To boycott or ban?


Credit: Pixabay / TheDigitalArtist

Amy Shimmin

“As consumers, we have the right to choose how we reward products and businesses. If their reporting contradicts our values, then consciously not funding these publications can be our collective response.”

Whenever people ask me where I’m from, they’ll often follow my response with “oh, it’s so similar to Glasgow!” Generally, I agree: both cities share a similar cultural heritage and history; both have notoriously infamous accents; both have internationally renowned nightlife. There’s one difference that stands out for me, though: people in Glasgow read The Sun.

The Sun – like it or not – is the UK’s best-selling newspaper. I grew up in a family that read multiple papers a day, yet The Sun was always absent from our coffee table. We weren’t alone. The Hillsborough Disaster is Britain’s worst sporting disaster, where 96 people were crushed watching a football match. Four days following the disaster, The Sun published a front cover brandishing two words: “The Truth”, they claimed, would eventually prove to be false. Overnight, its Scouse sales dropped by seventy-five percent. A boycott was born and now, almost thirty years later, the boycott continues.

The events that constitute the news rarely are a choice, but how we consume it is. Despite having little choice in what news my parents read, I never felt I missed out by the tabloid’s absence from my home and environment. Today, I would never buy it, and resolve never to do so in future. (Given The Sun’s role in events leading to the Leveson Inquiry, it probably was good I purposefully avoided such a paper.) At home, it’s not common at all to see copies of The Sun – not even on sale in newspaper stands, and it’s often only read by commuters into the city. Success in boycott relies on the free market: if demand reduces through refusing the paper, its supply will reduce, too.

Despite the British press’ various political affiliations, an indiscriminate citywide boycott transcends other values. A Labour voter might opt to buy a paper more aligned to their values: their decision to not buy The Sun – traditionally a Conservative-supporting tabloid – may be a personal boycott, yet this decision differs to a movement-based boycott. Some might feel as if reading The Sun on the streets of Liverpool would lead to criticism akin to censorship; on the other side of the coin, smearing the dead and wounded is wholly unjust and immoral. If a boycott is how to display that disproval, then I can only encourage it.

While it’s evident I believe in the power of boycott, the deliberate removal of stock from sale is a more thorny issue. The Daily Mail’s sales position it as the second most popular periodical, therefore garners an equal amount of controversy. As consumers, we have the right to choose how we reward products and businesses. If their reporting contradicts our values, then consciously not funding these publications can be our collective response. Removing the option outright doesn’t allow for people to deliberately avoid the paper – rather, if you stock it, you can watch as its sales plummet.

There are lessons to learn from Liverpool in demonstrating discontentment. Yes, the initial shock of The Sun’s headline prompted a loss in sales – but it was campaigning that sustained its demise. Should you ever visit the city, you’re likely to see stickers bearing anti-Sun sentiments – even taxis will remind you that it’s not welcome. This isn’t censorship – nobody is stopping you from reading it. Rather, they’re reminding you of the harm it caused to a community. Your immigrant friends, for example, are just as entitled to remind you how other papers may demonise them.

If you disagree with something – a paper, a trend, or a business – your disengagement is the first step. Don’t give their websites traffic nor buy their publication. Spread the word. Watch as many collective, small actions slowly – or perhaps even overnight – make a difference.