How the seven-day Sun could change Sundays forever

If the new venture succeeds, it may become more inviting for others to consider combining daily and

Here it comes, then. In a surprise to absolutely nobody, the Sun is reaching over to reclaim the lost ground for News International and Rupert Murdoch lost by the demise of the toxic, tainted News of the World, and going seven days a week. Hooray for the Sun on Sunday.

I suppose we should be grateful, in the big scheme of things, that print is still alive at all, and there's a demand for the Sun.

Who could not feel sympathy for those people who work at the Sun, who are going to be asked to put out more content, to reach over seven days rather than six. Perhaps they're all going to get massive pay rises and huge bonuses as a result of this new endeavour, but it's tempting to have a hunch that they might not. Those of us with even the faintest experience of "managing change" in the declining industry of newspapers might imagine a mantra of more for less, challenging times, and all that: the bottom line is always that staff get cut and the product suffers, so fewer people buy it, so profits go down, so staff get cut, and so on, and so on, until it falls off a cliff. I can't wish that on anyone, not even the Sun, although as I said recently, I do reserve the right not to be miserably disappointed if the product disappears.

It may be a crisis that accelerated changes that could have happened anyway, or it may be the case that there were no plans to combine Sun and News of the World operations before the Screws became tainted by phone-hacking revelations. Wherever the truth lies, it has become an opportunity to make existing staff more fearful for their jobs than ever, when they've seen so many of their former colleagues sent down the job centre at such short notice. If you didn't have a compliant workforce before, a move like that, whatever the reasons behind it, is going to make them sit up and take notice.

What does it mean for the Sunday newspaper marketplace? It could have implications for other titles, who will no doubt be interested in seeing how the Sun manages a seven-day schedule. It may become more and more inviting for others to consider combining daily and weekly elements, even more than has happened already. Perhaps it might signal the beginning of the end of the Sunday newspaper as an entirely separate entity: if the Sun can do it, why shouldn't everyone else?

What are Sunday newspapers for nowadays, apart from the flogging of hugely expensive stuff that no-one can afford and lifestyles that no-one cares about, in the case of the "quality" press; or tedious revelations about reality television, in the case of the tabloids? Forgive me, if you possibly can, for taking the tediously obtuse tone of the kind of person who snippily leaves a comment under a blogpost to say that I read no further than the first three words before I decided that the author had got everything disastrously wrong, but I don't really get on with Sunday papers anyway. I see them as long reads for people who don't particularly like reading, or childishly cartoonish attempts at kiss-and-tell tedium, but then that might just be me. For many others, the Sunday paper is part of a weekend ritual, and long may it continue for them, I suppose.

Will the Sun change any of this? Will it be brash? Will it just be the same thing as every other day of the week, but without a page 3 (in a similar vein to the Saturday Sun)? We'll have to wait and see. Actually, I won't wait, and I probably won't see, but I do still feel that pang of sympathy for the poor souls in Wapping working harder and harder to keep churning it out. If it succeeds, it could open the floodgates to more mergers, more of the same. And that could change Sundays forever.

 

 

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Photo: ASA
Show Hide image

Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA