“Don’t buy this rag,” says a Facebook friend in a post. He is referring to the Sun. And I won’t. But matching intolerance with more intolerance does still worry me.
A link on the post takes you to the Canary, a left-wing website that campaigns against Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspaper. It also expends much energy supporting everything Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says or does. Nothing wrong with that as such. But something about this campaign worries me.
My tattered soul is long dipped in printer’s ink. Perhaps being a journalist makes you biased in favour of newspapers in general, even those you don’t like. I’ve worked in and around newspapers since 1980. That ink stains.
I am not in a hurry to defend The Sun. But plenty of people like it. With that in mind, here are a few points.
The Sun is a bit like that other sun in an English summer, in that occasionally it shines. The other week there was a splash about a parrot that nipped a burglar. Police extracted DNA from the blood on the parrot’s beak and the burglar was nabbed. The headline to this story was “HERCULE PARROT”. Now you must admit that was smart. Whoever wrote that headline earned their no doubt over-inflated London salary on that day.
The ‘good’ Sun is sharp and witty. The ‘bad’ Sun is judgemental, cruel, biased, narrow-minded and arrogantly wrong-headed. It’s fair to say that you can wait a long time to be warmed by the Sun’s better nature.
Those who sign up to the Canary Total Eclipse of The Sun campaign will do so in the belief there is only bad under the Sun. Some will be friends of mine; many will be people I like and admire. But I still can’t sign.
Is there an irony in a left-wing website campaigning against a tabloid newspaper read by many working-class people? It’s certainly a thought.
The Canary begins its campaign report as follows: “Now a nationwide boycott is official, it looks like the beginning of the end for Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun.”
The website uses techniques borrowed from the newspapers it despises – over-statement and exaggeration. That “beginning of the end” is over-selling things, I’d say.
This campaign in part is built on the decades long boycott of The Sun in Liverpool, following the appalling reporting of the Hillsborough disaster. Hardly anyone in Liverpool buys The Sun and that serves the paper right. Memories are long and people don’t forget.
But making a show of boycotting something you already shun is rather pointless. Most of those signing up won’t read The Sun anyway. I boycott the Daily Mail and the Daily Express by not reading them. But I’m happy they are around for those who like them.
It’s an unfashionable view nowadays, but the more newspapers, the better. Today you can add websites into that formula, too. And there are plenty of those to read. The more of them the better, too.
What worries me is the absolutist nature of people who hate The Sun and the Mail. Don’t like them myself. But do we really want to go around banning things?
My world view is a BBC/Guardian/Observer one, with occasional excursions elsewhere. To some of the absolutists, this no doubt makes me an establishment stooge, but never mind. I believe the licence fee remains good value – better value than Sky TV, which I have always avoided for anti-Murdoch reasons, and money reasons.
I buy the Guardian every Saturday, the Observer on a Sunday – and stump up a fiver a month as a Guardian member. I do this because I look at the website most days and feel I should pay something. And because I am happy to support that newspaper.
Before sitting down to write this, I listened to Broadcasting House, on BBC Radio Four – a programme almost worth the licence fee on its own.
As for The Sun, if that eventually sinks into oblivion it will mostly be down to its own bad behaviour, and changing readership habits, rather than boycotts and bans, I reckon.
Incidentally, Murdoch is also responsible for keeping The Times afloat and in good shape – something for which we should be grateful even if we choose other newspapers instead.