Page last updated at 14:27 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Mandelson attack on 'crude' Sun

Lord Mandelson
Lord Mandelson said the Sun was not reporting UK troops' achievements

Lord Mandelson has accused the Sun newspaper of portraying Gordon Brown's government as the "enemy" of UK troops in Afghanistan rather than the Taliban.

The Tory-supporting paper's criticism of the PM over an alleged spelling mistake in a note to a bereaved mother was "crude politicking", he said.

Pressure on broadcasters to follow up such "created" news had "implications" for the next election, he told the BBC.

But the Sun said it was "immensely proud" of its coverage of Afghanistan.

The newspaper, which had supported Labour since 1997, announced in September that it was switching allegiance to the Conservatives.

'Bad taste'

It has carried out a long-running campaign against the government over its alleged failure to take the war in Afghanistan seriously enough and to equip troops there adequately.

In recent days, the newspaper has also been highly critical of the prime minister over a letter of condolence he wrote to Jacqui Janes, the mother of a soldier killed in Helmand in October.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

It says Mr Brown misspelt Mrs Janes's surname as "James" and overwrote a mistake he had made with the name "Jamie", rather than starting the letter again.

Mrs Janes, from Brighton, called the letter a "hastily scrawled insult". The prime minister - who has poor eyesight - later apologised for "any unintended mistake".

Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If you look at the e-mails received overwhelmingly by the BBC, Sky News and the Sun itself from the public [about the Brown letter], they have clearly made up their minds about the Sun's mixture of bad taste and crude politicking.

"They have seen through it and they don't like it and they have said so."

He added: "If you read the Sun you would think that the enemy that our brave troops on the ground are fighting is the British government.

"I mean, where do you see the reporting of our enemy, the Taliban, in Afghanistan? Where do you see the reporting in the Sun of our forces' achievement and their bravery on the ground?

"I think that, actually, is the most significant aspect of all of this. And I think it's really unattractive."

'Bargain'

The Sun backed Labour in the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections, but changed allegiance to the Conservatives hours after Mr Brown's keynote party conference - sparking an angry reaction from Labour delegates, some of whom ripped up copies of the paper in the conference hall, and reportedly from Lord Mandelson himself.

The business secretary told Today: "Let's understand what's going on here. The Sun's owner, News International, has made a decision to support the Conservative Party.

The Sun is the forces' paper and every day we report stories of heroism and bravery from the front line
Sun spokesman

"They've effectively formed a contract, over the head, incidentally, of the newspaper's editor and their readers, in which they are sort of bound to one another.

"What the Sun can do for the Conservatives during the election is one part of the contract and, presumably, what the Conservatives can do for News International if they are elected is the other side of the bargain.

"Now, I'm not so much worried about this, because it's plain to see and, frankly, they are welcome to each other and the public will be the judge.

"But there is a wider question. When the Sun creates the news in this way, this is then followed up by Sky News, which then puts pressure on the BBC to follow suit.

"I think this has wide implications for the election, which I think is of wider public concern."

Jacqui Janes tells BBC Newsnight she went to The Sun 'purely because they are pro-troops'

But a Sun spokesman said: "The Sun strongly refutes suggestions made this morning that the paper does not report our forces' achievements and their bravery. We are immensely proud of our coverage of Britain's armed forces.

"The Sun is the forces' paper and every day we report stories of heroism and bravery from the front line."

He added: "We have produced special military editions of The Sun which, with the help of the MoD, have been sent to Afghanistan and distributed among those fighting for their country.

"The Sun will continue to proudly support our servicemen and women, campaign for better equipment and continue to put pressure on politicians of all political parties to devote more time, effort and resources to the war in Afghanistan."

A Conservative Party source said it was "absolute rubbish" to suggest that the party had struck a "contract" or commercial deal with News International.

"Peter Mandelson is living in fantasy land again," said the source.

"If he really thinks there is a contract between the Conservatives and the Sun, perhaps he will explain what the contract was when the Sun backed Labour in 1997, 2001 and 2005."

A BBC spokeswoman hit back at Lord Mandelson's claims about the Sun and Sky influencing the BBC's political coverage.

She said: "We always make our own editorial judgement about stories and that continues to be the case."



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