England cricketer Ben Stokes has the support of “the whole sport and the country” after criticising the Sun over a story it ran about his family, a leading cricket chief says.
Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), added he was “disgusted and appalled” by the newspaper’s actions.
Stokes has called Tuesday’s front-page story “utterly disgusting”.
But the Sun has defended its journalism.
It pointed out it had received the co-operation of a family member and said the events described were “a matter of public record” and “the subject of extensive front-page publicity in New Zealand at the time”.
The story prompted a statement from Stokes, the England and Durham all-rounder. The 28-year-old said it was the “lowest form of journalism” which dealt with “deeply personal and traumatic events” that affected his New Zealand-based family more than 30 years ago.
Stokes was born in New Zealand and moved to Cumbria with his family aged 12.
He won the Cricket World Cup with England this summer, then made an unlikely 135 not out in the third Ashes Test against Australia at Headingley last month to keep England in contention in the series.
His comments on the story drew support from various figures in the sport and public life, and team-mates including England captain Joe Root.
“We, like the wider sporting world, are disgusted and appalled at the actions taken in revealing the tragic events from Ben’s past,” Harrison said in the ECB’s statement.
“We are saddened that an intrusion of this magnitude was deemed necessary in order to sell newspapers or secure clicks. Ben’s exploits at Lord’s and Headingley cemented his place in cricket history this summer – we are sure the whole sport, and the country, stands behind him in support.”
Ben Stokes’ statement in full
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.
For more than three decades, my family has worked hard to deal with the private trauma inevitably associated with these events and has taken great care to keep private what were deeply personal and traumatic events.
On Saturday the Sun sent a ‘reporter’ to my parents’ home in New Zealand to question them, out of the blue, on this incredibly upsetting topic. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Sun think it is acceptable to sensationalise our personal tragedy for their front page.
To use my name as an excuse to shatter the privacy and private lives of – in particular – my parents, is utterly disgusting. I am 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.
This is the lowest form of journalism, focussed only on chasing sales with absolutely no regard for the devastation caused to lives as a consequence. It is totally out of order.
The article also contains serious inaccuracies which has compounded the damage caused. we need to take a serious look at how we allow our press to behave.
What does the Sun say?
A spokesperson for the Sun 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.”
Was the story justified?
There was no justification for the Sun story beyond selling papers, according to press regulation campaign group Hacked Off.
Board member Steve Barnett – who is a lecturer in communications – told BBC Radio 5 Live that the story was “graphic evidence” of a newspaper “driving a coach and horses through their own code of conduct”.
“He’s done absolutely nothing wrong and his own family history is dragged through the mud. I can’t see any justification for this other than the fact it will sell papers. It was a brutally commercial decision which took no account of their own code of conduct, which says everyone deserves respect for their private and family life.“
He also questioned the newspaper’s defence that the information had come from a family member, saying giving “carte blanche for any family member to come forward and say ‘I’ve got some dirt or story or can give you some inside track on some tragedy'” was “not a good way to run a journalistic operation”.
“Ben Stokes himself said if it was about him he could stand up and take it. He’s man enough to say I’m in the public life and will take whatever’s coming – but to do that to your family, to people who have never done anything apart from be related to you, is unforgivable,” he added.
Ian Murray, the executive director of the Society of Editors, told the station: “I know there will be a lot of people who agree with Ben Stokes in what he said and will side with him. There will be a lot of journalists who will find this actually distasteful.
“It’s not for the Society to say whether it is distasteful or not but what we will do is defend a free press in this country.
“Was it editorially justifiable? Evidently the paper thought that it was.
“I’m not defending the Sun – what I am defending is the principle and saying let’s be very careful about what we do. We have freedom of expression in this country to a large extent – there are lots of regulations there, there are lots of laws. We have a free press. It’s such a jewel in the crown of any free society. And there are always the sharks circling, the politicians, the rich, the powerful who would like to see that free press closed down.”
New press regulation was introduced after the Leveson Inquiry into press standards in 2011 and 2012. It saw a small number of publications joining Impress, a self-regulatory body set up to be “Leveson-compliant”.
However most newspapers signed up to Ipso, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, and abide by their own Editors’ Code of Practice.