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Papers need 'revolutionary' reform

Former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck has called for reform of "revolutionary proportions" to save newspapers from extinction.

Addressing the Cambridge Union Society on press ethics and phone hacking at News International, Mr Thurlbeck said that only radical change could save the tabloid press.

He said he hoped the Leveson Inquiry would act as a "springboard" to creating a tabloid culture more in-keeping with changing tastes and public expectation. But he attacked MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) committee, describing them as "disgruntled, dogma ridden politicians", after their report into press standards branded Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corporation, as unfit to run a major corporation.

Mr Thurlbeck is associated with the phone hacking scandal through the now-notorious "For Neville" email which contained transcripts of illegally intercepted voicemail messages apparently destined for him.

Mr Thurlbeck added: "We in the print media are at a crossroads and if we choose to carry on the path we have trodden so doggedly and in the same clothes, for more than a century, tabloid newspapers will cease to exist in a generation.

"The bond of trust with our readers has been shattered over the past few years. And our style and presence is antiquated. In the days of the internet, tablets, BlackBerrys, iPhones and apps, it strikes me as odd that a tabloid newspaper is an often damp piece of paper shoved through our letter boxes by a schoolboy on a bike at 7am to be read by dad on the train.

"And if our readers don't like the tone of what they read or don't trust it, they will keep falling away in the millions until paper upon paper, we fail and vanish from the streets."

Mr Thurlbeck, 50, who worked for News International for 23 years, spoke of his optimism that the Leveson Inquiry would act as a catalyst for reform. But he described the CMS committee's report as "a dangerous parliamentary precedent" which threatens "not only the tabloid industry, but the whole freedom of the press".

"The decision was split rigidly along party lines with the Labour party members leading the charge to trash the reputation of the most successful media mogul in mine or anyone else's lifetime," Mr Thurlbeck said. "It's no surprise to learn that Labour is still bitter about losing Murdoch's backing at the last election. Powerful, successful industry magnates, including multi billionaire media moguls, have always divided public opinion. Murdoch has always been a bogeyman of the left.

"But when our politicians allow their prejudices to cloud their judgment and overstep their remit by potentially weakening the leader and creator of the biggest section of the free press in the world, we are entering dangerous waters. It is up to the readers and ultimately the shareholders to decide whether Rupert Murdoch is a fit and proper person to run News Corporation - not disgruntled, dogma-ridden politicians."

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