Established in 1964, with a circulation of 1.2 million copies as of February 2020; but to describe The Sun newspaper as ‘a tabloid’ does little to explain the depths of hatred that some people, myself included, have for this publication.
No doubt the best known and most notable trophy on the newspaper’s shelf of mistakes is the grotesque manner in which it covered the Hillsborough Disaster. With nearly 100 people killed at a football match as a result of gross negligence, many people might think to use their platform to express sympathies for everyone who lost a loved one. The Sun chose instead to launch a campaign of misinformation that sought to make criminals of the survivors and present Liverpool as little more than a zoo. Whilst the editor at the time did finally apologise forgiveness is still understandably sparse in Liverpool.
However, The Sun as an institution seems to have failed to learn any lessons from this horrid affair. It continues to print inflammatory headlines to feed on the people’s worst instincts. Adopting a ‘happy days’ tone when lockdown was eased, which promoted a dangerous idea that lockdown was somehow over. With crowds already flouting lockdown rules, and people growing tired of the struggles of living through the pandemic, The Sun chose to throw caution to the wind with its coverage in exchange for a flashier front page. Of course, other papers behave in similar fashions, but as the second biggest paper by circulation, second only to The Metro (which hands out free copies to pedestrians, boosting its numbers), a reasonable person might expect a paper to act with more appreciation for the impact it could have.
The paper didn’t hesitate to join in on the dogpile against Meghan Markle, who can apparently do no right in the eyes of the British tabloid press. While I do not understand appeal of following the personal lives of the Royal Family, the effect of the public interest is usually positive. Royal weddings, for example, have offered a welcome break from the tumultuous nature of political affairs these days. However, the vitriol aimed at Prince Harry’s wife has revealed an uglier side to the fascination with the Windsors. The Sun’s coverage of recent drama, alongside the reporting by other media, has played no small part in emboldening the breed of nationalism that we do not want to encourage. People who believe different cultures should never mix, people who can’t believe a ‘mere actress’ would dare to marry a prince, people who simply believe that white Britons are superior to the rest of the world. I’m not saying that every critic of Meghan Markle believes these things, but the media frenzy around her and her perceived missteps casts a stark contrast with the media treatment of Kate Middleton.
Of course, it’s impossible to discuss what’s wrong with The Sun without mentioning Page 3. An archaic tradition that only further entrenches the objectification and oversexualisation of women. It’s a clever idea, I’ll admit. Putting right-wing opinions right beside topless girls is a rather simple way to make your agenda palatable and appealing to the working man. Simple, but disgraceful. The tactic is only a few steps away from getting a model to campaign for you and tell voters how ‘sexy’ they think Brexit is. It should come as no surprise to anyone who pays attention, appealing to our most primitive motivations is what tabloids do best.
Whilst the actions I’ve mentioned so far should disgust or at least worry any right-minded person, they are not nearly as concerning as the man your money goes to when you buy The Sun. Rupert Murdoch. The media mogul who presided over the phone-hacking scandal and then denied any knowledge of the gross invasion of privacy that was uncovered when it was revealed that News of The World ‘journalists’ had hacked the phones of a murdered schoolgirl, victims of the 7/7 bombings and the families of soldiers who gave their lives for our country. All the while, Murdoch ‘exhibited wilful blindness’ according to a report by a Parliamentary Select Committee.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this whole problem is that so many people still buy The Sun, when it’s wrongs are one internet search away. If we want to honestly believe that we are inherently good people, we need to stop buying the tabloids that ignore any context and nuance that even slightly challenges the narrative they want to present. Time and time again, these papers have proven that they will cast aside common decency for a scoop, and ignore the prejudices they’re feeding in order to turn a profit.
Simply ask yourself: ‘What would you say if you knew that at least a million people would hear you? What would you do if you could influence the opinions of that many people?’ If you would try to improve society and behave with any degree of integrity, then I’m afraid you would not be fit to work at The Sun. The press is supposed to hold our leaders to account, to keep us informed of current affairs, and to promote the whole truth. Tabloids tend to be the antithesis of these principles.
This all begs the question, “What can we do about it?” One option is a boycott of such outlets, their cheap imitation of discourse does little to inform anyone of anything helpful. Boycotting however means more than not buying the paper. Any online interaction (visiting the websites, sharing the articles on social media, etc.) leads to revenue for these newspapers. It’s also important to read more than one paper. The more publications you read, the closer you get to learning the full story, and if we stay informed, the influence of the tabloids shrinks as they can no longer control the way we see the world. But no matter what we do, we must not turn a blind eye to the shamelessness of these tabloids.
The Sun is not the whole problem, but just as Churchill is arguably an effective shorthand for the brilliant national spirit that got us through the Second World War, I believe The Sun makes for a fitting example of everything that’s wrong with the Press today.
David Lam is 21 and from Carrickfergus. He is studying Law at Dundee University and wants to get involved in local community activism after he graduates.