Tony Gallagher at Exaro debate: investigations are key for Press

Investigative journalism must be ‘front and centre’, Sun’s new editor tells Exaro event

By Mark Watts | 28 September 2015

Newly-appointed Sun editor Tony Gallagher made a clarion call for investigative journalism while speaking at the inaugural Exaro debate.

Gallagher was one of four leading lights from the journalism industry on the panel for the inaugural Exaro debate – including our own David Hencke. The event in Fleet Street was entitled: “Did the media ever hold power to account?”

Click on the video to see the full, fascinating Exaro debate last week, running to slightly under an hour and 10 minutes.

The Sun’s editor-in-chief – in post only for just over a week – told the Exaro debate: “It is obvious to me, for instance, that the area of newspaper investigations is wildly under-used, and needs to come front and centre to national newspapers if they are to be relevant at all in the modern age.”

“If I can give away one secret, it would be that I am definitely going to spend a fair amount of time and resource building up the investigative power of the paper.”

Gallagher, former deputy editor of the Daily Mail and editor of The Daily Telegraph, spoke at the beginning of the debate of “a key reason” for a failure by media to hold power to account: “This stuff is really expensive to do. You need to be really patient. It takes a long time. Witness the kind of work that Exaro is doing. And it is not cheap.”

He saw no problem in devoting more space to investigations in The Sun. “Any investigation that is central to the readers’ interest, I think, is going to be worthwhile,” he said.

Peter Jukes, author of ‘Beyond Contempt: the inside story of the phone-hacking trial’, said: “The Press should be like maggots that are used for health purposes, they eat dead flesh.”

The panel condemned the government over its threat to clamp down on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Gallagher said: “It is absolutely disgraceful that the government is throwing its weight behind the idea that FOIA should be limited.”

“I am really surprised that journalists collectively, and individual organisations, have not made more of a song-and-dance about the threat to FOIA, given how useful a journalistic tool it is.”

Asked whether he was alarmed about the support from Michael Gove, justice secretary and former journalist on The Times, of the government’s restricting of FOIA, Gallagher said: “A far more guilty party in all of this would be the cabinet secretary, Jeremy Heywood.”

“If we are going to direct our fire anywhere, it is probably the cabinet secretary and senior mandarins, rather than politicians.”

Hencke, a senior reporter on Exaro and former Westminster correspondent of The Guardian, said: “This is a huge scandal.”

“It should be the opposite way,” he said, “to extend FOIA, say, to private companies that run public services. That is what we should be discussing here.”

The panel was asked how Exaro’s reporting on allegations of child sex abuse by prominent people counted as holding power to account.

Hencke pointed out that police, as well as Exaro, regard as credible the account of the key witness who alleges child sex abuse and murder by a VIP network.

Gallagher said: “I would caution against saying that the whole thing is a load of old rubbish given a number of lengthy articles that I was aware of when I was at the Daily Mail that indicated that there was something very wrong indeed with the behaviour of a number of senior people dating back many, many years.”

Glenda Cooper, former BBC health correspondent, who teaches a journalism course at City university called, ‘Power without responsibility’, said: “This is a story that is still unfolding. It is not really for the police or for us as journalists to say, ‘This is definitively right,’ or, ‘This is definitively wrong.’” The police must continue to investigate, she added.

She said earlier that journalists should “aspire” to hold power to account.

But did the media ever do that?

Cooper said: “It could certainly do more.”

Hencke: “The short answer is, no. But I would qualify it by saying, intermittently, they get to the point.”

Gallagher agreed: “The short answer is, no. It does sometimes, and it does it intermittently.”

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