Imagine the outcry there would be in London if TfL were to ban newsagents at tube and train stations from selling a particular national daily newspaper, or if the Mayor of London was to ask all retailers in the capital not to stock the publication in question. You may think that the scenario which I have just outlined is ridiculous and that it could never happen.
However that is exactly the state of affairs which is playing out here on Merseyside. News vendors at stations on the Merseytravel rail network have been banned from selling The Sun. In addition Liverpool City Council is asking all shops in the city not to stock the paper. The reason is of course the hurt and anger felt by many people over The Sun’s coverage of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
As a PR professional I occasionally have to read The Sun in the course of my job. It’s not a newspaper I would normally choose to read, I find xenophobic, sexist and jingoistic. But I am uncomfortable at being told that I can’t buy it.
I am also uneasy about the fact that the move to ban The Sun is getting a lot of sympathetic coverage in the Liverpool Echo, which just happens to be owned by Trinity Mirror who publish The Sun’s main rival in the tabloid market. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to see a conflict of interest there.
If people on Merseyside choose to boycott The Sun, then that sends a powerful message. It shows that the public can fight back against media owners by hitting them where it hurts, in their wallets. But that the message is seriously diluted if the paper isn’t available in the first place. Any ban will also be counterproductive as it allows The Sun to portray itself as the victim rather than the aggressor.
Whether or not we choose to buy a particular daily newspaper should be our decision, not a decision taken for us by local politicians.