By Claire Gordon • 20 January 2022 • 11:55
A travel firm has responded with lightning speed after customers drew attention to adverts for a boycotted newspaper that had been placed into their bus shelters across Liverpool. Merseytravel has operated in the northwest region that covers the city and surrounding areas since 1968 but, through a third-party advertising company, still made a glaring error when putting up new ads at their bus stops. The Liverpool boycott of The Sun newspaper has been ongoing since its reporting of the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989.
The publication was found to have lied about LFC fans behaviour during and after the event to horrific effect and placed blame onto the victims of the tragedy. As a result of the fatal crush, 97 people died and 766 were injured. The Sun said fans had urinated on police officers, picked pockets of other victims and beat up people trying to give CPR.
Since then, the boycott of The Sun has held firm in Liverpool, with a blanket ban on selling the publication in newsagents, providing it in libraries, or keeping it on coffee tables in local councils and institutions. Most of these efforts were really pushed forwards by the Total Eclipse of The Sun campaign. Sun reporters are not allowed into Anfield football stadium and Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp will not answer their questions elsewhere either. Even after The Sun’s editor, Kelvin MacKenzie issued an apology in 1993, the fans did not let up the ban. MacKenzie went back on his apology in 2006, before then issuing another statement in 2012 following the publication of a report that absolved Liverpool fans of all blame. This latest apology has not been accepted by the people of Liverpool either.
Ste Brown, a local cab driver, was one of the first people to message Merseytravel regarding the adverts. He was going to his first job of the day in Bootle when he saw one of the offending ads in a bus shelter, saying it left him “lost for words”. He took a picture and then took to Twitter.
He spoke about his ‘disgust at the insensitivity’ of the company responsible for the bus shelters, a third-party advertiser named Clear Channel. “The boycott of that rag in this city is well-documented as are the reasons for it,” he said. “I also couldn’t see the point of advertising it around here either. The purpose of advertising is to increase sales, but you couldn’t buy a copy of the rag around here if you tried. Shops, garages and supermarkets don’t stock it anyway. So here’s an advert that people are going to find offensive for a newspaper that you can’t even buy here. So what’s the point of it?”
Ste Brown’s taxi cab
Messaging Merseytravel and copying in the Metro Mayor for Liverpool Region, Steve Rotherham, Mr Brown made his feelings about the posters clear. To his surprise, he received a response from the company in just six minutes, apologising for the ads and saying that they had asked the contractor to take them down immediately.
Merseytravel’s response read: “Regarding enquiries about adverts appearing for The S*n on bus shelters. We have made contact with the external contractor responsible for advertising on bus shelters and have asked that these offensive adverts be removed immediately. We will provide an update as soon as we can.”
He thinks the company were just as shocked as the customers who complained. “It may be difficult for outsiders to understand but the solidarity around the boycott of the rag in this City is as strong as it’s ever been. It transcends club colours, skin colours, rich and poor and all other things”, he said.
Following the complaints, Merseytral issued a statement on its Twitter channel apologising for the error. It read: “After images circulated on social media showing adverts for the S*n at Merseytravel bus stops, @MetroMayorSteve instructed us to have them removed and to investigate how this was allowed to happen.
“We immediately contacted Clear Channel, the external contractor responsible for this, and asked that all the posters be immediately removed. We have been assured that all posters were removed within the hour. We immediately investigated how this could have happened and have clarified that, despite controls being in place to prevent this, an error had occurred in Clear Channel’s process that allowed these adverts to be placed as part of a national campaign.
“We recognise the upset this has caused to people across the region and we apologise that this has happened. We are now working with Clear Channel to understand how this could have happened and to secure measures that will prevent it happening again.”
Mayor Steve Rotheram also backed the boycott of The Sun and the removal of the ads. “To say that I was angered that these adverts have been put up across our region would be an understatement. That ‘newspaper’ is not and will not ever be welcome here”, he wrote in a statement published by his office.
Mr Brown was incredibly happy with the firm’s response and the speed at which they responded. He said it was a great example of the city remaining united for the cause. “The strength of feeling around the rag and its boycott is just as strong today as they have ever been, like I said earlier it transcends all boundaries. Liverpool’s boycott of The Sun is one of the best examples of community-based activism you will probably ever see.”
The idea has even spread across the globe. In Australia, there is a growing movement to blackout media owned by Rupert Murdoch because of the outlets’ coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic. They are using tactics and examples from Liverpool’s boycott of The Sun to further their cause and set new moves in motion. If that campaign ends up like the original, Australia could see a lot less of that news for a very long time.
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