13/02/2012 03:45 GMT | Updated 13/02/2012 09:52 GMT

Trevor Kavanagh, Sun Associate Editor, Says Journalists Are Victims Of Soviet-Style Witch-Hunt

Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor of the under-fire Sun newspaper, has described the arrests of journalists as a "witch-hunt".

Kavanagh says police are now threatening press freedom in a similar way to the ex-Soviet states.

On Saturday Rupert Murdoch was forced to reassure staff of his "total commitment" to continue to own and publish The Sun after five employees were arrested.

The top executives were among eight people arrested in connection with the probe into inappropriate payments to police and public officials, which also included a serving member of the Armed Forces, a Ministry of Defence employee and a serving officer at Surrey Police.

Kavanagh's robust page 12 column in defence of a free press has attracted support from figures within industry, others commentators have hit back with a significant lack of sympathy for Kavanagh's view of a victimised press.

He wrote in his piece in The Sun:

Journalists are being treated like members of an organised crime gang.

They are subjects of the biggest police operation in British criminal history — bigger even than the Pan Am Lockerbie murder probe.

Major crime investigations are on hold as 171 police are drafted in to run three separate operations.

In one raid, two officers revealed they had been pulled off an elite 11-man anti-terror squad trying to protect the Olympics from a mass suicide attack.

Instead of being called in for questioning, 30 journalists have been needlessly dragged from their beds in dawn raids, arrested and held in police cells while their homes are ransacked.

Kavanagh, often mocked for looking vaguely similar to Sean Connery, sparked huge interest with his comments - leading him to trend higher than six times Grammy award winning Adele on the United Kingdom's twitter.

Yet, most of the reaction was very anti The Sun.

Kavanagh did manage to rally some support.

Meanwhile, The Guardian's Greenslade Blog views Kavanagh's piece as an attack on Murdoch himself.

He defends payments made by Sun journalists to obtain stories by pointing out that it is "standard procedure" to do so at all popular papers.

These payments have resulted in "unearthing stories that shape our lives, often obstructed by those who prefer to operate behind closed doors... Sometimes money changes hands... There is nothing disreputable about it. And, as far as we know at this point, nothing illegal."

In a carefully worded key passage, Kavanagh moves on to raise "a sensitive domestic issue within the News International 'family', which we cannot ignore."

Murdoch is thought to be planning a visit to the UK this week amid fresh reports he could face legal action in American after the solicitor representing the family of Milly Dowler as well as other alleged victims of phone hacking took his battle across the Atlantic.