Sunday 26 February 2012

Why I won’t be buying The Sun on Sunday

From today a new title can be found on Britain’s news-racks. Called The Sun on Sunday it is, depending on your point of view, a Sunday version of Britain’s favourite daily or the now defunct News of the World under a different name. Featuring columnists as wide-ranging as Katie Price, Nancy Dell’Olio and Toby Young it’s clearly a mix of celebrity-obsessed trivia and right-wing tub-thumping. Even the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has signed up and his truly bizarre first column (reproduced on his own website) is as close as you’ll get to God himself giving the project the thumbs up.

Needless to say, a paper from the News International stable, released just seven months after the closure of the News of the World following the disclosure of its phone-hacking activities, was always going to draw opposition. And so it has. People have pledged not to buy it for a number of reasons. Because The Sun and the News of the World between them have trivialised our media with an obsession with celebrity culture, because of the phone-hacking scandal—particularly that concerning Millie Dowler—or because of the power of these papers which has reached far into successive UK governments. In Liverpool The Sun’s reporting after the Hillsborough disaster has ensured that it retains the enmity of those who lost loved ones on that day.

For me it’s a bit more personal. Twenty six years ago Rupert Murdoch moved the production of four British newspaper titles—The Sun, the Times, News of the World and Sunday Times—into a purpose-built plant at Wapping, East London. As part of the move he sacked 6,000 printers, journalists and other staff and employed non-union labour to replace them, largely helped by the electricians union, EEPTU, led by Eric Hammond in a move that would see them thrown out of the TUC.

I was just starting work in the print industry and was a member of the National Graphical Association (NGA). This union, together with SOGAT and the NUJ, led the protests against Murdoch. This dispute, following the miners’ strike a couple of years before, had a significance outside the print industry. It was all part of the agenda of the Thatcher government to roll back the influence of the trade unions from British industry—an ideological battle that for me was a fundamental attack on core beliefs.

I participated in protests outside the plant a few times but it was clear that this was an operation planned with military precision and, with the assistance of Her Majesty’s Constabulary, there was only going to be one winner. And, after a year, so it proved as Murdoch emerged victorious. The new plant was built like a fortress, surrounded by razor wire and the surrounding streets were used as a maze from which lorries would periodically emerge into streets cleared by the police bearing the provocative slogan ”The Sun keeps on trucking”. That’s the thing about people like Murdoch: not only was he carrying out Thatcher’s agenda, he just had to rub your nose in it as well.

Of course there have been industrial disputes before and since and a temporary boycott of this or that product seems to be part of my daily life. But this one just won’t go away. Logically I tell myself to let it go but I still shudder when I see someone buying one of those titles. And to make matters worse, Murdoch has continued his grip on our cultural life with his ownership of Sky, and through that the slow strangulation, in my view, of English football. There can be very few people in the UK that don’t put a little bit of money into this man’s pocket.

So, should I let this go? Probably. But Murdoch has a unique place in my personal rogues’ gallery. And a world that is prepared to allow someone like him to have so much influence and control over so much of peoples’ lives is a world that has a long way to go.

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