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The Sun (United Kingdom)

The Sun
Front page of The Sun, September 2013
Type Daily newspaper (and Sunday newspaper from 26 February 2012)
Format Tabloid
Owner(s) News UK
Editor David Dinsmore[1]
Founded 1964 (1964)
Political alignment Conservative
Headquarters 3 Thomas More Square, London
Circulation 2,213,659 Daily[2] (as of March 2014)
ISSN 0307-2681
OCLC number 723661694

The Sun is a daily tabloid newspaper published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is published by the News Group Newspapers division of News UK, itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.[2][3]

The Sun had the largest circulation of any daily newspaper in the United Kingdom,[2] but in late 2013 slipped to second largest Saturday newspaper behind the Daily Mail.[4] It had an average daily circulation of 2.2 million copies in March 2014.[2] Between July and December 2013 the paper had an average daily readership of approximately 5.5 million, with approximately 31% of those falling into the ABC1 demographic and 68% in the C2DE demographic. Approximately 41% of readers are women.[2] The Sun has been involved in many controversies in its history, including its coverage of the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster. National editions are published in London (The Sun), Dublin (The Irish Sun) and Glasgow (The Scottish Sun).

On 26 February 2012, The Sun on Sunday was launched to replace the defunct News of the World, employing some of its former journalists.[5][6][7] In late 2013, it was given a new look, with a new typeface. The average circulation for The Sun on Sunday in March 2014 was 1,686,840.[8]


  • History 1
    • The Sun before Murdoch 1.1
    • The early Murdoch years 1.2
    • The Thatcher years 1.3
      • Changes 1.3.1
      • The Falklands War 1.3.2
      • The Sun and the Labour Party 1.3.3
      • Murdoch responds 1.3.4
      • "Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster" 1.3.5
      • Elton John and other celebrities 1.3.6
      • AIDS 1.3.7
      • The Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath 1.3.8
    • The 1990s 1.4
      • Support for 'New Labour' 1.4.1
    • Editorial and production issues in the 2000s 1.5
      • 2009: The Sun returns to the Conservatives 1.5.1
    • Since 2010 1.6
      • Fallout from the News of the World scandal 1.6.1
      • World Cup 2014 free issue 1.6.2
      • Collapse of Tulisa Contostavlos' trial for drug offences 1.6.3
      • Trial of staff for misconduct in a public office 1.6.4
  • Editors 2
  • Other versions 3
    • The Scottish Sun 3.1
    • The Irish Sun 3.2
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The Sun before Murdoch

The Sun was first published as a broadsheet on 15 September 1964 – with a logo featuring a glowing orange disc.[9] It was launched by owners IPC (International Publishing Corporation) to replace the failing Daily Herald.

Research commissioned by Cecil King from Mark Abrams of Sussex University, The Newspaper Reading Public of Tomorrow,[10] identified demographic changes which suggested reasons why the Herald might be in decline.[11] The new paper was intended to add a readership of 'social radicals' to the Herald's 'political radicals'.[12] Launched with an advertising budget of £400,000[13] the brash new paper "burst forth with tremendous energy", according to The Times.[14] Its initial print run of 3.5 million was attributed to 'curiosity' and the 'advantage of novelty',[14] and had declined to the previous circulation of the Daily Herald (1.2 million)[12] within a few weeks.

By 1969, according to Hugh Cudlipp The Sun was losing about £2M a year[15] and had a circulation of 800,000.[13] IPC decided to sell. Bill Grundy wrote in The Spectator in July 1969 that although it published "fine writers" in Geoffrey Goodman, Nancy Banks-Smith and John Akass among others, he thought it had never overcome the negative impact of its launch.[15]

Book publisher and Member of Parliament, Robert Maxwell, eager to buy a British newspaper, offered to take it off their hands and retain its commitment to the Labour Party, but admitted there would be redundancies, especially among the printers. Rupert Murdoch had bought the News of the World, a sensationalist Sunday newspaper, the previous year, but the presses in the basement of his building in London's Bouverie Street were unused six days a week.[16]

Seizing the opportunity to increase his presence on Fleet Street, he made an agreement with the print unions,[16] promising fewer redundancies if he acquired the newspaper. He assured IPC that he would publish a "straightforward, honest newspaper" which would continue to support Labour. IPC, under pressure from the unions, rejected Maxwell's offer, and Murdoch bought the paper for £800,000, to be paid in instalments.[17] He would later remark: "I am constantly amazed at the ease with which I entered British newspapers."[18]

The Daily Herald had been printed in Manchester since 1930, as was the Sun after its launch in 1964. but Murdoch stopped printing in Manchester in 1969 which put the ageing Bouverie Street presses under extreme pressure as circulation grew.

The early Murdoch years

Murdoch appointed Larry Lamb as his first editor. Lamb was scathing in his opinion of the Mirror, where he had recently been employed as a senior sub-editor. He shared Murdoch's view that a paper's quality was best measured by its sales, and he regarded the Mirror as overstaffed, and primarily aimed at an ageing readership. Lamb hastily recruited a staff of about 125 reporters, who were mostly selected for their availability rather than their ability.[18]

This was about a quarter of what the Mirror then employed, and Murdoch had to draft in staff on loan from his Australian papers. Murdoch immediately relaunched The Sun as a tabloid, and ran it as a sister paper to the News of the World.[18] The Sun used the same printing presses, and the two papers were managed together at senior executive levels.

The tabloid Sun first published on 17 November 1969, with a front page headlined "HORSE DOPE SENSATION" – an 'exclusive' in which a racing trainer admitted he was doping his horses. The paper copied its rival The Daily Mirror in several ways. It was the same size and its masthead had the title in white on a red rectangle of the same colour as the Daily Mirror. The Mirror's "Lively Letters" was matched by "Liveliest Letters", and the comic strip "Garth" by a comic strip "Scarth" featuring a frequently naked woman.

Later strips included Striker, set in the world of football; Axa, about a barbarian woman in a post-apocalyptic world; Hägar the Horrible, the comic adventures of a home-loving Viking warrior; and George and Lynne, a domestic gag-a-day strip about a couple and their friends and neighbours. George and Lynne were normally pictured naked but discreetly covered.

Sex was used as an important element in marketing the paper from the start. While the Daily Mirror frequently featured a pin-up photograph of a young woman in bikini or lingerie, ostensibly as a fashion item, The Sun dispensed with the excuses; it featured what were openly glamour photographs of women, wearing fewer clothes than their Mirror counterparts. When the first topless Page 3 girl appeared on 17 November 1970, German-born Stephanie Rahn, little offence was caused as she was presented as a one-off "Birthday Suit Girl" to mark the first anniversary of the relaunched Sun.[19]

Controversy was only ignited over the next four years when the topless Page 3 girl gradually became a regular fixture, and with increasingly risqué poses. Both feminists and many cultural conservatives saw the pictures as pornographic and misogynistic. A public library in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, banned the paper because of its "excessive sexual content".[19]

The Labour MP Alex Lyon waved a copy of The Sun in the House of Commons and suggested the paper could be prosecuted for indecency. Sexually related features such as "Do Men Still Want To Marry A Virgin?" and "The Way into a Woman's Bed" began to appear. Serialisations of erotic books were frequent; the publication of extracts from The Sensuous Woman, at a time when copies of the book were being seized by Customs, produced a scandal and a gratifying amount of free publicity.[19]

Politically, The Sun in the early Murdoch years, remained nominally Labour. It supported the Labour Party led by Harold Wilson in the 1970 General Election,[20] with the headline "Why It Must Be Labour"[21] but by February 1974 it was calling for a vote for the Conservative Party while suggesting that it might support a Labour Party led by James Callaghan or Roy Jenkins.[20] In the October election an editorial asserted: "ALL our instincts are left rather than right and we would vote for any able politician who would describe himself as a Social Democrat."[20]

The editor, Larry Lamb, was originally from a Labour background, with a socialist upbringing while his temporary replacement Bernard Shrimsley (1972–75) was a middle-class uncommitted Conservative. An extensive advertising campaign on the ITV network in this period, voiced by actor Christopher Timothy,[22] may have helped The Sun to overtake the Daily Mirror's circulation in 1978.[23] Despite the industrial relations of the 1970s – the so-called "Spanish practices" of the print unions – The Sun was very profitable, enabling Murdoch to expand his operations to the United States from 1973.

The Thatcher years


In 1979 the paper endorsed Margaret Thatcher in the year's general election, at the end of a process which had been under way for some time, though The Sun had not initially been enthusiastic for Thatcher. On 3 May 1979, it ran the unequivocal front page headline, "VOTE TORY THIS TIME".[24]

The Daily Star had been launched in 1978 by Express Newspaper, and by 1981 had begun to affect sales of The Sun. Bingo was introduced as a marketed tool and a 2p drop in cover price removed the Daily Star's competitive advantage opening a new circulation battle which resulted in The Sun neutralising the threat of the new paper.[25] The new editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, took up his post in 1981 just after these developments,[26] and "changed the British tabloid concept more profoundly than [Larry] Lamb did", according to Bruce Page, MacKenzie[25] The paper became "more outrageous, opinionated and irreverent than anything ever produced in Britain".[27]

The Falklands War

The torpedoing of the Belgrano was infamously celebrated on the front page of The Sun. The sinking cost 323 lives.

The Sun became an ardent supporter of the Falklands War. The coverage "captured the zeitgeist", according to Roy Greenslade, Assistant Editor at the time (though privately an opponent of the war), but was also "xenophobic, bloody-minded, ruthless, often reckless, black-humoured and ultimately triumphalist."[28]

One of the paper's best known front pages, published on 4 May 1982, appeared to celebrate the news of the torpedoing of the Argentine ship the General Belgrano during the Falklands War by running the story under the headline "GOTCHA".[29] The headline was changed for later editions when the extent of Argentine casualties became known.[30] Sunday Times reporter John Shirley witnessed copies of this edition of The Sun being thrown overboard by sailors and marines on HMS Fearless.[31]

On 1 May, The Sun claimed to have 'sponsored' a British missile. Under the headline "Stick This Up Your Junta: A Sun missile for Galtieri’s gauchos",[32] the newspaper published a photograph of a missile, (actually a Polaris missile stock shot from the Ministry of Defence) which had a large Sun logo printed on its side with the caption "Here It Comes, Senors..." underneath.[28][33] The paper explained that it was 'sponsoring' the missile by contributing to the eventual victory party on HMS Invincible when the war ended. In copy written by Wendy Henry, the paper said that the missile would shortly be used against Argentinian forces. Despite this, it went not well received by the troops and copies of The Sun were soon burnt.[33] Tony Snow, The Sun journalist on HMS Invincible who had 'signed' the missile, reported a few days later that it had hit an Argentinian target.[28][33]

After HMS Sheffield was wrecked by an Argentinian attack, The Sun was heavily criticised and even mocked for its coverage of the war in The Daily Mirror and The Guardian, and the wider media queried the veracity of official information and worried about the number of casualties, The Sun gave its response. "There are traitors in our midst", wrote leader writer Ronald Spark on 7 May, accusing commentators on Daily Mirror and The Guardian, plus the BBC's defence correspondent Peter Snow, of "treason" for aspects of their coverage.[34]

The satirical magazine Private Eye mocked and lampooned what they regarded as the paper's jingoistic coverage, most memorably with the mock-Sun headline "KILL AN ARGIE, WIN A METRO!", to which MacKenzie is said to have jokingly responded, "Why didn't we think of that?"[35]

The Sun and the Labour Party

These years were marked by "spectacularly malicious coverage"[36] of the Labour Party by The Sun and other newspapers. During the general election of 1983 The Sun ran a front page featuring an unflattering photograph of Michael Foot, then aged almost 70, claiming he was unfit to be Prime Minister on grounds of his age, appearance and policies, alongside the headline "Do You Really Want This Old Fool To Run Britain?"[37] A year later, in 1984, The Sun made clear its enthusiastic support for the re-election of Ronald Reagan as president in the USA. Reagan was two weeks off his 74th birthday when he started his second term, in January 1985.

On 1 March 1984 the newspaper extensively quoted a respected American psychiatrist claiming that British left-wing politician Tony Benn was "insane", with the psychiatrist discussing various aspects of Benn's supposed pathology.[38] The story, which appeared on the day of the Chesterfield byelection in which Benn was standing, was discredited when the psychiatrist quoted by The Sun publicly denounced the article and described the false quotes attributed to him as "absurd", The Sun having apparently fabricated the entire piece. The newspaper made frequent scathing attacks on what the paper called the 'loony left' element within the Labour Party[39] and on institutions supposedly controlled by it. Ken Livingstone, the leader of the left-wing Greater London Council was described as "the most odious man in Britain"[40] in October 1981.[41]

The Sun, during the Miners' strike of 1984–85, supported the police and the Thatcher government against the striking NUM miners, and in particular the union's president, Arthur Scargill. On 23 May 1984, The Sun prepared a front page with the headline "Mine Führer" and a photograph of Scargill with his arm in the air, a pose which made him look as though he was giving a Nazi salute. The print workers at The Sun refused to print it.[42] The Sun strongly supported the April 1986 bombing of Libya by the US, which was launched from British bases. Several civilians were killed during the bombing. Their leader was "Right Ron, Right Maggie".[43] That year, Labour MP Clare Short attempted in vain to persuade Parliament to outlaw the pictures on Page Three and gained opprobrium from the newspaper for her stand.

During the 1987 general election, the Sun ran a mock-editorial entitled "Why I'm Backing Kinnock, by Stalin".[44]

Murdoch responds

Murdoch has responded to some of the arguments against the newspaper by saying that critics are "snobs" who want to "impose their tastes on everyone else", while MacKenzie claims the same critics are people who, if they ever had a "popular idea", would have to "go and lie down in a dark room for half an hour". Both have pointed to the huge commercial success of the Sun in this period and its establishment as Britain's top-selling newspaper, claiming that they are "giving the public what they want". This conclusion is heavily disputed by critics, with John Pilger pointing out that a late-1970s edition of the Daily Mirror which replaced the usual celebrity and domestic political news items with an entire issue devoted to his own front-line reporting of the genocide in Pol Pot's Cambodia not only outsold the Sun on the day it was issued but became the only edition of the Daily Mirror to ever sell every single copy issued throughout the country, something never achieved by The Sun.

In January 1986 Murdoch shut down the Bouverie Street premises of The Sun and News of the World, and moved operations to the new Wapping complex in East London, substituting the electricians' union for the print unions as his production staff's representatives and greatly reducing the number of staff employed to print the papers; a year-long picket by sacked workers was eventually defeated (see Wapping dispute).

"Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster"

"Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster", 13 March 1986

During this period, The Sun gained a reputation for running stories with questionable veracity. The most blatant example gave the paper one of its best remembered on 13 March 1986: "FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER".

The story alleged that British comedian Freddie Starr, while staying at the home of (writer and old friend) Vince McCaffrey and his partner Lea La Salle[45] in Birchwood, Cheshire had, after returning from a performance at a nightclub in the early hours, found little to eat in their house. Starr put La Salle's pet hamster, she was reported as saying, "between two slices of bread and started eating it".[46]

According to Max Clifford: Read All About It, written by Clifford and Angela Levin, La Salle invented the story out of frustration with Starr who had been working on a book with McCaffrey. She contacted an acquaintance who worked for The Sun in Manchester. The story delighted MacKenzie, who was keen to run it, and Max Clifford, who had been Starr's PR for a while.[45] Starr had to be persuaded that the apparent revelation would not damage him; the attention helped to revive his career.[47] In his 2001 autobiography Unwrapped, Starr wrote that the incident was a complete fabrication: "I have never eaten or even nibbled a live hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, mouse, shrew, vole or any other small mammal."[48]

Elton John and other celebrities

Fuelled by MacKenzie's preoccupation with the subject, stories in The Sun insinuated and spread rumours about the sexual orientation of famous people, especially pop stars.[49]

Eventually resulting in 17 libel writs in total, The Sun ran a series of false stories about the pop musician Elton John from 25 February 1987.[50] They began with an invented account of the singer having sexual relationships with rent boys. The singer-songwriter was abroad on the day indicated in the story, as former Sun journalist John Blake, recently poached by the Daily Mirror, soon discovered.[51] After further stories, in September 1987, The Sun accused John of having his Rottweiler guard dogs voice boxes surgically removed.[52] In November, the Daily Mirror found their rival's only source for the rent boy story and he admitted it was a totally fictitious concoction created for money.[53] The inaccurate story about his dogs, actually Alsatians,[52] put pressure on The Sun, and John received £1 million in an out of court settlement, then the largest damages payment in British history. The Sun ran a front-page apology on 12 December 1988, under the banner headline "SORRY, ELTON".[54] In May 1987 gay men were offered free one-way airline tickets to Norway to leave Britain for good: "Fly Away Gays - And We Will Pay" was the paper's headline.[55] Gay Church of England clergymen were described in one headline in November 1987 as "Pulpit poofs".[56]

Television personality [57] describing the kiss between Colin Russell and Guido Smith as "a homosexual love scene between yuppie poofs ... when millions of children were watching".[58]

In 1990, the Press Council adjudicated against The Sun and columnist Garry Bushell for their use of derogatory terminology about gays.[59]


The Sun responded to the health crisis on 8 May 1983 with the headline: "US Gay Blood Plague Kills Three in Britain".[60]

On 17 November 1989, The Sun headlined a page 2 news story titled "STRAIGHT SEX CANNOT GIVE YOU AIDS – OFFICIAL." The Sun favourably cited the opinions of Lord Kilbracken, a member of the All Parliamentary Group on AIDS. Lord Kilbracken said that only one person out of the 2,372 AIDS-infected individuals mentioned in a specific Department of Health report was not a member of a "high risk group", such as homosexuals and recreational drug users. The Sun also ran an editorial further arguing that "At last the truth can be told... the risk of catching AIDS if you are heterosexual is "statistically invisible". In other words impossible. So now we know – everything else is homosexual propaganda." Although many other British press services covered Lord Kilbracken's public comments, none of them made the argument that the Sun did in its editorial and none of them presented Lord Kilbracken's ideas without context or criticism.[61]

Critics stated that both The Sun and Lord Kilbracken cherry-picked the results from one specific study while ignoring other data reports on HIV infection and not just AIDS infection, which the critics viewed as unethical politicisation of a medical issue. Lord Kilbracken himself criticised The Sun's editorial and the headline of its news story; he stated that while he thought that gay people were more at risk of developing AIDS it was still wrong to imply that no one else could catch the disease. The Press Council condemned The Sun for committing what it called a "gross distortion". The Sun later ran an apology, which they ran on Page 28. Journalist David Randall argued in the textbook The Universal Journalist that The Sun '​s story was one of the worst cases of journalistic malpractice in recent history, putting its own readers in harm's way.[61][62]

The Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath

The Sun's front page on 19 April 1989. The allegations were later proven to be entirely false, with the Sun admitting that it was an 'inaccurate and offensive story'.
Poster urging the Liverpool public not to purchase The Sun.

At the end of the decade, The Sun's coverage of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster in Sheffield on 15 April 1989, in which 96 people died as a result of their injuries, proved to be, as the paper later admitted, the "most terrible" blunder in its history.[63]

Under a front page headline "The Truth", the paper claimed that some fans picked the pockets of crushed victims, that others urinated on members of the emergency services as they tried to help and that some even assaulted a police constable "whilst he was administering the kiss of life to a patient."[64] Despite the headline, written by Kelvin MacKenzie, the story was based on allegations either by unnamed and unattributable sources, or hearsay accounts of what named individuals had said – a fact made clear to MacKenzie by Harry Arnold, the reporter who wrote the story.[65]

Although the disaster happened in front of television cameras and a mass of sports reporters, no evidence was produced to substantiate The Sun's allegations. The front page caused outrage in Liverpool, where the paper lost more than three-quarters of its estimated 55,000 daily sales and still sells poorly 25 years later (around 12,000).[65] It is unavailable in many parts of the city, as many newsagents refuse to stock it.[66][67] It was revealed in a documentary called Alexei Sayle's Liverpool, aired in September 2008, that many Liverpudlians will not even take the newspaper for free, and those who do may simply burn or tear it up.[68]

On 7 July 2004, in response to verbal attacks in Liverpool on Wayne Rooney, just before his transfer from Everton to Manchester United, who had sold his life story to The Sun, the paper devoted a full-page editorial to an apology for the "awful error" of its Hillsborough coverage and argued that Rooney (who was still only three years old at the time of Hillsborough) should not be punished for its "past sins". In January 2005, The Sun's managing editor Graham Dudman admitting the Hillsborough coverage was "the worst mistake in our history", added: "What we did was a terrible mistake. It was a terrible, insensitive, horrible article, with a dreadful headline; but what we'd also say is: we have apologised for it, and the entire senior team here now is completely different from the team that put the paper out in 1989".[69]

In May 2006, Kelvin MacKenzie, Sun editor at the time of the Hillsborough disaster, returned to the paper as a columnist. Furthermore, on 11 January 2007, MacKenzie stated, while a panellist on BBC1's Question Time, that the apology he made about the coverage was a hollow one, forced upon him by Rupert Murdoch. MacKenzie further claimed he was not sorry "for telling the truth" but he admitted that he did not know whether some Liverpool fans urinated on the police, or robbed victims.[70]

On 12 September 2012, following the publication of the official report into the disaster using previously withheld Government papers which has exonerated the Liverpool fans present, MacKenzie issued the following statement:

Today I offer my profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool for that headline. I too was totally misled. Twenty three years ago I was handed a piece of copy from a reputable news agency in Sheffield [White's] in which a senior police officer and a senior local MP [Sheffield Hallam MP Irvine Patnick] were making serious allegations against fans in the stadium. I had absolutely no reason to believe that these authority figures would lie and deceive over such a disaster. As the Prime Minister has made clear these allegations were wholly untrue and were part of a concerted plot by police officers to discredit the supporters thereby shifting the blame for the tragedy from themselves. It has taken more than two decades, 400,000 documents and a two-year inquiry to discover to my horror that it would have been far more accurate had I written the headline 'The Lies' rather than 'The Truth'. I published in good faith and I am sorry that it was so wrong.

Trevor Hicks, chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, rejected Mr MacKenzie's apology as "too little, too late", calling him "lowlife, clever lowlife, but lowlife".[71]

Following the publication of the report The Sun apologised on its front page, under the headline "The Real Truth". With the newspaper's editor at the time, Dominic Mohan, adding underneath:

The Sun: "We are profoundly sorry for the false reports. Twenty-three years ago The Sun Newspaper made a terrible mistake. We published an inaccurate and offensive story about the events at Hillsborough. We said it was the truth - it wasn't. The Hillsborough Independent Panel has now established what really happened that day. It's an appalling story and at the heart of it are The Police's attempts to smear Liverpool fans.
It's a version of events that 23 years ago The Sun went along with and for that we're deeply ashamed and profoundly sorry. We've co-operated fully with The Hillsborough Independent Panel and will publish reports of their findings in tomorrow's newspaper. We will also reflect our deep sense of shame".[72]

The 1990s

The Sun remained loyal to Thatcher right up to her resignation in November 1990,[73] despite the party's fall in popularity over the previous year following the introduction of the Poll tax (officially known as the Community Charge). This change to the way local government is funded was vociferously supported by the newspaper, despite widespread opposition, (some from Conservative MPs), which is seen as having contributed to Thatcher's own downfall. The tax was quickly repealed by her successor John Major, whom The Sun initially supported enthusiastically,[74] believing he was a radical Thatcherite – despite the economy having entered recession at this time.

On the day of the general election of 9 April 1992, its front-page headline, encapsulating its antipathy towards the Labour leader Neil Kinnock, read "If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights". Two days later The Sun was so convinced its front page had swung a close election for the Conservatives it declared "It's The Sun Wot Won It".

The Sun led with a headline "Now we've all been screwed by the cabinet" with a reference to Black Wednesday on 17 September 1992, and the exposure a few months earlier of an extra-marital affair in which Cabinet Minister David Mellor was involved.[75] A month later, on 14 October, it attacked Michael Heseltine for the mass coal mine closures.

Despite its initial opposition to the closures, until 1997, the newspaper repeatedly called for the implementation of further Thatcherite policies, such as Royal Mail privatisation,[76] and social security cutbacks, with leaders such as "Peter Lilley is right, we can't carry on like this",[77] It showed its hostility to the EU, and its approval of public spending cuts, tax cuts, and promotion of right-wing ministers to the cabinet, with leaders such as "More of the Redwood, not Deadwood".[78]

The Sun attacked Labour leader John Smith in February 1994, for saying that more British troops should be sent to Bosnia. The Sun's comment was that "The only serious radicals in British politics these days are the likes of Redwood, Lilley and Portillo".[79] It also gradually expressed its bitter disillusionment with John Major as Prime Minister, with leaders such as "What fools we were to back John Major".[80]

Between 1994 and 1996, The Sun's circulation peaked. Its highest average sale was in the week ending 16 July 1994, when the daily figure was 4,305,957. The highest ever one-day sale was on 18 November 1995 (4,889,118), although the cover price had been cut to 10p. The highest ever one-day sale at full price was on 30 March 1996 (4,783,359).[81]

On 22 January 1997, The Sun accused the shadow chancellor Gordon Brown of stealing the Conservatives' ideas by declaring, "If all he is offering is Conservative financial restraint, why not vote for the real thing?"[82] and called the planned windfall tax, which was later imposed by the Labour government, "wrongheaded".[83] In February 1997 it told Sir Edward Heath (still an MP) to stand down for supporting a National Minimum wage.[84]

Support for 'New Labour'

The Sun switched support to Labour on 18 March 1997, six weeks before the General Election victory which saw Labour leader Tony Blair become Prime Minister with a large parliamentary majority, despite the paper having attacked Blair and New Labour up to a month earlier. Its front page headline read THE SUN BACKS BLAIR and its front page editorial made clear that while it still opposed some New Labour policies, such as the Minimum Wage and Devolution, it believed Blair to be "the breath of fresh air this great country needs."[85] John Major's Conservatives, it said, were "tired, divided and rudderless".[85] Blair, who had radically altered his party's image and policies, noting the influence the paper could have over its readers' political thinking, had courted it (and Murdoch) for some time by granting exclusive interviews and writing columns.

In exchange for Rupert Murdoch's support, Blair agreed not to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism – which John Major had withdrawn the country from in September 1992 after barely two years.[86] Cabinet Minister Peter Mandelson was "outed" by Matthew Parris (a former Sun columnist) on BBC TV's Newsnight in November 1998. Misjudging public response, The Sun's editor David Yelland demanded to know in a front page editorial whether Britain was governed by a "gay mafia" of a "closed world of men with a mutual self-interest". Three days later the paper apologised in another editorial which said The Sun would never again reveal a person's sexuality unless it could be defended on the grounds of "overwhelming public interest".

In 2003 the paper was accused of racism by the Government over its criticisms of what it perceived as the "open door" policy on immigration. The attacks came from the Prime Minister's press spokesman Alastair Campbell and the Home Secretary David Blunkett (later a Sun columnist). The paper rebutted the claim, believing that it was not racist to suggest that a "tide" of unchecked illegal immigrants was increasing the risk of terrorist attacks and infectious diseases. It did not help its argument by publishing a front page story on 4 July 2003, under the headline "Swan Bake", which claimed that asylum seekers were slaughtering and eating swans. It later proved to have no basis in fact. Subsequently The Sun published a follow-up headlined "Now they're after our fish!". Following a Press Complaints Commission adjudication a "clarification" was eventually printed, on page 41.[87] In 2005The Sun published photographs of Prince Harry sporting a Nazi costume to a fancy dress party. The photographs caused outrage across the world and Clarence House was forced to issue a statement in response apologising for any offence or embarrassment caused.[88]

Despite being a persistent critic of some of the government's policies, the paper supported Labour in both subsequent elections the party won. For the 2005 general election, The Sun backed Blair and Labour for a third consecutive election win and vowed to give him "one last chance" to fulfil his promises, despite berating him for several weaknesses including a failure to control immigration. However, it did speak of its hope that the Tories (led by Michael Howard) would one day be fit for a return to government.[37] This election (Blair had declared it would be his last as prime minister) resulted in Labour's third successive win but with a much reduced majority.[89]

Editorial and production issues in the 2000s

Although the anger generated by Page 3 had waned in a generally more permissive society, when Rebekah Wade (now Brooks) became editor in 2003, it was thought it might be dropped. Wade had tried to persuade David Yelland, her immediate predecessors in the job, to scrap the feature, but a model who shared her first name was used on her first day in the post. In 2005 a college in Lewisham, South-East London, banned The Sun from the campus because it felt its Page 3 pictures were degrading to women.[90]

On 22 September 2003 the newspaper appeared to misjudge the public mood surrounding mental health, as well as its affection for former world heavyweight champion boxer Frank Bruno, who had been admitted to hospital, when the headline "Bonkers Bruno Locked Up" appeared on the front page of early editions. The adverse reaction, once the paper had hit the streets on the evening of 21 September, led to the headline being changed for the paper's second edition to the more sympathetic "Sad Bruno In Mental Home".[91]

The Sun has been openly antagonistic towards other European nations, particularly the French and Germans. During the 1980s and 1990s, the nationalities were routinely described in copy and headlines as "frogs", "krauts" or "hun". As the paper is opposed to the EU it has referred to foreign leaders who it deemed hostile to the UK in unflattering terms. Former President Jacques Chirac of France, for instance, was branded "le Worm". An unflattering picture of German chancellor Angela Merkel, taken from the rear, bore the headline "I'm Big in the Bumdestag" (17 April 2006).

Although The Sun was outspoken against the racism directed at Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty on television reality show Celebrity Big Brother during 2007, the paper captioned a picture on its website, from a Bollywood-themed pop video by Hilary Duff, "Hilary PoppaDuff",[92] a very similar insult to that directed at Shetty.

On 7 January 2009, The Sun ran an exclusive front page story claiming that participants in a discussion on, a British Muslim internet forum, had made a "hate hit list" of British Jews to be targeted by extremists over the Gaza War. It was claimed that "Those listed [on the forum] should treat it very seriously. Expect a hate campaign and intimidation by 20 or 30 thugs." The UK magazine Private Eye claimed that Glen Jenvey, a man quoted by The Sun as a terrorism expert, who had been posting to the forum under the pseudonym "Abuislam", was the only forum member promoting a hate campaign while other members promoted peaceful advocacy, such as writing 'polite letters'. The story has since been removed from The Sun's website following complaints to the UK's Press Complaints Commission.[93]

On 9 December 2010, The Sun published a front-page story claiming that terrorist group [95] The Sun published a small correction on 28 December, admitting "that while cast and crew were subject to full body searches, there was no specific threat from Al-Qaeda as we reported."[96] The apology had been negotiated by the Press Complaints Commission.[97] For the day following the 2011 Norway attacks The Sun produced an early edition blaming the massacre on al-Qaeda. Later the perpetrator was revealed to be Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian nationalist.

In January 2008 the Wapping presses printed The Sun for the last time and London printing was transferred to Waltham Cross in the Borough of Broxbourne in Hertfordshire,[98] where News International had built what is claimed to be the largest printing centre in Europe with 12 presses. The site also produces the Times and Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, Wall Street Journal Europe (also now a Murdoch newspaper), London's Evening Standard and local papers. Northern printing had earlier been switched to a new plant at Knowsley on Merseyside and the Scottish Sun to another new plant at Motherwell near Glasgow. The three print centres represent a £600 million investment by NI and allowed all the titles to be produced with every page in full colour from 2008. The Waltham Cross plant is capable of producing one million copies an hour of a 120-page tabloid newspaper.

In early 2011 the company vacated the Wapping complex, which in November 2011 was put on the market for a reputed £200 million. In May 2012 it was reported the Wapping site had been sold for £150 million to St George, part of Berkeley Group Holdings.[99]

2009: The Sun returns to the Conservatives

Politically, the paper's stance was less clear under Prime Minister Gordon Brown who succeeded Blair in June 2007. Its editorials were critical of many of Brown's policies and often more supportive of those of Conservative leader David Cameron. Rupert Murdoch, head of The Sun's parent company News Corporation, speaking at a 2007 meeting with the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, which was investigating media ownership and the news, said that he acts as a "traditional proprietor". This means he exercises editorial control on major issues such as which political party to back in a general election or which policy to adopt on Europe.[100]

With 'Broken Britain' controversies on issues like crime, immigration and public service failures in the news, on 30 September 2009, following Brown's speech at the Labour Party Conference, The Sun, under the banner "Labour's Lost It" announced that it no longer supported the Labour Party.[101] "The Sun believes – and prays – that the Conservative leadership can put the great back into Great Britain", though the Scottish Sun was more equivocal in its editorial.

That day at the Labour Party Conference, Union Leader Tony Woodley responded by ripping up a copy of that edition of The Sun remarking as he did so in reference to the newspaper's Hillsborough Disaster controversy: "In Liverpool we learnt a long time ago what to do".[102] The magazine Private Eye noted that the switch came shortly after a number of Conservative announcements that echoed James Murdoch's anti-BBC stance that had been the core of his MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the 2009 Edinburgh International Television Festival. One attack on Gordon Brown backfired at around this time. After criticising him for misspelling a dead soldier's mother's name, The Sun was then forced to apologise for misspelling the same name on their website.[103]

The Scottish Sun did not back either Labour or the Conservatives, with its editorial stating it was "yet to be convinced" by the Conservative opposition, and editor David Dinsmore asking in an interview "what is David Cameron going to do for Scotland?".[104][105] Dinsmore also stated that the paper supported the Union, and was unlikely to back the Scottish National Party.

During the campaign for the United Kingdom general election, 2010, The Independent ran ads declaring that "Rupert Murdoch won't decide this election – you will." In response James Murdoch and Rebekah Wade "appeared unannounced and uninvited on the editorial floor" of the Independent, and had an energetic conversation with its editor Simon Kelner.[106] Several days later the Independent reported The Sun's failure to report its own YouGov poll result which said that "if people thought Mr Clegg's party had a significant chance of winning the election" the Liberal Democrats would win 49% of the vote, and with it a landslide majority.[107]

On election day (6 May 2010), The Sun urged its readers to vote for David Cameron's "modern and positive" Conservatives in order to save Britain from "disaster" which the paper thought the country would face if the Labour government was re-elected. The election ended in the first hung parliament for 34 years, with the Tories having the most seats and votes but being 20 seats short of an overall majority. They finally came to power on 11 May when Gordon Brown stepped down as prime minister, paving the way for David Cameron to become prime minister by forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.[108]

On 24 August 2012, The Sun sparked a controversy when it published photos of Prince Harry taken in a private situation with friends while on holiday in Las Vegas, USA. While other British newspapers had not published the photos in deference to the privacy of members of the Royal Family, editorial staff of The Sun claimed it was a move to test Britain's perception of freedom of the press. In the photos, which were published on the Internet worldwide, Prince Harry was naked.[109]

The Sun has defended page 3 for the last 42 years, with (then) editor Dominic Mohan telling the Leveson inquiry into press standards in February 2012 that "Page 3" is an "innocuous British Institution, regarded with affection and tolerance."[110]

To mark the feature's 40th anniversary, feminist author, Germaine Greer wrote an article in The Sun on 18 November 2010 published under the headline: "If I ask my odd-job man what he gets out of page 3, he tells me simply, 'It cheers me up'".[111]

Since 2010

Fallout from the News of the World scandal

Following the News of the World phone hacking affair that led to the closure of that paper on 10 July 2011, there was speculation that News International would launch a Sunday edition of The Sun to replace the News of the World.[112] The internet URLs, and were registered on 5 July 2011 by News International Newspapers Limited.[113] A similar URL is not affiliated, having been registered in Italy on 24 September 2007.

On 18 July 2011, the LulzSecurity group hacked The Sun's website, where they posted a fake news story of Rupert Murdoch's death before redirecting the website to their Twitter page. The group also targeted the website of The Times.[114]

A reporter working for The Sun was arrested and taken to a south-west London police station on 4 November 2011. The man was the sixth person to be arrested in the UK under the News International related legal probe, Operation Elveden.[115] In January 2012, two current and two former employees were arrested. As of 18 January 2013, 22 Sun journalists had been arrested, including their crime reporter Anthony France.

On 28 January 2012, police arrested four current and former staff members of The Sun,[116] as part of a probe in which journalists paid police officers for information; a police officer was also arrested in the probe. The Sun staffers arrested were crime editor Mike Sullivan, head of news Chris Pharo, former deputy editor Fergus Shanahan, and former managing editor Graham Dudman, who since became a columnist and media writer. All five arrested were held on suspicion of corruption. Police also searched the offices of News International, the publishers of The Sun, as part of a continuing investigation into the News of the World scandal.[117][118]

On 11 February 2012, five senior journalists at The Sun were arrested, including the deputy editor, as part of Operation Elveden (the investigation into payments to UK public servants).[119]

Coinciding with a visit to The Sun newsroom on 17 February 2012, Murdoch announced via an email that the arrested journalists, who had been suspended, would return to work as nothing had been proved against them.[5] He also told staff in the email that The Sun on Sunday would be launched "very shortly";[5] it was launched on 26 February 2012.[120]

On 27 February 2012, the day after the debut of The Sun on Sunday, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers told the Leveson Inquiry that police were investigating a "network of corrupt officials" as part of their inquiries into phone hacking and police corruption. She said evidence suggested a "culture of illegal payments" at The Sun authorised at a senior level.[121]

World Cup 2014 free issue

On 12 and 13 June 2014, to tie in with the beginning of the 2014 World Cup football tournament, a free special issue of The Sun was distributed by the Royal Mail to 22 million homes in England.[122] The promotion, which did not include a Page 3 topless model, was announced in mid-May and was believed to the first such freesheet issued by a UK national newspaper.[123]

The boycott in Merseyside following the newspaper's coverage of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 meant that copies were not dispatched to areas with a Liverpool postcode.[124] Royal Mail employees in Merseyside and surrounding areas were given special dispensation by their managers to allow them not to handle the publication "on a case by case basis."[124]

The main party leaders, [128] and he faced criticism too from Liverpool Labour MPs and the city's Labour Mayor, Joe Anderson.[129] A statement was issued on 13 June explaining that Miliband "was promoting England's bid to win the World Cup", although "he understands the anger that is felt towards the Sun over Hillsborough by many people in Merseyside and he is sorry to those who feel offended."[128][130]

Promoted as "an unapologetic celebration of England", the special issue of The Sun ran to 24 pages.[122]

Collapse of Tulisa Contostavlos' trial for drug offences

On 2 June 2013, The Sun on Sunday ran a front page story on singer-songwriter Tulisa Contostavlos.[131] The front page read: "Tulisa's cocaine deal shame"; this story was written by The Sun On Sunday '​s undercover reporter Mahzer Mahmood, who had previously worked for the News of the World. It was claimed that Tulisa introduced three film producers (actually Mahmood and two other Sun journalists) to a drug dealer and set up a £800 deal.[131] The subterfuge involved conning the singer into believing that she was being considered for a role in an £8 million Bollywood film.[132]

At her subsequent trial, the case against Tulisa collapsed at Southwark Crown Court in July 2014, with the judge commenting that there were "strong grounds" to believe that Mahmood had lied at a pre-trial hearing and tried to manipulate evidence against the co-defendant Tulisa.[133] Tulisa was cleared of supplying Class A drugs. After these events, The Sun released a statement saying that the newspaper "takes the Judge's remarks very seriously. Mahmood has been suspended pending an immediate internal investigation."[134]

Trial of staff for misconduct in a public office

In October 2014, the trial of six senior staff and journalists at The Sun newspaper began. All six are charged with conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office. They include The Sun '​s head of news Chris Pharo, who faces six charges, while ex-managing editor Graham Dudman and ex-Sun deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll are accused of four charges each. Thames Valley district reporter Jamie Pyatt and picture editor John Edwards are charged with three counts each, while ex-reporter John Troup is accused of two counts. The trial relates to illegal payments allegedly made to public officials, with prosecutors saying the men conspired to pay officials from 2002–11, including police, prison officers and soldiers. They are accused of buying confidential information about the Royal Family, celebrities and prison inmates. They all deny the charges.[135]


Other versions

The Scottish Sun

There is also a Scottish edition of The Sun launched in 1987, known as The Scottish Sun. Based in Glasgow, the paper sells for 40p. It duplicates much of the content of the England and Wales edition but with alternative coverage of Scottish news and sport. The launch editor was Jack Irvine who had been recruited from The Daily Record. Irvine went on to become Managing Director of News International Scotland before launching his own communications company, Media House International, in 1991

In the early 1990s, the Scottish edition declared support for the pro-independence Scottish National Party. At the time the paper elsewhere continued to support the Conservatives, who were then becoming an increasingly marginalised force in Scotland. This stance, however, became somewhat problematic following The Sun's adoption of support for Labour elsewhere in Britain, given that the SNP were seen as Labour's main challengers and fiercest rivals in Scotland. The Scottish edition was forced to employ some convoluted logic to justify its eventual withdrawal of support for the SNP in favour of pro-union Labour.

However, the Scottish Sun had performed a major U-turn by the time of the 2007 Scottish election, in which its front page featured a hangman's noose in the shape of an SNP logo, stating "Vote SNP today and you put Scotland's head in the noose". The Scottish Sun has now voiced its support for the SNP in the 2011 election.[136]

As of May 2010, daily circulation is approximately 340,000.[137]

On 19 April 2011, the Scottish Sun once again came out in support for the SNP at the 2011 Holyrood elections, stating "Play it again, Salm ... He is ambitious for this country and has the drive, the personality and the policies to lead us through these troubled times," in reference to SNP leader Alex Salmond's pitch for a second term of office.

On 1 April 2013, it was reported that the Scottish Sun would be taking a neutral stance on the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence.[138] However, officials from the paper later clarified and said that it was too early to choose a stance, and that one would be chosen "nearer the time".[139]

The Irish Sun

There is also an Irish edition, based in Dublin with a regional edition for Northern Ireland, known as the Irish Sun. It shares some content – namely glamour and showbiz – with the British edition, but has mainly Irish news and editorial content, as well as sport and advertising. It often views stories in a very different light to those being reported in the British editions. One notable example is how the release of the film The Wind That Shakes the Barley was covered, with the British editions describing it as "designed to drag the reputation of our nation through the mud" and "the most pro-IRA ever",[140] whereas the Irish edition praised the film describing it as giving "the Brits a tanning".[141] In 2013, it became the first edition of The Sun to stop using topless models on Page 3.[142] It uses a slightly bigger sheet size than the British version, and costs €1.

The Irish Sun, unlike its sister papers in Great Britain, did not have a designated website until late 2012. This may in part be due to the existence of another news site with the name Irish Sun, which has been in operation since mid-2004.[143]

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External links

  • Official website (Mobile)
  • On This Day BBC News, 15 September 1964
  • "Forty Years of the Sun". BBC News, 14 September 2004
  • Facts & Figures: The Sun Newspaper Marketing Agency
  • Wapping: legacy of Rupert's revolution The Observer, 15 January 2006
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