I’d be inclined to think of my uncle as a decent man, but he once said to me one of the worst things anyone ever has. I asked him about those souls drowning across Europe in leaky, over packed vessels – desperately trying to make it to our shores because they have nowhere to go. He suggested that we should abids by the words of Katy Hopkins, and sink them. When my Dad, also present, tutted and suggested that was the type of talk that was heard before the holocaust, my uncle replied; “Yeah. And I’d have done that as well.” He is fifty four years old, lives with his two parents; and he gets his news from The Sun.
The Sun’s November 24th front cover “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis” may well be the most offensive front page it has issued since the day after the Hillsborough disaster. Near daily the tabloid dumbs down and distorts information that even in its own column inches prove to be manipulations of the truth. Every day it pushes an agenda; be it the directly contradictory headlines run in England and Scotland during the independence referendum, or being a front runner in trivial political slur stories on both signs of party lines.
It comes as no surprise that the 1 in 5 headline was a complete obfuscation of the results of the poll. Conducted by Survation, it asked respondents if they had “sympathy with young Muslims who leave to UK to join fighters in Syria”. This has no discretion to which side of the conflict they may be fighting on; ‘sympathy’ could mean understanding, regardless of support; and the only options were “a lot”, “some”, or “none”, where the moderate choice is disproportionately likely to be picked. The Sun found an abhorantly negative slant in what was truly an encouraging report.
“Hate crimes against Muslims have risen 300% since the Paris attacks, and this sort of material from The Sun both speaks to the perpetrators of those acts, and informs the climate that makes them a sad reality”
When Murdoch took it over in 1969, The Sun saw itself as the newspaper of the people; or rather, the entrepreneurial project of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. A venture capitalist – the focus of the paper put a priority of units over ethics. Indeed, he has said that a paper’s quality was “best measured by its sales”. What is left is a publication that by its very nature speaks to an audience it demeans. The offices of The Sun are a constant source of fascination –the people that work there must be of some linguistic and intellectual capability; and yet daily must sit at their desks and think “how can I dumb this down for the plebs?”
The editors of The Sun thinks it echoes the people’s voice; when public opinion changes, it spins on a dime – because appealing to them matters more than informing them. It both speaks to the common man, and inflates their base fears and prejudices. Hate crimes against Muslims have risen 300% since the Paris attacks, and this sort of material from The Sun both speaks to the perpetrators of those acts, and informs the climate that makes them a sad reality.
In reality, the readership may not be less intelligent, or even less perceptive than Impact readers. The sad truth is that The Sun is just an entertaining read. It has cheap, self-aware puns, its language is simple, its diagrams plain and bold – it speaks to a world often much bleaker, but often much more appealing than the one in which we live. In Murdoch’s dominion there are no dilemmas, just endless dichotomies: royal or scrounger, peace or war: like the Survation poll – twisted into simple, prejudiced conclusions. It’s easier to blame the outsider, or the weak, or the voiceless; and its much less troubling to see the world as an unjust but easily resolvable place.
“That front page does exactly as ‘jihadi John’, pictured on the front cover as proxy for all followers of the religion, would have wanted”
David Cameron likes to speak of British values but he’s living a fallacy if he thinks he sets them: really it’s the media. The Sun has decided British values are tinged in the wake of current events by Islamophobia and so capitalises on that, and in turn manufactures it. Its tactics are almost Machiavellian; rather be feared than be liked, and it knows a scary headline sells better than good news. This though ultimately brings into question the blurred line between a free press and hate speech.
The 1986 Public Order Act determines in Section 18 that “a person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred.” What else can be said of a newspaper that printed a column in which drowning immigrants were called a swarm, and which deliberately twists polling information to tar a certain faith with lies. Obviously they did not read The Guardian a few days earlier that explained, from the words of an ex-ISIS detainee, that the thing ISIS fear most is worldwide unity with Islam. That front page does exactly as ‘jihadi John’, pictured on the front cover as proxy for all followers of the religion, would have wanted. The problem is that the Public Order Act refers to a ‘he’; while The Sun is an institution, and those are far harder to topple.
A record 1200 submitted complaints and the social media hashtag “1in5Muslims” has satirised the reductiveness of the headline. Derbyshire band Drenge even released a video of them nicking a heap and tossing them straight in the bin. Those of us who loathe The Sun and its owner and its despicable headlines are not the ones who have the power to do anything about it. The Sun is a business, that’s why it is how it is – and the people who determine the success of a business, and tune its output, are consumers. All we can do is challenge readers on the material in their hands, in a way that doesn’t condescend in the same manner as the publication they hold dear, and hope to widen their mind beyond its reach. It’s a magazine so fixated by money that if it deems the nation a rational one, then it will have no choice but to be too.
Image: Joe S via Flickr