In Liverpool, hatred for The Sun newspaper is nothing new. Since the tragic events of the Hillsborough Disaster 27 years ago (and the infamous front page smear that followed), many Liverpudlians have boycotted the tabloid. However, new campaign groups – inspired by the Hillsborough Inquest verdict and fuelled by increasing grassroots support – now hope to rid the city of The Sun once and for all.
For the last three months, Paul Collins and his fellow admins have been extremely busy. Their campaign group "Total Eclipse of The S*n" – together with "Shun the S*n", a group that splintered off from TEoTS – and its active social media backing have encouraged over 210 outlets in the city to stop selling The Sun. These outlets range in size, from small newsagents to all 11 Asda stores on Merseyside, as well as selected Morrisons, Tesco and Marks & Spencer stores. While previous campaigns concentrated on consumption, the emphasis is now on supply.
"The main point is awareness," Paul says, as we sit down for a coffee one morning on the Smithdown Road. Moments earlier, I watch the campaign pitch firsthand as he orders his drink: a polite enquiry about the café's newspaper selection is followed by the flash of a leaflet (met with excitement from the customers sat behind) and the possibility of speaking with the manager about putting one up in the window. "If they agree to stop selling, we promote them on our Facebook page, and if not, we leave them to it," he adds. It is hoped that customers will choose shops that don't sell, thus encouraging other outlets to follow suit.
While the campaign's "people versus 'the man'" strategy has been a huge success, it's not without its critics. "We've been referred to as intimidating, terrorists, even The Third Reich," Paul tells me. The opposition is understandable – it's easy to imagine emotions reaching flashpoint if a small newsagent were to flatly refuse. Censorship and freedom of speech are also terms doing the rounds, with some ironically trying to place The Sun on the moral high ground. Paul is fully aware of criticism aimed at the campaign, reiterating the point throughout our conversation that the campaign is a peaceful one rooted in "decency". He also prefers not to use the term "ban".
Total Eclipse of The S*n has also gained backing from higher up. Last week, Merseytravel, the transport provider of bus, train and ferry services across Liverpool, showed its support by publicly backing the campaign. The company is currently drawing up a letter to send out to all of its vendors in the region, asking them to stop selling the paper. A cross-party motion put forward by Liverpool councillors calling on all vendors and retailers to boycott is also expected to be passed unanimously this week*. The Merseyside TUC is also actively on board.
A few days later and I'm at Anfield, just after full-time. Shop and pub windows proudly display "Shun The S*n" posters, while bins, lampposts and the chests of Liverpool (and some Leicester City) supporters host stickers. I ask a man wearing a "Shun The S*n" T-shirt if he's seen the group's banner, to which he replies: "This is it," before walking into the street and unfurling a huge banner covered in signatures. People flock to it for pictures, as if he's just unfolded the Pope outside the Vatican.
If Total Eclipse of The S*n is the more reserved and politically orientated campaign, then Shun The S*n is its in-your-face counterpart. As I speak with Pete Forsyth, one of the group's admins, he is by no means afraid to use the word "ban", and claims responsibility for getting many of the bigger businesses on board. He also has bigger aspirations.
"We're not looking for it to end in Liverpool, we're looking for it to spread and gain traction," Pete says, before listing various scandals in which the The Sun has either lied, smeared or alienated people. The list is, of course, not regionally exclusive.
The following day I head to Lark Lane and drop into a newsagent sporting a Total Eclipse leaflet in the front window, and chat with the owner at the till. I ask if the interactions with campaigners were friendly and he says they were, with a reply suggesting no hidden resentment. I ask what he thinks about not selling The Sun and he pauses before answering.
"It's difficult. We used to sell to a lot of OAPs that came in every day and only bought one paper. We would also get hotels in the area ringing up, asking for some copies. That has since stopped. I have three sons that are staunch Liverpudlians, but they also understand the business side."
He says it was easier when the boycott was one concerned with not buying The Sun, rather than pressuring retailers into not selling it.
As the new reinvigorated campaigns roll on, it's clear that some shopkeepers will find it easier than others to get on board with the boycott – with a few feeling the pinch of a uniquely local moral decision. In the meantime, Liverpool's newspaper boycott campaigners will continue to drive The Sun out of their city, one shop at a time.
*After publication of this article, the motion was passed.
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