Published on 21 July 2013
The closest my path has ever veered towards the Sun newspaper was during my time studying journalism. My tutor would often have industry names in to chat to us about their journeys through the trade and give us tips.
On one of those occasions in 2012, the Scottish Sun’s assistant editor, Peter Cox, paid us a visit. Prior to his assistant editor role, Cox had served a number of years at the Sun before taking up the editor position at the Daily Record for a period.
It was Mr Cox himself who presided over the 2002 front page headline splash which portrayed Celtic players on a Christmas night out in Newcastle as Thugs n Thieves, leading to a mass boycott of the paper.
Mr Cox spoke to us about Hillsborough, Millie Dowler and the phone hacking scandal among other things. My tutor told me afterwards she looked across the room and I had gone pale. My feeling was that these incidents were viewed as irritating interruptions, mild embarrassments. This wasn’t what I had in mind when I became a journalist.
My second run-in with the Scottish Sun was surrounded by the rage from Rangers fans who tried every trick they could think of to get Downfall: How Rangers FC Self Destructed pulled from the bookshelves. Phil Mac Giolla Bháin’s publisher agreed a deal last September with the Scottish Sun to serialise the book, which I edited.
The paper was duly bombarded with threats and complaints from Rangers fans who didn’t want to hear the truth about their club’s liquidation from a Fenian. The journalist who interviewed Phil was directly threatened and the police were brought in; they took it very seriously indeed. The Sun caved and pulled the serialisation – they knew who their target market was and it’s wasn’t the green half of Glasgow. But to submit so easily to a mob of crazies and validate their campaign of intimidation showed not only a lack of integrity, but great cowardice.
The Scottish Sun happily satisfied the mob to ensure they’d continue to part with their money. The elevated threat towards journalists trying to do their job with a mob now even more convinced that intimidation worked scrambling behind certainly wasn’t given a thought. Again, it wasn’t what I had in mind when I became a journalist.
Today, the Scottish Sun compounded attempts to link Celtic Football Club to an arson attack on the new, state of the art, Sevco team bus, by inexplicably using photographs of Celtic fans and manager Neil Lennon to illustrate the bus firebomb story.
It followed a statement from STV media darling and high profile Sevco fan, Chris Graham, who named Celtic directly in a tweet about the crime to almost 10,000 followers on Saturday.
After a justified outcry from Celtic fans, the Sun removed the pictures from the story.
The attacks on the Sevco team buses are under investigation by Police Scotland and I hope they catch whoever is responsible. It’s criminal damage and the club’s fans have every right to be angry.
However, directly linking a football club and its hundreds of thousands of fans to a very serious crime with ‘Timmy’s don’t like us’ offered up as evidence is damaging to Celtic’s well-respected name and the smears should not pass without comment.
A full retraction, explanation and apology from both should be forthcoming – and quickly.
Carelessness and honest mistakes of this magnitude are not acceptable excuses from a national tabloid newspaper.
As for Chris Graham, his new club may well be in financial big trouble, but that doesn’t justify his temper tantrums.
At the end of the session when Mr Peter Cox visited my journalism class we were all given work experience application forms to fill out and do our level best to convince the Scottish Sun that they should pick us to come in for a week to learn about journalism. I put mine in the bin.
I aspire to a better standard of journalism and any notion that I should have felt grateful that the paper which served up the Hillsborough lies and became embroiled in scandal would even consider me was laughable.
I’m happy to burn my bridges on that one.