Tag Archives: The Sun

Blackburn Lecture On Journalism And The Internet

I did some teaching at Blackburn College’s University Centre just before Christmas, including this lecture which I gave to a group of first and second year students.

It’s a quick introduction to some of the current themes surrounding the current state of journalism. I thought it was important to emphasise to the students that, although newspapers are generally in decline, there are many factors at work and it’s not just “because of the internet”. I also wanted to stress that the skills they are learning on their course will be useful to them regardless of what they end up doing, whether it’s working for a traditional media company, in some related industry such as PR, or doing their own thing.

Here’s the full presentation.

The Hillsborough Papers: The Sun, “The Truth” And Other Newspaper Coverage

The Sun, 19 April 1989 (image via Hillsborough Independent Panel archive)

The Sun’s reporting on Hillsborough, and its infamous headline of “The Truth” published four days after the tragedy, is well-known. Its long-standing refusal to apologise for the false claims about the actions of some Liverpool fans during the disaster has led to a 23-year boycott of the paper in most of Merseyside.

But Kelvin MacKenzie’s Sun wasn’t the only newspaper to print the allegations. And this week’s release of documents by the Hillsborough Independent Panel gives us an opportunity to easily scrutinise how others reported them, and how those claims came to be in the public domain in the first place.

The allegations about drunken supporters attacking the police first surfaced in copy filed by Whites, a Sheffield news agency, on Tuesday 18 April. Among a series of un-named police officers, the copy quotes Paul Middup of the South Yorkshire Police Federation and, in a later version, local Conservative MP Irvine Patnick.

A version of the story was the front page lead of that evening’s Sheffield Star:

Sheffield Star, 18 April 1989 (image via Hillsborough Independent Panel archive)

It read: “It is becoming dear that as some fans turned lifesavers, a group of yobs in the crowd ignored fellow supporters and turned on emergency workers,” then went on to include many of the same quotes from the Whites story, including those from Paul Middup. Patnick’s intervention came too late for that day’s evening paper, but his name was everywhere the following day.

It was on the Wednesday that the story ‘went national’. But it wasn’t just The Sun that put the claims on its front page. Under the headline “Police Accuse Drunken Fans”, the Daily Express made Patnick’s comments from the later version of the Whites story the main focus of its lead article. Those comments also appeared at the end of The Sun’s “The Truth” piece. But it was another lurid claim being put about by Patnick that featured most prominently in The Sun, and caused most outrage.

The Sun claimed that Liverpool fans had “jeered” and made sexual taunts as police attended to the body of a woman killed in the crush. Another document released by the panel reveals that the source of this was almost certainly Patnick.

In a letter he sent on the Thursday to the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, who would be gathering evidence for the later inquests, Patnick included his “rough notes” of his recollections of the day of the disaster which he had written on the Wednesday. He recounted meeting several police officers on the night of the tragedy, and how he was told the story of the dead woman, as well as claims about attacks on the police. It was these claims which he repeated extensively, despite them being little more than second-hand hearsay.

Irvine Patnick’s letter of 20 April 1989 (image via Hillsborough Independent Panel archive)

The same allegations regarding the dead woman, with Patnick’s name attached more prominently, appeared in the same day’s Sheffield Star. It was under the headline “Fans ‘made sex jibes at body'”. The Sheffield Star’s article wasn’t quite as unequivocal and graphic as The Sun’s, and indeed it included a brief quote at the end from Liverpool City Council leader Keva Coombes which looks remarkably apt in hindsight: “It is a horrible and evil story. It is a half-baked attempt to form the basis of a future cover-up.” Well, indeed.

Other newspapers, while mentioning the claims, significantly played them down. The Daily Mail gave them a few paragraphs at the bottom of an article about another aspect of the disaster. The Daily Mirror took a different angle, stating that there was a “furious” reaction in Liverpool to the claims, and quoting the Secretary of the Supporters’ Club. If Kelvin MacKenzie’s eventual apology this week is anything to go by, perhaps he finally wishes he’d done the same.

Daily Mirror, 19 April 1989 (image via Hillsborough Independent Panel archive)

Looking back on the whole sorry saga, I’d argue the hatred aimed at The Sun has as much to do with its presentation of the false allegations and its general attitude in the years afterwards, rather than its publication of the stories as such. Other papers printed the same or similar articles, even on the front page, but only The Sun insisted that it was “The Truth”.

Even the Sheffield Star, which carried the claims on two separate days, did so amid a huge amount of Hillsborough coverage which was largely very sympathetic to the victims. But despite the generally strong sources of the Police Federation and a local MP, it and other papers should have done far more to in particular challenge Patnick’s account of something he had only heard about second hand before reprinting it.

One last thing occurred to me glancing through The Sun from 19 April 1989. After “The Truth” and its articles on Hillsborough, a sign that the disaster hadn’t exactly changed the mood of the paper. Albeit on page 5 instead of page 3, it still carried a picture of a topless model.

(Click here for a blogpost about what the Hillsborough archive revealed about a lost BBC tape)

Leeds MA International Journalism Course, Lecture 1

Today I gave the first of five lectures to MA International Journalism students at the University of Leeds. I’m also taking them for eight practical sessions, and it’s all part of a module aimed at giving them multimedia journalism skills, to go with some of the more academic work they’re doing in other modules.

The students are from several different countries, so I decided to use the first of the formal lectures to give them a bit of background on a few of the major challenges and possibilities facing journalism. I’m a journalist and not really an academic, so it was more of a personal perspective on some key issues rather than an in-depth critical analysis, but hopefully it’ll help put the practical skills I’m teaching them into a bit of context.

You can have a look at the presentation here: http://prezi.com/kgmt_p-4zioc/ma-lecture-1-university-of-leeds/