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NOWT interesting on Sunday?

NOWT interesting on Sunday?

Thursday 26th April 2012

Mark Manley, Media Law Partner at Brabners Chaffe Street comments:

The King is dead! Long live the … Sun on Sunday? Sunday Sun? Whatever replaces the News of the World (NOTW)? 

Not for a moment am I condoning any of the wrongdoings of those responsible at NOTW/News International. Of course not. Seriously infringing the personal and private lives of victims of horrendous criminal offences, the armed services and other individuals in the public eye or not, is completely unacceptable, repugnant and worthy of all of the investigation, criticism, outrage, punishment and compensation that will follow. However, two things remain:

• The phone-hacking “story” has become saturated. Dare I say boring? We see a new slant on it daily which somehow dominates the news. It's ridiculous. There is other “news” - good as well as bad - which should surely now be attracting more prominence than phone-hacking. Or do rivals of News International just love it too much?

• We've lost the most popular, best read and best selling newspaper in the UK. It wasn't all bad, and it certainly did keep people on their toes. 

Rupert Murdoch took the unprecedented step of taking out full page advertisements in all national newspapers carrying an apology for the actions of his organisation and making the statement that his newspaper thrived on holding others to account but had failed when it came to itself. How ironic - or was it? The more cynical would say not. That the reality is that it was the best selling newspaper with the best stories because of the manner in which it obtained them - which we now know more about.

If the police provided information (for money) for “exclusives” then of course more heads will roll. It will be interesting to see who gets prosecuted arising out of this whole mess, and for what. Some of the activities might have straddled the line between investigative journalism and morality - but others might well have involved fraud or crime. All will no doubt be revealed - but by then we will all be so bored with the volumes of paper dedicated to the topic that we might miss who actually carries the can.

Whatever the outcome, whoever gets toasted, and rightly or wrongly, one thing is certain: NOTW will be sorely missed. I've sued it for many celebrities and footballers - and even some of them have told me they miss it! 

The demise of NOTW has interfered with that great British tradition of going to the newsagent on a Sunday morning and buying both the Sunday Times and NOTW only to slip the latter into the former when walking out to give an air of respectability - before rushing home to read NOTW first. 

The readership figures for NOTW said it all. It regularly outsold the combined total sales of all other Sunday newspapers. Brits love gossip, smut and scandal but don't like admitting it. My Dad would tell me every Sunday in my teens, “that paper is full of unnecessary flesh and barely any news. It's a rag.” I never had the temerity or disrespect to fire back, “So why do we get it every week?”

Unquestionably NOTW was a British institution. You could love or hate it but you wanted to know what was on its front and back pages. 

Its rivals are clamoring for the spoils (that's you and me!). As well as delighting in its demise and relishing revisiting the scene of the carcass to nuzzle out another bite from another angle, they are offering all manner of freebies and headlines to attempt to attract the millions, who for many years would not read their papers because they were the pretenders to the throne. It's a bit like Man Utd being kicked out of the Premier League isn't it? Whilst many might initially delight, would a Chelsea, Arsenal, City or Liverpool fan's initial euphoria last when they realised that winning without beating the best isn't perhaps worth as much as they thought?

The USA experience is that when a major paper closes and re-opens under a new title, it fails to regain its audience. I'm not sure we Brits will follow our allies this time. When Jonathan Ross made his radio faux pas and was suspended by the BBC, the public just couldn't wait to see his first show back. We Brits love seeing someone squirm don't we? When the new NOTW (whatever its title) appears there will be queues to buy it. And if it contains the same amount of scandal, sex, sleaze, exposes and sensation, whilst the Sunday Times will be relieved (it will recover lost sales by resuming its position as the “cover” on Sunday mornings), it might also mean that Sundays get back to being “normal”?


This article reflects the personal views of the author, in his individual capacity. It does not necessarily represent the views of the law firm Brabners Chaffe Street LLP. 

For further information contact Mark Manley at Brabners Chaffe Street on 0151 600 3063