x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

In Britain, Murdoch makes The Sun come out

"The Sun on Sunday" is appearing with a haste that seemed unlikely, if not impossible, only a few weeks ago.

LONDON // For the first time on a Sunday, Britain will see The Sun come out.

The nation's best-selling daily newspaper - regarded as Rupert Murdoch's global media favourite - is being launched in a Sunday edition today, almost as an act of defiance amid the phone-hacking and bribery scandals that continue to engulf News Corp's UK newspapers.

It was a situation that worsened on Friday when, claiming their phones had been hacked, a group of claimants filed documents in the High Court in London alleging that incriminatory emails had been deleted and reporters' computers destroyed as recently as last summer.

Born out of the ashes of the News of the World, the Sunday tabloid that Mr Murdoch closed seven months ago in an abortive bid to quell the uproar over hacking, The Sun on Sunday is appearing with a haste that seemed unlikely, if not impossible, only a few weeks ago.

"In January, we were looking at publishing the first Sunday Sun at the end of April," one staff member said.

"Then there were the latest arrests [of 10 Sun journalists accused of bribing police and other public officials] and all bets were off: the April launch was postponed and many of us felt the paper would never appear. Even the future of The Sun itself seemed in doubt.

"And then everything changed again. Murdoch flew in from the States two weeks ago to take charge and promptly decreed that The Sun on Sunday would be launched tomorrow. Just like that. It's been mayhem ever since."

Mr Murdoch himself is remaining in London to personally supervise the project, but the paper, whose 50 pence cover price is half that of its main rivals, is being launched at a difficult time for the British newspaper industry in general, and the Sunday market in particular.

Sales have fallen dramatically over the past year. Of the old News of the World's almost 2.7 million regular purchasers, almost half gave up buying any Sunday newspaper at all when it abruptly ceased publication last year, according to latest industry figures.

Today's print run of The Sun on Sunday is about three million and News International, Mr Murdoch's UK newspaper publishing company, would be happy if regular sales settled down to about two million a week.

Staff at The Sun paper have been "working flat out for the past week", according to one of them. Only a handful of the 200 News of the World journalists who were made redundant last year, have been rehired while new, seven-day work rotas for existing staff have been hurriedly drawn up.

Roy Greenslade, a former News International executive and now a professor of journalism at City University in London, believes the The Sun on Sunday will be more family-friendly and less salacious than the News of the World.

"It is not the News of the World reborn," he said. "The sleaze element - the intrusive and sordid kiss-and-tells, for example - will not be there. Page three will not feature a topless model.

"We can expect instead a breezier, Sun-like formula, with the accent on celebrity, sport and those kinds of offbeat news stories that enable sub-editors to write memorable headlines."

Meanwhile, 80-year-old Mr Murdoch seems committed to the new enterprise despite scepticism, particularly in the US, over the wisdom of ploughing more time and money into "old fashioned" newspapers, rather than concentrating on new forms of electronic media.

But Mr Murdoch is believed to have a real, personal attachment to The Sun, which he bought in 1969 and whose phenomenal success in the 70s and 80s helped pay for the expansion of his interests across the globe.

This week's Economist magazine commented: "His new Sun now shines defiantly on the seventh day, for the mogul who stubbornly refuses to ditch the risky Fleet Street habit."

dsapsted@thenational.ae