Why do you work for the Sun?

Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster, The Sun, 13 Marc...

Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster, The Sun, 13 March 1986 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For a number of years, people have campaigned against the Sun newspaper. The rallying cry is “Don’t buy the Sun”.[1] The movement emerged after the Sun’s infamous and defamatory headline.[2] The campaign has grown with the advent of social media. When columnists like Katie Hopkins compares refugees to cockroaches[3] or Kelvin McKenzie criticizes Fatima Manji for wearing a hijab[4], the refrain “Don’t buy the Sun” has been heard. The campaign has succeeded to some extent. Over the past 10 years, the Sun’s circulation has dropped by 50%.[5] Although that movement, its tactics, and its effect are of interest, I want to focus on a different, but related question.

Why work for the Sun?

The question I want to ask is “Why work for the Sun?” I am not sure if anyone has asked that question directly to those who work for the paper. I ask this question because I want to know why they support the paper, through their time, talent, and labour, when it prints such headlines, articles, and editorials. Why do the employees ensure that people like Katie Hopkins and Kelvin McKenzie have a platform from which to shape the public domain? Why do they help them and the paper hurt people? More deeply, why do the employees participate in a corporate culture which rewards, champions, and celebrates such views and encourages such behaviour?

There are several reasons to work for the Sun. First, there can be the issue of support for free speech. Second, there can be the money. Third, the employee can agree with the editorial line and the columnists. Fourth, there can be an indifference to the editorial line or what the company does. However, what connects these reasons is a choice. If you work for the Sun, you choose to do so. You are a volunteer. You decide what to do with your time and talent as no one can force you to work for the company. We all have moral agency and working for the Sun is a moral choice.

I work for the Sun to defend free speech.

Free speech is a powerful principle that animates Western democracies. In the UK it is a cherished, if tarnished, principle. It is tarnished to the extent that the UK has laws against hate speech, traitorous speech, and legally prohibited speech such defamatory speech. Speech is free if it conforms to the community’s moral structures. For the UK, that moral structure is set by the laws and the public interest. Even if employees work for the paper to uphold free speech, they know that free speech as a principle would still exist without the Sun. Moreover, the commitment can be demonstrated in other ways such as activism, working for another media organisation, or independent writing.

I work for the Sun to pay the bills.

We know that we have to work to live or at least live beyond a substance level within the UK. We also know that work brings benefits beyond the money we earn. It provides stability in our lives. It creates a place of belonging. For many people, the work or their co-workers are as important, if not more important, than the money they make. We have to accept that many people work at the Sun because it pays well or it at least ensures that it pays the bills. However, we have to ask if the money is worth supporting the editorial line, the articles, and the views presented within the paper. At some point, an employee has to ask is the money enough to justify why they work to ensure Katie Hopkins can call refugees cockroaches. If that is the reason, then why stay at the Sun instead of a job that pays a higher salary? Perhaps there are other reasons beyond money that motivate someone to work at the Sun.

I agree with what the Sun writes and does.

Employees will work with a company if they agree with it. We want to work where our passion and principles are rewarded. At times, this is not possible and we might work at places that don’t reflect either our principles or our passion. However, it is rare that someone with a deep moral conscience will continue to work for an organisation that does not reflect their principles or their passion. With each passing day the employee finds that they have a cognitive dissonance between what they believe and how they are required to act as an employee. Thus, we can suggest that many if not most the Sun employees work for it because they agree with it. They may not agree with everything it does, but they agree with its culture and its product. Even if they do not agree with a particular writer, editorial, or front page, they will support its corporate culture by participating. In this approach, they will agree with the paper’s ethos and by extension, its behaviour towards refugees, the weak, and the vulnerable. They may also celebrate it when the paper corrects a wrong or holds the powerful to account.

When the paper takes a stance against a particular group or person, they support that stance by their time, talent and labour. So if the paper attacks immigrants, the weak, or the vulnerable, they support that line.[6] Even if they do not decide the editorial line or which group to attack or punish on the editor’s or the proprietor’s behalf, they enable it. For example, they may enjoy feeling morally superior to others based on the damaging information held within the Sun’s safe. They may enjoy the power that can be wielded over others with this personal information. At a deeper level, the employees create the culture by participating in it. Without the employees, the paper would fail. However, most employees are not all employees. Some employees will be indifferent to the paper’s behaviour, its editorial line, writers, articles, or front pages.

I work there, I do not make the rules or decide what the Sun does

In some cases, people work for organisations where they are indifferent to what happens within it. They may also be indifferent to how the organisation behaves. In this more limited case, the employee does not engage morally or intellectually with the organisation. They simply stop thinking and stop behaving as a moral agent. They do not assign any moral value or weight to their work. In all walks of life, people get through their day without thinking about what they or their organisations do. They simply do the work and go home. Even though such a worldview surrenders a large portion of their moral agency to the organisation and to the senior managers, it is one that exists. In an extreme case this can be seen as “I was only following orders.”. To be sure, working at the Sun or any modern business is not in that category, but it does indicate that when we work for a company we engage or disengage our moral agency. People can work for any organisation simply for the work and leave the moral content or responsibilities to others. For some Sun employees this has to be a possibility.

Many motives but what is consistent is that it is a moral choice.

What the above indicate is that employees work for the Sun for a number of reasons. They may enjoy the satisfaction when the paper humiliates someone or attacks their preferred targets. For others, it might be the money. For others, they believe in free speech so they work at the Sun to uphold that principle. What we do know is that all Sun employees work there by choice. They choose daily to give their time, talent, and labour to it so that it can succeed. They give their moral agency to the paper so that it can attack immigrants, benefit shirkers, and vulnerable people. Alternatively, they may believe that the paper only attacks targets that deserve to be attacked and thereby hold the powerful to account, the dishonest, and the nefarious. In all cases, the employee exercises a moral agency by their decision to support the paper and its success.

A question to ask Sun employees.

The next time you meet a Sun employee ask them, why they work for the paper. If you see them on LinkedIn ask them “Do you agree with the paper when it publishes damaging propaganda about refugees, Muslims, or victims?” If they don’t, then ask them why they continue to work for the Sun. Perhaps they can explain their moral choice for they enable the Sun to hurt people when their proprietor requires it.


[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-17113382

[2] http://thejusticegap.com/2014/11/hillsborough-telling-truth-scum/

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/04/18/katie-hopkins-russell-bra_n_7091674.html

[4] https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1459893/why-did-channel-4-have-a-presenter-in-a-hijab-to-front-coverage-of-muslim-terror-in-nice/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_newspapers_in_the_United_Kingdom_by_circulation Newspaper circulation is dropping for many reasons beyond a specific boycott. However, it is noticeable that the boycott has grown and gained a greater saliency fuelled by social media.

[6] How many of the Sun employees agreed with the flawed front page story based on a skewed survey to claim that one in five Muslims have sympathy with jihad attackers who fight with ISIS/ISIL? http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/british-press-watchdog-one-five-muslims-support-jihadis-claim-receives-more-1200-complaints-1530271

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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