LONDON BRIDGE (Labour Buzz) - From sales of four million in the nineties to a little over one million today, the Sun recently reported a £68 million loss. Even so, Rupert Murdoch remains as committed to his flagship as ever. The reason has nothing to do with money.
The paper continues to deal with the fall out from the phone hacking scandal that affected its sister paper the News of the World. Back then, Murdoch’s focus was to prevent the scandal leaching over into his biggest title, but the signs are it hasn’t worked.
Of the £68 million loss, £54million was spent on legal fees and damages, a sign perhaps that there is a penalty for dishonest journalism after all.
The Sun worked very hard to claim phone hacking was isolated to the News of the World. Throughout the case, lawyers produced evidence which they said implicated journalists from the Sun. However, they settled every case before trial preferring to throw money at the problem rather than endure embarrassing court appearances.
However, the cost of these settlements is mounting and has already run into hundreds of millions of pounds, but it keeps coming. No sooner have they settled one case, than another pops up. Prince Harry is the latest to make a claim against the paper.
Trouble at the top
However, phone hacking merely scratches the surface of what’s going wrong. Like the rest of the newspaper industry, Britain’s leading tabloid is struggling for readers.
Ten years ago, it was selling three million copies. Today it sells 1.25million. It’s losing 11% of its readers every year and, if things carry on in this direction, it could soon slip behind the Daily Mail.
This also has been declining although its descent is not nearly so steep. In an welcome race to the bottom, the Sun looks set to dip below the million readers mark before the Mail.
The problems run much deeper than phone hacking. Newspapers are in crisis everywhere. Readers are going online and the Sun has been slow to react.
While the Daily Mail launched the entirely separate entity, Mail Online, which built a vast audience thanks to its steady offering of free celebrity news interspersed with racism, the Sun decided to go for an ill fated pay wall.
Belatedly, the powers at the top appear to have realised their mistake and are upping their focus on digital in a bid to compete with the Mail.
There has been progress. Since ditching the pay wall, the Sun is now scoring 30 million unique viewers according to ComScore although other calculations show Mail Online ahead.
One thing’s for sure, the Sun’s dominant position is under threat. It is no longer the guaranteed money maker it was in its heyday. The phone hacking scandal is a millstone around its neck and it has struggled to adjust to the changing media landscape. Whether it can stay at the top remains to be seen, but Murdoch’s continuing devotion to the title is telling.
He’s not in it for the money, he’s in it for the power. The Sun still has a reputation as a King Maker. Its backing has come to be seen as crucial in the battle for Number 10 and certainly helped sway voters in 2019 and it’s given Murdoch unparalleled access to the seat of power. It’s access he would lose under a Labour government which explain both why he’s so keen to hold onto it and so desperate to smear any opposition.
Even so, times are tough for the Sun. With audiences plummeting, could it be losing its grip on the British people at long last?
(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Michael O'Sullivan)