Good story 1, Facts 0

A front page from the Sun, with the headline "Labour exclusive: Blood on his hands: ex-IRA killer's Corbyn verdict". There is also an offer of free tickets to Legoland and stories headlined "Wine ups cancer 9%" and "Pirates Kaya is the new Keira".The other day I came across a story which a lot of people were sharing on my social media feeds since the appalling terrorist attack in Manchester on Monday night. The story, published on the pro-Corbyn ‘news’/’analysis’ site The Canary, claimed that Manchester was “set to become the second city to ban the Sun” after Liverpool, where a number of newsagents refuse to sell the paper after they published falsehoods about survivors of the Hillsborough stadium disaster. I don’t normally read links to the Canary because it’s a site notorious for not letting the facts get in the way of a good rant, and suspected when I read the headline that was was really happening was that a campaign had been launched to that end, and I was right. The story has since been withdrawn after the Sun told the Canary that the original front page had gone to press before the bombings (Google cached version here) and replaced with another, focussed on a different Sun front page, perhaps as it became obvious that the city wasn’t in fact “set to ban it” but rather, that a few people had just called for a boycott. The story that prompted this was a Sun front page which alleged that Corbyn had “blood on his hands” because of his past IRA sympathies on the basis of the word of a former IRA terrorist; the pretext now is that the paper gave the Manchester terrorist front-page news coverage by putting his picture alongside that of 8-year-old Saffie Roussos, the youngest victim of the bombing, with the headline “Pure Evil” (the words appearing under Saffie’s and the bomber’s faces, respectively).

A few facts have to be clarified. First, the Sun is not banned in Liverpool; rather, a large number of newsagents refuse to stock it and many people wouldn’t buy it. That’s voluntary; a ban means either their supplier won’t supply it or there is a legal order which is legally enforceable, prohibiting its sale. So, if Manchester really did ban it, it would be the first to do so, not the second. Second, it is doubtful whether a city can really ban the sale of a newspaper, other than on council-owned public property. What local councils in the UK can do in bylaws is quite restricted, unlike in the USA, and bylaws need approval from central government, which would likely be refused in this case. Third, although 80,000 people signed the first petition, it has since been removed from (you can verify this by following the links on the Canary’s story); a second petition was then posted, addressed to Andy Burnham (who is mayor of Greater Manchester, which is separate from Manchester City Council), and also removed (a Google cached version can be found here). I’m not sure why, and does not say whether they or the originator removed them. As is usual with petitions, the signatories do not have to be from Manchester, or even the UK.

A front page from the Sun newspaper from 1988, headlined "The Truth: Some fans picked pockets of victims; some fans urinated on the brave cops; some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life". These stories are now known to have been untrue.I also find it offensive that the Canary implies a moral equivalence between the Sun’s traducing the victims of Hillsborough — ordinary people who had lost friends and family and been in mortal danger themselves — with their infamous “The Truth” front page (left), and their criticism of a politician. Whatever you think of Corbyn or his dealings with the IRA or his policies on security now, the fact is that the Sun did not make any accusations against the concert-goers in Manchester nor the other victims who had mostly come to pick up their friends or children. The Sun’s recent coverage is fairly routine Sun coverage of a terrorist attack, particularly in light of the forthcoming election in which they support the Tories; it’s ugly, but it’s not the same as smearing victims of a disaster. It would not provoke a boycott of the Sun in Manchester, where the Sun has its fair share of readers and Corbyn has his share of both supporters and opponents, both in the Labour party and outside it. It is ludicrous to suggest that this would happen.

When I tweeted the original post out with the comment “dishonest headline”, someone responded “It’s the Canary, what did you expect?”. I rarely read their output, because I don’t like to read something that would be fantastic if it were true, only to be disappointed when a cursory examination of the facts reveals that it is not. Still, a lot of people were sharing this story and most were the usual long-standing left-wing anti-cuts activists, some of them disabled, who regard Jeremy Corbyn as a great hope and the Sun as an egregious Tory rag. They’re not mostly the sort of fanatics who would brick someone’s window (assuming that really had anything to do with Corbyn’s supporters) but just people fed up with seeing the supports that allow people to make something of their lives, and take the fear out of illness and disability, stripped away for political advantage and financial benefit. Still, untruth is untruth, even if it comes from someone whose politics you agree with. This story, besides being untrue, was just as offensive as the Sun content it was in reaction to.

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