Can the Sun on Sunday really keep Rupert happy?

The Murdoch tabloid will have to buck the industry trend.

So, no pressure then. Thirty six hours before the presses were set to roll for the debut edition of the Sun on Sunday -- aka NotW: Resurection -- Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter. He wrote:

The Sun:great speculation, sweeps, etc on Sunday's sale.I will be very happy at anything substantially over two million!— Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) February 24, 2012

 

Murdoch, whose every passing tweet reads like an audition for an as yet to be commissioned series of Grumpy Old Men, has promised staff in Wapping to stick by "you all, in London, for the next several weeks". To some that sounds warm and avuncular. To others, like a threat.

And quite what "substantially over two million" means is anyone's guess.

There remains an appetite for Sunday redtops -- both the Sunday Mirror (sales up 65 per cent since the News of the World stopped printing) and the Daily Star Sunday (up 95 per cent from a lower base) greatly benefitted from the absence of a Murdoch tabloid on the Sabbath.

Yet the overall trend for newspaper sales is firmly in the other direction -- and that hasn't changed in the six and a half months since the NotW said "Thank you and Goodbye".

Consider that most nationals are down substantially (that word again) year on year -- sales for the Sun, for example, are 8.35 per cent lower, according to the most recent figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

Prior to its closure the NotW was already suffering a similar decline. In the six months from January to June 2011 the paper sold an average of 2.68 million copies a week; impressive numbers but 7.75 per cent fewer compared to the same period 12 moths earlier. Go back to 2010 and the decline was 3 per cent. So the loss of sales is not only ongoing, it's accelerating.

Consider too, that in the age of Leveson, a more button-upped Sunday tabloid will have lost the shock appeal on the news-stand it once had.

The buzz around the first issue will help Murdoch towards his personal target but once things settle into the weekly routine, will the Sun on Sunday really be able to hit 2.5 million, or more?

Regardless, our own Peter Wilby believes the shareholders at News Corp are playing a longer game that ends in the sale of Murdoch's UK newspapers. In the current New Statesman, Wilby writes:

A successful launch of the Sun on Sunday ensures a higher sale price.

 

 

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

Getty
Show Hide image

Junior doctors’ strikes: the greatest union failure in a generation

The first wave of junior doctor contract impositions began this week. Here’s how the BMA union failed junior doctors.

In Robert Tressell’s novel, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, the author ridicules the notion of work as a virtuous end per se:

“And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order.”

Tressell’s characters are subdued and eroded by the daily disgraces of working life; casualised labour, poor working conditions, debt and poverty.

Although the Junior Doctors’ dispute is a far cry from the Edwardian working-poor, the eruption of fervour from Junior Doctors during the dispute channelled similar overtones of dire working standards, systemic abuse, and a spiralling accrual of discontent at the notion of “noble” work as a reward in itself. 

While the days of union activity precipitating governmental collapse are long over, the BMA (British Medical Association) mandate for industrial action occurred in a favourable context that the trade union movement has not witnessed in decades. 

Not only did members vote overwhelmingly for industrial action with the confidence of a wider public, but as a representative of an ostensibly middle-class profession with an irreplaceable skillset, the BMA had the necessary cultural capital to make its case regularly in media print and TV – a privilege routinely denied to almost all other striking workers.

Even the Labour party, which displays parliamentary reluctance in supporting outright strike action, had key members of the leadership join protests in a spectacle inconceivable just a few years earlier under the leadership of “Red Ed”.

Despite these advantageous circumstances, the first wave of contract impositions began this week. The great failures of the BMA are entirely self-inflicted: its deference to conservative narratives, an overestimation of its own method, and woeful ignorance of the difference between a trade dispute and moralising conundrums.

These right-wing discourses have assumed various metamorphoses, but at their core rest charges of immorality and betrayal – to themselves, to the profession, and ultimately to the country. These narratives have been successfully deployed since as far back as the First World War to delegitimise strikes as immoral and “un-British” – something that has remarkably haunted mainstream left-wing and union politics for over 100 years.

Unfortunately, the BMA has inherited this doubt and suspicion. Tellingly, a direct missive from the state machinery that the BMA was “trying to topple the government” helped reinforce the same historic fears of betrayal and unpatriotic behaviour that somehow crossed a sentient threshold.

Often this led to abstract and cynical theorising such as whether doctors would return to work in the face of fantastical terrorist attacks, distracting the BMA from the trade dispute at hand.

In time, with much complicity from the BMA, direct action is slowly substituted for direct inaction with no real purpose and focus ever-shifting from the contract. The health service is superficially lamented as under-resourced and underfunded, yes, but certainly no serious plan or comment on how political factors and ideologies have contributed to its present condition.

There is little to be said by the BMA for how responsibility for welfare provision lay with government rather than individual doctors; virtually nothing on the role of austerity policies; and total silence on how neoliberal policies act as a system of corporate welfare, eliciting government action when in the direct interests of corporatism.

In place of safeguards demanded by the grassroots, there are instead vague quick-fixes. Indeed, there can be no protections for whistleblowers without recourse to definable and tested legal safeguards. There are limited incentives for compliance by employers because of atomised union representation and there can be no exposure of a failing system when workers are treated as passive objects requiring ever-greater regulation.

In many ways, the BMA exists as the archetypal “union for a union’s sake”, whose material and functional interest is largely self-intuitive. The preservation of the union as an entity is an end in itself.

Addressing conflict in a manner consistent with corporate and business frameworks, there remains at all times overarching emphasis on stability (“the BMA is the only union for doctors”), controlled compromise (“this is the best deal we can get”) and appeasement to “greater” interests (“think of the patients”). These are reiterated even when diametrically opposed to its own members or irrelevant to the trade dispute.

With great chutzpah, the BMA often moves from one impasse to the next, framing defeats as somehow in the interests of the membership. Channels of communication between hierarchy and members remain opaque, allowing decisions such as revocation of the democratic mandate for industrial action to be made with frightening informality.

Pointedly, although the BMA often appears to be doing nothing, the hierarchy is in fact continually defining the scope of choice available to members – silence equals facilitation and de facto acceptance of imposition. You don’t get a sense of cumulative unionism ready to inspire its members towards a swift and decisive victory.

The BMA has woefully wasted the potential for direct action. It has encouraged a passive and pessimistic malaise among its remaining membership and presided over the most spectacular failure of union representation in a generation.

Ahmed Wakas Khan is a junior doctor, freelance journalist and editorials lead at The Platform. He tweets @SireAhmed.