The Sun Pounds Sterling | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

The Sun Pounds Sterling

Tom Leaman argues that not enough is being done to regulate the tabloid media and the attacks on individuals such as Raheem Sterling

If you were presented with a description of an individual calling him a ‘footie idiot’ and a ‘love rat’ with a ‘long-suffering’ fiancée, you’d be excused for picturing an abrasive, unintelligent, bad influence of a sports personality. However, the above descriptions are all unfavourable quotations from The Sun about 23-year-old Manchester City footballer Raheem Sterling, who recently graced the tabloid’s front page again for an unfinished tattoo on his leg. The tattoo depicts a gun to represent the anti-gun values he gained as a child from the untimely death of his father in Kingston, Jamaica when Raheem was only two years old. Sterling defended the (admittedly controversial and open-to-interpretation) inking by suggesting it has a deeper meaning; the gun on his calf shows how he will ‘never touch a gun in my lifetime’ and shows how ‘I shoot with my right foot, so it has a deeper meaning’. The following day, the paper had the audacity to publish an online article headlined ‘Ster it up’, telling readers more about the nature of his father’s death and digging even further into his personal life than they have in the past. Anyone who’s interviewed the player will testify that the real Sterling could not be more different than the image of him created by the tabloid media. One Twitter user (@HushKerai) spoke to him as a student, and yet Sterling called him ‘Sir’ despite being a wealthy Premier League footballer, showing the true mark of the man.

Anyone who’s interviewed the player will testify that the real Sterling could not be more different than the image of him created by the tabloid media

Sterling’s defence of himself and social media complaints have done little to prevent the blatant and seemingly never-ending character assassination of him by The Sun, currently edited by Tony Gallagher. According to them, Sterling is both a cheapskate and too exuberant, was wrongfully tired after a 3 AM party, and has been lambasted for driving a ‘filthy’ Mercedes. The Daily Mail even accused him of looking ‘relaxed’ while eating breakfast after losing out on the PFA Young Player of the Year Award to Leroy Sané. Bizarrely, the Manchester City forward seems to be the only English footballer targeted by The Sun going into the World Cup in Russia. In fact, the description of Sterling and international teammate Harry Kane’s engagements were worlds apart. Sterling was described as a ‘love rat’ for no apparent reason, who was getting engaged to his ‘long-suffering girlfriend’, while Kane was instead to marry his ‘childhood sweetheart’.

Sadly, it has been suggested that The Sun’s descriptions of Raheem are racially-motivated, and it’s clear to see why; he is from an unprivileged background and was born to a Jamaican father. Kane, on the other hand, was born and raised in East and North London. The Guardian’s Maurice McLeod suggests that successful young black men have a history of being targeted by tabloid press, particularly in sports, pointing at the examples of fellow footballer Mario Balotelli and grime artist Stormzy. The Sun also compared ex-Everton player Ross Barkley to a gorilla, despite his Nigerian heritage. While not certain, the accusations against the paper for racial discrimination show that not enough is being done to protect individuals or groups from provocative stories being published against them to huge audiences. Really, the attitude of The Sun towards the football community has not changed since the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy, when they gave Liverpool supporters full responsibility for the 96 deaths.

Not enough is being done to protect individuals or groups from provocative stories being published against them to huge audiences

After the Leveson Enquiry, a Royal Charter placed the Press Recognition Panel (PRP) in charge of overseeing regulation of press and preventing unlawful activity from the media, but it’s clear that such regulators are not effective in preventing the press from targeting and attacking individuals for reasons that are limited, poorly-researched and potentially even racially motivated. The PRP’s role is to allow independent press regulators to perform through funding and providing a platform for them to raise concerns.

Despite public outcry on social media, little seems to be done by such regulators to protect the reputation of individuals such as Raheem Sterling. £170,000 a week gives a person a lot, but it cannot protect them from the consequences, both personal and on a wider impressionable audience, of repeatedly personal attacks on him. More thorough editorial work would surely be a solution of sorts, although even at the other end of the media spectrum the system is fundamentally flawed. It’s been suggested that George Osborne is too compromised by business and political interests to objectively edit the Evening Standard, which is unfair on the consumer who expects to be presented with an accurate portrayal of the news from reliable sources.

It’s clear that such regulators are not effective in preventing the press from targeting and attacking individuals for reasons that are limited

The fundamental question posed by research into the underappreciated issue of the lack of effective regulation of articles published in print or online is: Why isn’t more is being done? While imperfect, government-approved television regulators Ofcom have some influence on what can and cannot be shown in the UK, but there seems to be no real equivalent in print and online media. It seems to be something that ought to be considered to better protect individuals and groups from being targeted by certain news outlets, and to prevent other factors from continuing to influence the news. If such precautions were put in place, perhaps at a more government-regulated level, the defamation suffered by the likes of Raheem Sterling would not be such an issue in the future.

 

News Editor | Undergraduate History student (@tomleaman_)



Published

17th June 2018 at 9:00 am



Images from

Biser Todorov



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