hero of the age, that he would not seek to tell that story, however sensitively?

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  • September 19, 2019 at 3:41 pm
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    Old Cynic. The story is 30 years old. what’s the point?

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