Anthony France has been sentenced to “18 months in prison, suspended for two years” and 200 hours community service, the Press Gazette reported.
France was convicted earlier this month for paying a police officer $35,000 for stories.
Separately, the judge, Timothy Pontius, called on the Sun‘s parent company News UK to pay France’s £35,000 legal costs, the Press Gazette noted. France’s lawyer Adrian Keeling QC told the judge that News UK wasn’t going to pay the costs. But Pontius said:
“I think the defendant’s employer bears a measure of responsibility for the structure and system under which Mr France worked.”
He went on: “If there was a wrong culture [at The Sun] it was not of Mr France’s making. It was created by others for their benefit and sustained by others for their benefit.” iMediaEthics has written to the Sun for comment.
Pontius, who sentenced France, said France had “hitherto unblemished character” and noted that some of his stories he paid for were “very much in the public interest.” However, Pontius pointed out other stories were “obviously salacious” and “unjustifiable.”
Pontius said that France was “holding a fairly junior post at The Sun, was therefore following an accepted procedure that doubtless had existed for some time, and doing so in relation to a source of information he had not recruited himself but one he had inherited from a colleague and to whom payments had previously been made for information.”
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Because of France’s character witnesseses, personal testimony, and charity work, the judge said that France could have his prison sentence suspended.
Pontius said, according to the Press Gazette:
“In my firm view, therefore, the entries on the credit side of the page of account for this defendant significantly outweigh those on the debit side to the extent that when I ask myself whether those mitigating circumstances allow me, consistently with my public duty and the interests of justice, to suspend the prison sentence that undeniably must be imposed in this case the answer is undoubtedly ‘yes’.”
Pontius also commented on the practice of paying for stories. According to the Telegraph, he said:
“It was and apparently remains the practice of the Sun newspaper, and I dare say many others, to pay members of the public for their stories. Their practice is promoted, supported and encouraged at the paper at all levels within the internal structure.
“It is a practice that is certainly not improper itself, less is it to be condemn, least of all by me as long as it does not involve encouragement by a journalist to anyone holding public office to abuse their trusted position for payment by providing confidential information in order it might be used to feed the public appetite for news that sometimes amounts to nothing more than titillating gossip.”
iMediaEthics has written to France’s lawyer for comment.