The Sun’s sudden interest in Austria

The Sun has little time for Europe. With the exception of the occasional assault on the European Union, the affairs of our European brothers are generally ignored.

This was the fate of Austria until three weeks ago when the Sun reported on the secret cellar revelations of Josef Fritzl and sparked a streak of consecutive days of continuous coverage. 

No one would doubt that the actions of Josef Fritzl are truely appalling and inconceivable to any right-minded reader. The facts of the case read like the plot of a gruesome, x-rated horror movie.

The Sun have gone to town on their coverage. Josef Fritzl has been described as the cellar monster, an evil beast, warped, an incest fiend, depraved, a brute, the rape monster, the devil dad who “spent up to a month venting his lust in fleshpots” on holiday in Thailand.

One wonders what purpose this overblown language serves. Is it designed to point out that, just in case we weren’t sure, that Fritzl’s actions are not acceptable? Or is it just the rantings of the inarticulate who cannot find a suitable tone to describe the outrage felt?

If anything such language undermines the reporting of the story. The unreality of monsters, devils and beasts is absurd and insensitive to some very real and horrific human suffering.

Hitler Link

The Sun also attempted clumsily to forge a link between Fritzl and Hitler. Presumbly, and quite unnecessarily, this decision attempted to portray the events as even more shocking than first realised, to give fresh impetus to maintain the story for a few more days on the front pages and to produce more senational stories than their competitors.

And so on May 3 the Sun claimed that as a child of 3, young Fritzl may have been part of a crowd that saluted Hitler. Fritzl may have joined the Hitler Youth, although there is no evidence of this. But undoubtedly claims the Sun he must’ve have been aware of nearby Nazi death camps and this almost definitely was the reason why he was looking surly in a photograph taken when he was 16.

If this isn’t convincing enough (what more do you people need? Evidence?) the paper led on May 9 with the headline “Hitler made me do it” with the full story promised on pages 4,5, 6 & 7. 

The full story it transpired was only that Fritzl was influenced by Nazi ideals of “strict discipline”, “the need to be controlled” and “the respect of authority”.

Essentially the only evidence the Sun produced is that Fritzl lived under Nazi rule during the late 30s and early 40s. An accusation you could easily level at a number of Germans, Austrians, Poles, Belgians, Dutch, Russians, French and others alive during that period. 

Dominic Lawson, writing for the Independent, said of this ‘inventive’ theory: “As a heap of innuendo piled upon non sequitur, this explanation for what went on in a basement in Amstetten takes some beating”.  

Lorraine Kelly

In all this hyperbole, the Sun did have one clear head who was able to look at the bigger picture. This was Lorraine Kelly.

In her column on May 3 she suggested a specifically created Austrian police unit should be set up to search every cellar in the country in case there were more horrors hidden away.

Using her extensive knowledge of Austria she claimed the whole case was endemic of a secretive, insular country still shaped by its occupation by the Nazis.

As Mark Lawson said in his Guardian column we Britons would be pretty offended if the Austrians used similarly unqualified, grotesque generalisations to suggest Fred West characterised our nation’s attitude to family and sex.

Furthermore, she expressed her fears that Fritzl would never face justice but just become “some sort of macabre celebrity”. I would have thought three weeks of intense coverage in a foreign newspaper examining every lurid detail will certainly aid the process. 

Fortunately for Austria, the Sun’s interest is waning. Fritzl stories have now been relegated to much later pages and soon the trail will be abandoned completely. Then the Sun will have to find another ‘beast’ to shout about. Oh look here comes Peter Sutcliffe on the front page.


The Sun takes a stand on tasteless tours

The Sun were quick to criticise ‘goulish tourists’ who were taking tours around the hotel complex in Praia da Luz where Madeleine McCann went missing over a year ago.

The report said that some of the ‘sick sightseers’ were even taking snaps of their children outside the hotel room were Maddie was believed to have been abducted from.

It was even suggested that the tours were official with tour guides.

The very idea of such prurient curiosity and interference into the private grieving of a family, especially with a mind to profit from it, is clearly offensive to an organisation which has shifted millions of newspapers on the story which has had very few genuine developments since it broke.

And as Anorak News point out, the Sun’s sister paper the News of the World were the first to give the British public a guided tour into the McCann’s holiday flat. They played a very tasteful child catcher hide and seek, suggesting methods in which the devious fiend could have grabbed Maddie and avoided the returning Kate and Gerry. 

And such outrage does not extend to the victims of ‘dungeon beast’ Josef Fritzl, whose homemade torture cellar you can now visit through the Sun’s virtual tour.



Sun columnists and their free rein to offend

It would appear that the Sun has finally lost patience with New Labour. Front page splash after front page splash pile on the misery for Gordon Brown’s beleagured government.

The most savage criticism and opprobrium meted out to Bottler Brown comes unsurprisingly from the Sun’s army of angry columnists. What is surprising is the level of abuse the columnists are allowed to get away with.

Trevor Kavanagh on May 12 unfavourably compared our PM to fallen Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was executed for genocide and crimes against the state following a popular revolution.

Stronger, and less tastefully still, Kelvin MacKenzie claimed on May 1 that many people in the country would be happy to strangle Gordon until his one good eye popped out.

Greater abuse followed from the poisoned pen of Jon Gaunt who on May 9 claimed that Gary Glitter, a convicted paedophile, has more chance of a comeback than Bottler Brown.

These outrageous personal slurs are not only indicative of the Sun’s rapid loss of faith in Gordon Brown but highlight the complete lack of editorial control or censor under which these high profile and well paid columnists operate.  

Food shortage insult

Jeremy Clarkson on May 10 dismissed the global food shortage on account of the shelves at his local Sainsbury’s store being rammed. To top this gloriously insensitive and ignorant statement off the following double page spread described the plight of starving Burmese children.

How else can such lame, ill-considered and moronic thoughts be allowed in a national newspaper unless there is a reluctance on the behalf of editing staff to ask star columnists to re-submit ideas which they have patently taken no time to consider and which fall well below journalistic standards of taste and decency.

Chief offender so far this month must go to Ally Ross who managed to squeeze out three spectacularly insensitive remarks in his column on May 9.

First he asked whether recently deceased comedian Mike Reid would have to defend his Baron title won on a recent posthumously shown ITV show on Living TV’s ghost hunting programme Most Haunted.

Secondly he suggested that self confessed bulimic John Prescott should appear on Celebrity Freaky Eaters.

And finally he produced a litany of lame tsunami puns to review ITV drama Flood. His column page preceded a double page spread on the victims of the Burma cyclone.

Editors should be demanding more from their star turns than just a flow of tasteless invective. Gordon Brown would be the first to agree.

The Sun is no longer bonkers

It was an unusually apologetic response to criticism by the usually bullish, self assured Sun.

Insensitive reporting of Frank Bruno’s detention in a mental health facility provoked an angry response from mental health charties and the public.

The Sun duly bowed its head, said they were very sorry and promised steps would be taken to ensure increased sensitivity for future stories involving mental health issues.

So the old dog agreed to learn some new tricks. But it didn’t take long for the training to wear off.

Admittedly the Sun has toned down its language from the much criticised, insensitive ‘barmy’ and ‘bonkers’.

In its place has come much more subtler turns of phrase; ‘bizarre’, ‘oldball’.

But the continued day in, day out intrusive reporting of troubled stars such as Kerry Katona and Britney Spears seems to indicate the Sun has developed little sensitivity on this issue.

Doubtlessly editors would argue that sales increases and website hits show there is a public interest in these star’s personal problems.

And the paper and the majority of its readers would argue these particular young ladies lost their rights to privacy a long time ago after selling every life detail and inch of flesh to any reporter with a big enough chequebook.

But this free ride surely does not extend to intrusively snapping a young mother, regardless of whether she’s a multi-million selling record artist, in an ambulance in the throes of a severe breakdown.

Imagine if the scenario had been an elderly member of the public suffering from Alzheimer’s. Would front row seat coverage be used?

The main problem here is also the Sun’s main strength, brevity. The Sun is an impact paper, its writing is tight and without unnecesary detail. But it also means its reporting can be lacking in depth and detail.

Whether a celeb is suffering from exhastion, stress, drug abuse or bi-polar diorder the Sun very rarely gives details or explanations. Invariably we are told that the star is troubled. The aim is not to inform, its mere voyeurism. The 21st century circus freak show.

 The paper also fails to acknowledge its own responsibility for the struggling mental health of these stars.

Both Katona and Spears have been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Undoubtedly the continual intrusion into the everyday life by paparazzi photographers can only exacerbate their conditions.

It seems that not content on playing a huge role in raising these vulnerable women to worldwide fame, the Sun and other tabloids are equally keen to monitor every painful step of their decline.


A pat on the back for the Sun…from the Sun

There is nothing unique about a paper giving itself a complimentary pat on the back for its reporting.

In this increasingly desperate battle for readers the need to extol the depth and exclusivity of your brand’s reporting above others is of paramount importance.

And so it may be a nuisance to have a paper remind us that the latest major news story was a productive of their tireless reporting, we grudgingly acknowledge their achievement.

The Sun however, take this established practice to extraordinary new heights that the word exclusive now carries no weight at all in their paper.

So fatuous stories such as David Beckham looks at a cheerleader’s bum are plastered with exclusive so we the lucky reader can thank the heavens we got this hot news first.

And the claim that Avram Grant’s cool reception from fans and media since taking the reigns at Chelsea has been due his Jewish roots. The story is splashed with EXCLUSIVE and UNCOVERED.

All fine and well until you read on and discover the story is from an interview given by Israeli superagent Pini Zahavi to an Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv.

And the article then goes on to debunk Zahavi’s claim by suggesting Grant’s cool reception has rather more to do with trying to fill Jose Mourinho’s immaculately tailored boots.  

Granted newspapers can’t be shy about promoting their content. But all this bluster needs something to back it up or else its just hot air.

Cherie Blair ‘sensation’

Take for example the front page splash from May 10 of Cherie Blair’s  BOOK SENSATION with its WORLD EXCLUSIVE revelations from a bombshell interview with the woman behind our last Prime Minister.

For a princely six figure sum the Sun were able to reveal :-

– Tony STUMBLED as he went to kiss the Queen’s hand (Sun’s emphasis)

– Their lives have dramatically CHANGED since he left office

– It was difficult having her hair done for evening functions and then having to wear her barrister’s wig

More than just their content, the Sun like to draw attention to their clever use of language. We as readers are asked to admire their clever turn of phrases and expected to lavish praise upon their efforts. Like a patient mother we have to ruffle the hair and say well one to the kid who keeps drawing god awful drawings which vaguely look like dogs.

Clever nicknames

And so in every Heather Mills story, a pretty regular occurence these days, the Sun proudly tells us that they came up the devlishly clever nickname Lady Mucca and Pornocchio.

Gordon Smart, a young man never afraid to puff out his own chest, lavished praise upon his “graphics wizards” for coming up with this photo fit-up of Leona Lewis. I think we can all agree that this is state of the art graphics.

This self congratulatory technique reached astonishing levels with their special report on North Korea where their undercover reporter Oliver Harvey took time out when captured for spying to reflect on how hilarious the Sun’s ‘How do you solve a problem like Korea?’ headline was.

The Sun's novel approach to nuclear disarmament

Bare in mind this was written when the reporter was supposedly in the detention of North Korean police services, an outfit with a strangely neglectful acknowledgement of the Human Rights Act. It was a good headline but it wasn’t that good. 

Credit where credit’s due I say. But as any brass player will tell you, you can do serious damage continually blowing your own trumpet.  

Shanahan’s temporary amnesia

I worry a little for Fergus Shanahan‘s current mental state. He seems to have completely forgotten who he writes for.

In his column on 22/04/08 he blasts barmaid Cath Coppin after she bedded mockney comedian Russell Brand by sending him a text message simply ordering “Do Me”.

After Brand nips round for a bit of “how’s yer father”, Coppin, in Shanahan’s words, pulls up her knickers, rings an agent and makes a mint flogging her tale.

Shanahan concludes: “It’s not exactly Gone With The Wind, is it?”

No Fergus, but then that has never worried the Sun who have filled their pages with such lurid tales for years. One wonders how thin the Sun would be if there weren’t thousands of entrepreneurs like Ms Coppin prepared to bare all in sleazy kiss and tells.

Shanahan quickly turns his ire on the Government who he says are “not content with spying on your wheelie bins and checking the views from your windows, the Government wants to poke into your sex life”.

He adds: “Its not clear whether you will be asked to list your favourite sexual position but I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Of course, its not the role of the Government to pry into our private lives and make judgements about us based purely on our own sexual quirks.

No, this is the job of the tabloid newspaper and they certainly wouldn’t want anyone stepping onto their patch.

I trust all readers will join me in wishing Mr Shanahan a speedy recovery.

Murdoch’s Glorious Empire

Rupert Murdoch‘s worldwide empire is such that he has very little time to devote to the daily running of his beloved british tabloid. The Sun, however, affords plenty of time in promoting the rest of News Corp’s many and varied interests.

Since News Corp’s acquistion of MySpace in July 2005 for half a billion dollars, the website has been fighting a losing battle with competitor Facebook for top dog supremacy of the social network website market.

But Murdoch’s empire is not accustomed to settling for second place and the empire has unleashed its pitbull against its rival.

On 17/04/08 the Sun dedicated a double page spread, adorned with the headline “Off their facebook”, to highlight the Facebook groups that encourage members to over indulge in cocaine.

It presented two case studies, casual drug users in the past, who were transformed into out-of-control coke-mountain hoovers after joining the groups.

Dean from Clapham claimed that the groups had a “feeling of camaraderie” and “it felt like we were bonding over a shared experience.”

The site, Dean claimed, taught him how cheap he could get his charlie, where to find a dealer and what drugs to mix with his coke. He’s now calling for a ban or age restriction on the groups.

Heather was similarly dragged down into a drug hell because of Facebook. She said groups celebrating drug use made her feel “accepted and cool”.

She was goaded into taking more and more drugs until she realised that she “didn’t even know these people, and had succumbed to a world where taking drugs seemed the norm when, really, it wasn’t.”

Thankfully, under pressure from the Sun, Facebook have promised to shut down these portals into chemical hell.

This Facebook expose followed hot on the heels of an article on 02/04/08 about the dangers of social network websites, how they encourage promiscuriy and celebrate booze fuelled behaviour.

Mentions of MySpace, the second most popular of such sites, were thin on the ground.

But the article featured an incredible thirteen mentions of Facebook in the double page spread which explained how one user had bedded 50 men through Facebook and showed how another Facebookee could only remember her boozy nights out from photos placed on the site.

Of course, the fact that the Sun’s accusing digits are pointed squarely at Facebook has nothing to do with the fact that it has surged past the Murdoch owned Myspace in popularity.