Supporters of Shun the S*n during a demonstration in Liverpool City Centre in February 2017. Credit: Shun the S*n
On 26 April 2016, the people of Liverpool got the moment they had been fighting for nearly three decades, as the jury at an independent inquest found that fans of Liverpool Football Club were in no way to blame for the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster in which 96 died.
After two years in court, the inquest revealed that South Yorkshire Police had failed to responsibly manage the crowd of 54,000, as the then all-standing stadium in Sheffield filled up for an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, resulting in a crush in one end of the stadium. Among the dead were dozens of children and teenagers. The new inquest found that the police had then deliberately attempted to shift blame onto the fans, covering up their mistakes and claiming the deaths had been caused by drunken misbehaviour.
For 27 years the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, composed largely of families of the victims, rejected the official version of events, and “Justice for the 96” became a rallying cry for the whole city.
But one year on from the exonerating inquest verdict, a parallel campaign has only gathered momentum. Though rarely as centralised as the HJC, its message is simple: “Don’t Buy The Sun”.
On 19 April 1989, four days after the disaster, The Sun splashed its front page with the now infamous headline “The Truth”, under which it accused that Liverpool fans at the stadium had picked the pockets of the dead, beaten up a police officer attempting to resuscitate a victim, and even “urinated on the brave cops”. Later revealed to be part of a concerted smear campaign, this was taken as a deeply hurtful insult not just to the dead, but to the entire city of Liverpool, and a three-decade boycott against the UK’s highest-selling newspaper began.
The boycott became a unifying cause for the city. Most newsagents refused to continue selling The Sun, leaving only supermarket chains to display it on less visible shelves. Fans share videos on social media mischievously throwing copies they do find into the trash or covering them up with other papers. Footballers from Liverpool and their local rivals Everton are applauded for refusing to engage with its journalists, even long after they have moved on to other teams. Even its name is treated as a dirty word, with the Liverpool Echo newspaper and several campaign groups referring to it as “The S*n”, and locals calling it “the rag”.
In 2017, with the real truth now finally out in the open, the movement is more active than ever. Taxis roam Liverpool freshly wrapped in liveries declaring “The S*n – Not Welcome In Our City”. In February Liverpool Football Club revoked The Sun’s press credentials from all club facilities and activities, including home games at their Anfield stadium, effectively banning them.
One newsagent, who gave his name as Manoz, recently moved to Liverpool from London and set up shop, unaware of the history of the boycott. He decided to stop selling The Sun in February after receiving complaints from customers.
“We don’t want to hurt their feelings or anything,” he told Index. “I know it’s a long time ago but the people here are not forgetting about it. They were coming in and saying why, and that’s why we stopped it. It’s part of living in this city.”
Gary Gaze is the founder of the largest anti-Sun campaign group on Merseyside, Shun the S*n. An avid follower of Liverpool FC for most of his life, the 1989 FA Cup semi-final was the only away game he missed that season. Amidst the modern panic over so-called “fake news”, Gaze is certain that The Sun’s misleading Hillsborough coverage had long-term material effects, making the HJC’s task more difficult by turning public opinion against the victims.
“I’ve got an open mind, I know some people don’t like football or whatever, but it’s not all about football. It’s about people from Liverpool being tarred with a brush,” he told Index. “They were lies, and people have been affected by it for a long, long time.”
On asking newsagents to stop selling The Sun, Gaze, who was inspired to become an activist by the determination of the HJC’s fight for the truth, said: “We just have to educate people and let them know why people don’t read it, and I think people realise that if they continue to sell it, it’s going to affect their profits. People aren’t going to want to go into shops that sell it.”
[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-globe” color=”black” background_style=”rounded” size=”lg” align=”right” css_animation=”fadeIn” link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fwww.indexoncensorship.org%2Fcampaigns%2Fpress-regulation%2F|||”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]This article is part of an ongoing series exploring media freedom in the UK.
Index on Censorship monitors media freedom around the world. Find out more.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]New developments during the weekend of the disaster’s 28th anniversary saw Kelvin MacKenzie, the editor who oversaw The Sun’s Hillsborough coverage, make new derogatory comments about the city in his column in the newspaper, also comparing Everton player Ross Barkley to a gorilla after he was punched in an unprovoked attack in a nightclub. The club responded by following their neighbours in banning The Sun from all club premises and Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson reported MacKenzie to the police over what he called “racial slurs” and hate speech, on account of Barkley’s Nigerian heritage. Responding to the outrage, The Sun suspended MacKenzie.
The day before The Sun published MacKenzie’s comments, Gaze had told Index that he thought a genuine attempt by The Sun to make amends would have been received well by the city, but that they had shown their true colours through years of half-hearted apologies and omissions. After the latest controversy, he believes the boat has sailed.
“Right around the time people are remembering and mourning the 96, they do this,” he said. “It might just be bad timing but I think they know exactly what they are doing. Any apology now is sort of induced. They’ve been forced to make an apology but it’s not genuine, and it’s entirely too late.”
The most remarkable thing about recent anti-Sun activity is that it is no longer confined to Merseyside. Petitions have sprung up from football fans around the UK calling on their clubs, or even the entire Premier League, to join Liverpool and Everton’s ban in solidarity, and semi-professional club Sutton United was criticised for accepting sponsorship from The Sun’s betting platform, SunBets, for their FA Cup tie against Arsenal.
Gaze was supportive, but diplomatic, on the spread of the Don’t Buy The Sun mantra. “As far as I’m concerned people should all hate the rag. But I don’t think we’ve got a right to say to say to other cities ‘don’t buy it, don’t read it’. That’s out of our hands.” Referring to other more recent controversies such as the phone-hacking scandal, he added: “A boycott is what they deserve.”
Of course, all this talk of preventing the sale of a newspaper has led to accusations of press censorship. The Spectator’s Roger Alton wrote that Liverpool FC being allowed to ban The Sun’s reporters would have “savage implications” for freedom of the press, and claimed it was impossible to hold “even a sliver of a divergent view” of the disaster.
Locals do not care for the suggestion. Richie O’Brien, a taxi driver, wrote in an open response on Facebook: “Making stuff up and publishing pictures of semi-naked teenagers then passing it off as news is clearly not breaking any laws in this country, and it is entirely down to the individual consumer whether they buy into their poisonous drivel or not. Just as The S*n is totally within its legal rights to do and say the nasty things that it does, it is also everybody’s right to suggest that you don’t buy their product.”
However, the line between refusing to support, and refusing to allow The Sun’s presence is a point of contention. When Merseytravel, the public body that operates trains and buses on Merseyside, asked its vendors to join the boycott in September 2016, it was condemned by the Society of Editors’ Bob Satchwell who told the BBC: “No public organisation should be seeking to restrict a perfectly legitimate newspaper.” Liverpool city council unanimously voted to back the boycott, and similar council motions passed in Derry City and Strabane in Northern Ireland, and St Helens, a small town outside Liverpool.
After Liverpool FC instituted its ban in February, Trevor Hicks, president of the Hillsborough Families Support Group and father of two of the younger victims, told The Guardian of the “enormous damage” and distress caused by The Sun since 1989. The club made no statement, but on joining them in April Everton said: “the newspaper has to know that any attack on this city, either against a much-respected community or individual, is not acceptable.”
To the people of Liverpool, and a growing number of people around the UK, the movement against The Sun is symbolic of local pride, solidarity and standing up to an abusive establishment. Activists deny pressuring vendors and readers – Gary Gaze stressed that his interactions were always polite and cordial and that he preferred to support shops that joined the boycott than punish those that didn’t. He was also skeptical of politicians becoming involved.
The Sun remains the best-selling newspaper in the UK, but its near-total absence from a major city is a warning that the right to free press does not guarantee a right to a willing readership.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1493713944624-132ff556-5cc2-2″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
What if your job, your career, was winding up an entire nation?
That’s it. Sure, you have a column in a national newspaper. But what can you really do with it? You can’t really share your thoughts on the common toad, or tell delightful stories about your children misunderstanding foreign words, much less offer some insight into the workings of the modern world. Sure, you can chuck the odd piece of light relief in the sidebar or the basement, but that’s not what people are here for. We’ve come to your column to be thrilled by your outrageous views, and thrilled we will be.
Last time round it was people giving food to, and receiving food from, charity.
“SAY the words food bank” La Dolce ‘Opkina began, “and I am supposed to put on my concerned face and proffer up a can of beans.”
Where’s this going Katie? Where could this possibly be going?
“But all I’ve found in the back of my cupboard is two fingers. And they don’t belong to a Kit Kat.”
BOOM! Gotcha. I mean, it makes no sense. If it’s the fingers at the end of her arm she’s using, why are they in the back of the cupboard? Unless, maybe, she is SO outrageous that she keeps a special V-flipping apparatus in her cupboard, as her doctor has advised her that the constant extension and retraction of her index and middle finger was putting her in serious risk of chronic RSI. But then, if you were using it that much, you wouldn’t keep it in the back of the cupboard. You’d have it on the hall table, perhaps. Or in a little belt-mounted pouch, like a techie’s mobile phone, ready to unleash, cosh-style, upon passing do-gooders, bed-wetters, namby-pambies, oiks, poshos, hippies, liberal elitists, ignorant yokels, EUROCRATS, trendy vicars, Trots, gypsies, useless husbands, trashy wives, “gay rights” activists, lesbo-feminists and everyone else you might bump into at a reasonably-sized community festival in a reasonably-sized town.
It must be exhausting keeping track of this roll call of resentment. It must be wearing to have to be angry every week. How draining to have a public persona dedicated to hating everything and everyone.
And then there is the fact that outrage is a substance which can be addictive, but to which people can also develop a considerable tolerance. In order to keep us interested — and quite possibly to keep herself interested also — Hopkins has to keep upping the dose, until eventually we get to the point where she’s describing poor African people drowning in the sea as cockroaches and everyone suddenly stops and thinks “oh”.
The problem the serial controversialist who has nothing else to trade on faces is that the only way to go is down. The very nature of the job and the stuff you are peddling means you must, inevitably, end up overstepping the mark. In the case of Jeremy Clarkson, a carnival of boorishness ended in violence, where it had to. Hopkins seems to have survived, but she’s Zugzwanged herself: tone down the schtick and she becomes pointless; the only other move available is directly into the abyss. This is the fate of the wind-up merchant.
The exception to this rule is the satirist. The essential difference between the satirist and the controversialist is that the controversialist puts herself forward, from the beginning, as the stoic truthteller, striving alone in a world gone mad. Controversialists tend to be declinists: the world is steadily getting worse. The converse of this is the belief that at some point, usually in the period of the controversialist’s late adolescence, the world was right.
Satirists hold out no such (perverse) hope. The world is awful, the world has always been awful, and the only way to get through it is to laugh and hope we can make some tweaks around the edges. It is curious then, that from Private Eye to Charlie Hebdo, satire is often linked to campaigning journalism in the same publication.
Charlie has once again been in the news after several US-based authors refused to take part in a gala in honour of the magazine hosted by PEN American Center.
The writers’ heckles were raised by what they saw as racist cartoons run by Charlie in the past. Among these were one of a black politician portrayed as a monkey, and Nigeria girl victims of Boko Haram portrayed as “welfare queens”. Of course, at face value, these seem racist (though it is worth noting that it was not racist cartoons that saw Charlie’s staff slain: it was cartoons that refused to obey religious taboo).
What the US critics failed to acknowledge was that all satire is reactive: the cartoons did not simply spring unprompted from the cartoonists’ pens. The case of the ape cartoon was a reaction to far right portrayals of the minister, and the accompanying text very clearly mocked the Front National’s leader Marine Le Pen. As Irish novelist and Charlie columnist Robert McLiam Wilson pointed out:
“Without the snipped-off text underneath, and the knowledge of the lamentable tosh it was lampooning, of course Charlie would seem racist. It would seem racist to me too. But to strip the image of its fundamental components like this is akin to saying the incomparable Jonathan Swift was a baby-eating Nazi and that A Modest Proposal was actually a cookbook.”
Satire must toy with what it sets out to mock: otherwise it is meaningless and unintelligible. Sometimes the controversy of the likes of Hopkins and the irony of Charlie can look, at first glance, identical.
And sometimes not: While Hopkins was describing “cockroaches” drowning in the Mediterranean, Charlie was echoing the refrain of many: “A Titanic every week,” with a cartoon depicting a white woman singing My Heart Will Go On while a despairing migrant begs her to “shut up” (Ta Guelle).
Bracing? Sure. But humanising, too. As satire should be and controversialism never is.
Does The Sun’s Page 3 still exist? The paper’s pagination remains, humble but resolute: the very best in British pagination. As surely as curry follows beer on this sceptered isle, the nation’s favourite newspaper will have a third page, facing the second page, on the reverse of the fourth. And despite what those who would disparage our way of life would want, it will always be page three.
Briefly, this week though, it seemed the tradition (est 1970), of putting a picture of a topless young woman on page three — the “Page 3 girl” — had ended. And then it came back. What’s going on? Is there a Page 3 or isn’t there? Or are we witnessing Shroedinger’s glamour shot?
The Page 3 girl was a typical product of the British sexual revolution. What started, with the availability of contraception to women in the 1960s, as a liberation, quickly became another way to reduce them. Freed from the terror of unwanted pregnancy, women and girls were now expected to be in a permanent state of up-for-it-ness. The popular films of the late 60s and early 70s, the On The Buses, the Carry Ons, the Confessions…, portrayed British society as a parade of priapic middle-aged men, always attempting to escape their middle-aged, old-fashioned wives, in pursuit of seemingly countless, always available, young women.
It was fun, it was cheeky, it was vampiric — depending on how you wanted to look at it.
Page 3 was part of this culture; this idea that sweet-natured young women with absolutely no qualms about sex were out there, just needing a wink and a Sid James cackle to persuade them into a bit of slap and tickle. Slap and tickle, though, is not the same as sex, or at least not sex as we might hope to understand it. The slap and tickle of the British imagination owes more to the pre-pill “sort of bargaining” described by Philip Larkin. In spite of the poet’s hopes, sexual intercourse hadn’t really begun in 1963.
Page 3 models were (are? Who knows?) very rarely erotic creatures. They were “healthy” and “fun”, perhaps a little “naughty”; always girls and never women.
The phenomenon survived the attentions of feminist campaigns of varying strengths. Page 3 perhaps peaked in the 80s, when it was possible to move beyond the tabloids to become an actual star, even with clothes on (80s Page 3 icon Sam Fox is still, apparently, in demand as a singer in eastern Europe). This, ironically, coincided with an era of politically correct criticism of Page 3 led by senior Labour MP Clare Short.
In the 90s, new laddism, spearheaded by James Brown’s Loaded magazine, somewhat rehabilitated the Page 3 girl, or, more accurately, made looking at topless models seem respectable to men who would never buy the Sun (“men who should know better” as Loaded’s tagline went).
As the post-Loaded rush for young men’s money descended into boasting of nipple counts, the focus of feminist campaigning switched to the weekly Nuts and Zoo magazines. The Sun’s Page 3 carried on, outliving the rise and fall of Nuts (somehow, Zoo is still going), but is now taking a severe battering from the No More Page 3 campaign, led by young feminists. The very fact that there is uncertainty over the future of the feature is testament to that campaign’s success.
It would be easy to look for a free speech angle on this and come up with “killjoy feminists” versus, decent honest yeomen of England.
But it would be false. In truth, what we have here is an example of how free speech works. The No More Page 3 campaign, as it has pointed out, has a right to call for an end to something they don’t like. They make the argument, they are criticised, and that’s absolutely fine. No one gets hurt, no one goes to court, no one tries to pass a prohibitive law (yet).
Meanwhile, there are some half-hearted defences floating around, mostly attempting to claim that Page 3 is a PROUD BRITISH INSTITUTION, like ugly dogs or barely suppressed tears.
“Tradition!”, the defenders shout, like a legion of leery, thigh-rubbing Topols. The Daily Star, which runs pictures of topless women on its own Page 3, but has escaped the ire of campaigners for the fundamental reason that no one really cares what’s in the Daily Star, proclaimed: “Page 3 is as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pud, fish and chips and seaside postcards. The Daily Star is about fun and cheering people up. And that will definitely continue!”. But really, it all seems a bit half-hearted.
Fundamentally, this week’s wind-up aside, The Sun’s topless Page 3 will cease to exist because people don’t really want it to exist, and no one can really think of a good reason for it to exist.
It’s not censorship, or prudishness, that will eventually kill Page 3. We’ve moved on, regardless of what the editors of The Sun do or say. It’s not them; it’s us.
On 5 February, three former opposition MPs were sentenced to three years in jail by a Kuwaiti court for insulting the Emir. Falah Al Sawwagh, Bader Al Dahoum and Khaled Al Tahous were imprisoned under charges of causing offence to Kuwait’s leader and will appeal the court’s decision. Opposition leaders, who denounced the decision as “political”, urged protestors to gather outside Al Sawwagh’s home on the evening of the verdict. The politicians are alleged to have made comments about Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah at a social event in October. They had warned that changes to Kuwait’s electoral system could lead to protests throughout the country. Opposition members boycotted Kuwait’s elections last month, claiming that the Emir unjustly favoured pro-government candidates. Mussallam Al Barrak, another former MP is facing similar charges.
Opposing Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah’s views can land you in jail — as three former MPs found out this week
An activist in Algeria has been jailed for participating in a protest against unemployment. Tahar Belabes, coordinator for the National Committee for the Rights of the Unemployed, was sentenced to one month in prison and fined 50,000 Algerian dinars on 3 February. Two other demonstrators — Khaled Daoui and Ali Khebchi — were each handed a two-month suspended jail sentence, as well as a 50,000 dinar fine. Two other participants were acquitted. Belabes was arrested with four others on 2 January in Ouargla during a demonstration for unemployed people protesting their right to work. Prosecutors had originally ordered a one year jail sentence for the men, which was later reduced. Belabes said he will appeal the verdict.
A female rock band in Kashmir has broken up after a Muslim cleric denounced their efforts as “un-Islamic”. Pragaash announced their early retirement on 5 February following complaints and intimidating comments on their Facebook page, which police are investigating. Teenagers Aneeqa Khalid, Noma Nazir and Farah Deeba made their first appearance at Srinagar’s national “Battle of the Bands” music festival in December and have faced threats ever since. They were the only female group at the concert. In an interview on Tuesday, one of Pragaash’s members said she couldn’t understand why they had been deemed un-Islamic when male groups were allowed to perform. Grand Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad said on 3 February that their behaviour was indecent and could lead to the country’s destruction. Other groups in Kashmir have also disbanded in support of the girls.
Saga (Social Amenities for the Golden Age) willclose its social networking site dedicated to over 50s because of racist, homophobic and anti-semitic comments. Reports today (6 February) said that spokesperson Paul Green blamed the closure on some “particularly vicious exchanges” between users over the Middle East, as well as trolling posts. Saga Zone, as the site is known, will be removed on 26 February, making the comments read-only and preventing users from contributing further posts. A statement on the Saga Zone page said the decision was taken to protect company interests, and avoid having negativity attached to the brand. Saga provides services for people over 50 in the UK.
The Sun newspaper has been banned from the University of Sheffield student’s union. The University’s Students’ Union Council decided to stop the sale of the paper at its union, it was reported on 5 February. Women’s Councillor Lucy Pedrick proposed the rule as part of the take page three out of The Sun campaign — a movement attempting to persuade editors to remove topless models from its papers. Council members voted on whether to take the motion to referendum, which fell after Pedrick said a “referendum would not be a fair debate.” London School of Economics Students’ Union banned The Sun in November last year following a vote.