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The Sun recovers its moral purpose

August 24, 2012

It’s time to embark upon a subject of the gravest national importance: the question of who should be allowed to see images of Prince Harry cavorting in a Las Vegas hotel room without any clothes on.

Many may find these images both aesthetically distasteful and irrelevant to their otherwise busy lives. But, on occasions like this, we must put aside such petty prejudices and brace ourselves to a task of greater moment, even if every sinew in our bodies aches to avoid it.

I refer of course to the Public Interest, and the media’s inalienable right to uphold it. Most of you will by now be uncomfortably aware that uncensored images of the Prince in his altogether have been circulating freely on the internet, where they pose an unrestricted threat to the morals of our minors (should they be unlucky enough to encounter them). Why should a few children be so privileged? Surely it is the duty of all citizens to immerse themselves in such tackiness in order that the Public Good prevail?

That is why the  time has clearly arrived to brush aside both the feudal obfuscation of St James’s Palace and the limp-wristed admonitions of the Press Complaints Commission. And publish and be damned.

Many newspapers, it must be said, have shirked this onerous responsibility – no doubt cowed by the poisonous, anti-democratic miasma that has descended upon freedom of expression in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry.

Thank goodness, therefore, for The Sun which, uniquely among the press, has proved itself an uncompromised standard-bearer of all that is best in British life. It alone has had the courage to publish something not only in the public interest but, much more important to our sense of national values, something that interests the public.

It was – naturally – a tough decision to publish, and one not entered into lightly. News International lawyers will have argued against further sullying a reputation already mired by the perception that The Sun is a cynical purveyor of double-standards and hypocrisy.

Not so, of course. As no less a person than Elisabeth Murdoch has just pointed out in her MacTaggart Lecture, “Profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster.” In the past, and under the misguided leadership of her brother James, it has to be admitted The Sun occasionally lost its moral compass in making an unprincipled grab for profits whenever the opportunity of a few extra newspaper sales beckoned.

But now, revitalised by a moral vigour flowing from the very top of the organisation that owns it, The Sun can proudly claim to have recovered its purpose in national life. As a muckraker.

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Seven-day-a-week newspaper publishing revolution shatters The Mirror

May 30, 2012

The Rabelesian guffawing in The Mirror’s newsroom when Trinity Mirror’s chief executive announced her unlamented departure is now reduced to a sullen whisper.

Who will be next, the hacks timorously wonder as they survey the seismic damage caused by this morning’s fresh round of top-level sackings? Out, in short order, have gone Richard Wallace, editor of The Daily Mirror, and Tina Weaver, veteran editor of The Sunday Mirror. In has come Lloyd Embley (who? – formerly editor of the People) as the new editorial supremo of a “merged” 7-day-a-week Mirror newspaper.

In a classic example of tabloid double-think, Embley told his shell-shocked team: “This is not a slash and burn exercise. Nor is it about managing decline.”

Isn’t it, Lloyd? Difficult to see what else it might be. Certainly not a strategic decision, made from strength. Nor, to use some ghastly marketing jargon, is it “proactive”. Indeed, as so often in the world of newspapers, Rupert Murdoch continues to take the credit, having got there first with the 7-day Sun – while Trinity hobbles behind, a lame second. If the two editors were stunned by the manner of their summary dismissal this morning, they can hardly be surprised by its ultimate cause. All the circulation gains accruing to The Sunday Mirror after Murdoch unexpectedly closed the News of the World were wiped out almost overnight by his introduction of The Sun on Sunday.

If this brutal step-change really is, in the words of the Trinity statement, “a further step towards creating one of the most technologically advanced and operationally efficient newsrooms in Europe,” why on earth didn’t senior management have the courage of their convictions and implement it before?

Because, let’s face it, it isn’t really a step-change at all. And because, where newsrooms and newspapers are concerned, there are more important things than being “technologically advanced” and “operationally efficient”. Like keeping your journalists on side. Which is difficult when you are savagely cutting their numbers to achieve shareholder “value”.

What seems to have occurred here is some highly expedient corporate chicanery. How can it be that Sly Bailey, the lame duck outgoing chief executive, has been allowed to make these changes, changes she would never have dared to make before she resigned? Simple. The new board, and particularly the new chairman David Grigson, needs someone to hide behind, someone who is now totally expendable.

This may not have been Grigson’s only calculus, however. The suspicion is Trinity used this occasion to cleanse its Augean Stables. We’re still waiting to hear the full unexpurgated version of former Mirror editor Piers Morgan’s flirtatious relationship with the truth about phone-hacking, but last week moved a little closer to full disclosure with Jeremy Paxman’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry. Wallace and Weaver were both later contemporaries of Morgan, who stepped down from the Mirror in 2004. Like two Wise Monkeys, they have joined Morgan in a deaf-and-dumb denial of complicity in phone-hacking culture. Which – who knows? – may be entirely justified. But just in case, why not get rid of them at this opportune moment? They are, in any case, very expensive; and they were, no doubt, utterly opposed to the concept of sacrificing one of their editorships on the altar of a 7-day newspaper.

And yet the real casualty here is the brand. Sunday newspapers, and not just red-top Sundays, are looking like an endangered species. Who will be next to join the 7-day bandwagon? The Independent/Independent on Sunday? The Guardian/Observer?

Sunday newspapers are being eroded not simply by shrink-fit publishing economics but by changing reading habits. After all, who these days seeks the wow-factor of a good old-fashioned scoop over their Sunday bacon and eggs?


Will the last unindicted Sun journalist please turn out the lights?

February 11, 2012

A News International spokesman tells us Sun editor Dominic Mohan is “not resigning” in the wake of 5 more high-profile arrests of his senior colleagues.

Well, thank goodness for that. Someone has to be there to switch off the lights, and there now seem precious few editorial staff of any standing who aren’t on bail, or facing the threat of arrest.

The climate of fear at The Sun is, it would seem, being deliberately intensified by the police, in the hope of breaking NI’s culture of omerta and persuading more witnesses to squeal on each other. What other interpretation can be placed on police commander Sue Akers’ decision to organise the two waves of arrests, a week apart, as high-drama “dawn raids”, timed to coincide with Sunday newspaper interest? Whatever these men may or may not have done, they are not gun-runners, drug-traffickers or international terrorists. So why the heavy-handed police choreography, if not to a) impress the public that the police are at last getting tough on corruption and to b) create maximum distress among the people at NI?

As the web of alleged corruption spreads to more police officers, the army and the ministry of defence, it has emerged that Rupert Murdoch will be making a special pilgrimage to The Sun offices to personally reassure its staff he will not be doing unto them what he earlier did to their colleagues at the News of the World.

Maybe not, for now. But one thing I suspect we won’t be hearing much of from here on is Son of NoW, the Sun on Sunday. The Sun is a broken brand.

The latest wave of arrests will also put pressure on other parts of The Sun’s ultimate owner, News Corp. It could turn the screw on a Federal investigation into alleged racketeering. And, nearer home, it will surely rekindle calls for an investigation into News Corp being a fit and proper holder of a TV licence. Should BSkyB’s share price be seriously depressed as a result, you can be sure that – for all their stalwart support of James Murdoch up to now – the board will have no compunction in firing him as chairman.

UPDATE 18/2/12: First, some humble pie. “One thing we won’t be hearing much of from here on is the Son of NoW, the Sun on Sunday”. Er, no. Rupert Murdoch has just given his personal assurance that the launch will go ahead “very soon”. Industry experts believe this means some time in April, possibly the 29th.

However, what may play well with demoralised Sun staffers is not guaranteed to be a publishing success. Particularly if more distracting scandal damages the Sun brand in the meantime. And who, given the unbridled brief of the MSC to cleanse the Augean Stables at News International, can say it will not?

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who has been leading the anti-hacking campaign in parliament, neatly expresses the commercial paradoxof an SoS launch: “He (Murdoch) is meant still to be ‘draining the swamp’ and yet the swamp is meant to produce another newspaper.”

As it happens, Murdoch seems to have lost his sureness of touch in the realm of newspaper launches. His foray into the London freesheet market, with thelondonpaper, certainly did financial damage to Associated Newspapers, owner of London Lite and (at that time) the paid-for Evening Standard. But News International lost heavily on the project and eventually had to close it down.

The SoS will be launching into a rapidly declining market. Ad revenue was down over 17% last year (end of January) and – even stripping out the now-folded News of the World – the underlying slide was 11%. Readers are deserting too. And their contribution, in the form of circulation revenue, is even more vital to mass-market tabloids than advertising. The only way in, it would seem, is a price-war. That may well damage the SoS’ prime adversary, the Sunday Mirror. But whether it will create a financially viable Sun on Sunday is a moot point.


Is now the moment when The Sun brand begins to set?

January 29, 2012

Arrested: four senior Sun hacks, plus an allegedly bent copper.

Is this the moment that damage to The Sun brand becomes systemic and unstoppable?

Not if News Corp, which ultimately owns the title, has calculated correctly. After all, the information that led to the arrests – carried out as part of the Operation Elveden investigation into police corruption – was volunteered by the company itself. It’s a gesture clearly designed to demonstrate that the House of Murdoch is now whiter than white, thanks to the “fearless” probing of its so-called Management and Standards Committee (driving force, former Telegraph editor-in-chief Will Lewis).

Sacrificing the prospects of 4 more Sun employees superficially looks like a shrewd way of cauterizing existing brand damage. But on one condition only: that no more evidence of criminal behaviour comes to light. And who, in the circumstances, is going to guarantee that?

Because these four are not the first Sun staff to be arrested. Remember Sun district editor Jamie Pyatt, who was assisting police with their inquiries last November, and has now been bailed until next March? The suspicion must linger that more arrests – inextricably linking The Sun to the culture of criminal deception imbuing other parts of NI – are on the way. And how might that play with advertiser sentiment?

When perception will actually catch up with reality is, of course, anyone’s guess. One of the remarkable aspects of this marathon phone-hacking (computer-hacking and police bribery) scandal is how long everyone at News Corp rival Trinity Mirror – from CEO Sly Bailey down to Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace and, indeed, The Mirror’s most famous alumnus of all, Piers Morgan – has been able to cling to the increasingly threadbare “Three Wise Monkeys” defence strategy. Only the other week, Bailey was telling the Leveson Inquiry that she had never launched an inquiry into potential journalistic abuses “because she had never been given any evidence of it“. Of course she hasn’t. Which turkey ever votes for Christmas?

UPDATE 30/1/12: Nick Davies, the man who has done more than anyone else to break open this scandal, clearly sees the arrest of senior Sun editorial executives as a pivotal moment. In his Guardian piece today, he suggests that News Corp has now lost control of its own database, and therefore the ability to obstruct further disclosures. With potentially terrifying consequences for a lot of senior people in the Murdoch news organisation. See ‘Mysteries of Data Pool 3 give Rupert Murdoch a whole new headache‘.


FIFA sponsors are the only ones who can splatter Blatter

November 20, 2011

Well, what a week of wasted moral outrage that was, even if it did produce one of The Sun’s finest headlines for a very long time.

Make no mistake. “Splatter Blatter” may have sold extra copies of the red-top, but will do nothing to remove the Teflon Man, whose life’s achievement has been to carve himself an impregnable position as world football’s supremo.

In a way, you’ve got to admire him. Like Bernie Ecclestone, whom he resembles in a variety of ways, Blatter is a master tactician at the top of his own, very particular, game: not the administration of Formula One or FIFA, but the administration of power.

The secret of their supremacy is the same. It lies not (or very little) in formal status, but in a second-to-none understanding of how to manipulate an opaque global system that has no loyalty beyond its self-perpetuation.

To be sure, FIFA and F1 are, or have, venerable governing bodies guided by what appear to be democratically elected representatives acting in accordance with a constitution. In reality, the election of these officials is manipulated to suit insiders; and the workings of the institutions they represent are so complex and well-defended that they defy almost any outside attempt to hold them to account.

If there is any parallel to representative government, it is the quaint Rotten Borough system that existed in Britain before 1832. Boiled down to essentials, it involved the King and his chosen First Minister fixing a parliamentary majority by procuring the election of their chosen placemen in all the seats that actually mattered. For placemen read “men in blazers”, and you get the picture.

Corruption was the indispensable lubricant of this system. It involved greasing people’s palms, and not just at election time. The disbursement and retraction of patronage – primarily offices of state awarded on the basis of interest rather than merit – was key to successful management.

Recognise the parallel? Allegations of corruption have plagued Blatter’s 4 consecutive terms of office, culminating in the 2018 World Cup scandal that broke earlier this year. As for F1 scandals, need I enumerate them?

But what do Blatter or Ecclestone care about that? The same opacity which protects these organisations from outside investigation also insulates their ringmasters from public criticism – and any punitive measure that might result from it. Hence the stream of crass remarks that regularly issues from their mouths. For Bernie, Hitler was an OK bloke who built excellent roads even if he did later succumb to a power complex. For Blatter, racism on the pitch is a non-issue which can be settled with a handshake at the end of the match. Out of touch, clearly. But then, so what? They’re also out of reach, and they know it.

Blatter has deftly deflected calls for his departure from the likes of David Cameron, David Beckham and The Sun by portraying the outcry as a case of sour grapes. Only Britain has worked itself up into a national lather over racism on the pitch. Why? Because England lost out in the contest to become 2018 World Cup host, and is now conducting a vendetta against the man perceived to be its nemesis.

So, can he now blow the final whistle and move on? Not quite. If there’s one chink in Blatter’s armour, it’s money – or rather its threatened withdrawal. What if the sponsors – household brand names, with household reputations to maintain – deem he has gone too far and pull the plug on the hundreds of millions of pounds a year that FIFA depends upon for its survival?

Ordinarily, that simply wouldn’t happen. However much they may privately tut-tut about Bernie’s ex-wife spending £12m on their daughter’s nuptials, Max Mosley’s grubby sexual antics or Blatter’s moral insensitivity, the last thing they are going to do is scupper a strategic investment with a noble gesture. Their investment is, after all, in the global game, not the administating organisation and the people who lead it. And their justification for inaction the not unreasonable conjecture that most football and motor-racing aficionados have little knowledge and less interest in the shenanigans of sports administrators.

One sponsor’s uncharacteristic response to Blatter’s racism episode is what, in fact, makes this furore so interesting. True, most of FIFA’s six official partners have played entirely true to form. Coca-Cola has categorically rejected a review of its sponsorship; while Visa, Hyundai/Kia, Sony and Adidas have contented themselves with more or less bland statements condemning racism in sport. But Emirates has broken ranks by taking the almost unprecedented step of reviewing its sponsorship.

Whatever next? Not Blatter’s resignation, for sure. But perhaps the beginning of the end of his reign.


Former Sun and NoW boss Mike Anderson launches smartphone apps company

May 19, 2010

Mike Anderson, former managing director of The Sun and News of the World, is launching a company specialising in building and marketing mobile phone applications for smartphones. Handheld Company, based in Chelsea, opens its doors this month.

Anderson believes that with smartphones – such as the iPhone, Blackberry and Google-spawned Android handsets – becoming cheaper, more efficient and popular, the mobile platform is finally coming of age as a commercial opportunity. And that the way ahead is to be found in the development of apps that work effectively across platforms.

Anderson tells me: “Most brands, and agencies, don’t yet understand that there’s an opportunity beyond Apple and the iPhone, which account for most of the 200,000 apps currently available. This business is just taking off, with a lot of smarter apps about to come on stream. But the rhythm of publishing, the model, isn’t yet established. There’s a shortage of good developers and lots of ‘garage’ moms and pops out there. Few understand how to go to market, fewer still how to make money. And no one yet has grabbed enough land to be a significant player. There’s a lot of consolidation coming in the next 18 months.” Anderson sees the business evolving along the same lines as the record and computer games industry, with successful developers and labels commanding “rock star” status and fortunes.

Handset Company is based in a converted warehouse, dubbed the Chelsea Apps Factory, and has an initial staff – comprising designers, software and marketing specialists – of about 30. Much of the start-up capital has been provided by Anderson and his partners, but he is now initiating a private equity funding round.

Anderson has had a long career in the newspaper industry, punctuated by short spells in commercial television and as a media buyer. Before joining News International as managing director of News Group Newspapers in 2005, he was md of The Standard, and before that founding md of the successful freesheet, Metro – both at that time owned by Associated Newspapers. Anderson finally stepped down at News International in autumn last year, after tragedy blighted his private life. His wife, Jane, died of cancer, leaving him to bring up three children. In his own words: “It was a difficult time – it is very different being a single parent… When I came back, News International couldn’t find a role for me. They tried to find something, but I thought the best thing to do would be to get out and do what I believe in.” Initially, he set up a consultancy, Frank Business – one of his clients being The Sun.

At Handheld Company, Anderson’s partners are Mike Spencer, former marketing director of QVC Shopping Channel and the Disney Channel Europe; mobile content specialist Gordon Robson; Jo Rabin, former chief technical officer of Reuters Mobile Flirtomatic; and communciations and brand specialist Jane Allan.


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