Ian Burrell: It's untrustworthy, so why do people still buy The Sun?

Media Studies: The Sun always walked hand in hand with the boys in blue, but that relationship has soured

Why does anyone still buy The Sun? After a week in which it admitted that its reporting of one of Britain's worst disasters was based on a pack of lies, and when a new poll named the paper as the "least trusted" on the newsstand, it's a hard question to answer. This is a paper that remains under intense investigation by Scotland Yard for operating what Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers has described as a "culture of illegal payments" that funded "a network of corrupted officials". A large chunk of The Sun's staff has been arrested over its alleged involvement in that culture.

This is the sister paper of The News of the World, that nest of phone hacking, which was regarded by its publisher News International as such a toxic brand that it had to be closed down. How much more disreputable does The Sun have to be before it is similarly dispatched? Well, quite a bit, judging by the reading habits of a still sizeable section of the British public. Because on Thursday, when The Sun finally admitted its reporting of the Hillsborough tragedy was "inaccurate, grossly insensitive and offensive" and to the paper's "eternal discredit", it was also in a position to boast above the masthead that it was "Britain's most popular paper". Unlike the litany of falsehoods that underpinned its Hillsborough coverage in 1989 (albeit unintentional, it claims), this particular claim was based on fact. Data released by the National Readership Survey last week showed The Sun's monthly combined reach in print and online is a hefty and unrivalled 17,793,000, beating even the Daily Mail and its phenomenally successful Mail Online (16,428,000).

Like The Sun, the Daily Mail is often derided in liberal circles for its supposedly spiteful reporting. But the Mail would say its editorial position merely reflects the values of its army of Middle England readers. It is becoming difficult to see who exactly The Sun speaks for.

The "Currant Bun" used to be a proudly-worn badge of identity; propped up on the dashboard of the van, poking out of the back pocket of a pair of jeans or held up on the train by the white-collar reader who wanted to declare an interest in popular culture. Across the press, and in wider society, it was admired for the wit of its headlines. The Sun was funny and in the know, like a boisterous acquaintance who would occasionally put noses out of joint with a brusque observation but was always good for a laugh. But the sense that The Sun is no longer regarded so amicably was brought home by a Populus survey last week, which identified it as the least reliable title in the British press. Its reporting was trusted by only 9 per cent of respondents.

Things could now get worse. Hillsborough has, for 23 years, been largely a localised sales problem. Costly though the Merseyside boycott has been, The Sun – aided by price advantages funded by Rupert Murdoch's vast global muscle – has maintained its advantage over its great rival, the Daily Mirror. But Thursday's humiliating edition – however sincerely it was produced by editor Dominic Mohan – has the potential to damage the brand nationwide. Of course, it was entirely right for The Sun to go down on its knees but, until Thursday, many of its readers up and down the country may have been unaware that the paper had done anything wrong. The apology was "unreserved and heartfelt" but it may have given pause to previously loyal consumers.

Football is integral to The Sun's brand both on its sports and news pages. Those who died at Hillsborough happened to be Liverpool supporters, but a similar fate could have befallen followers of other clubs, who – along with their families – have continued to buy The Sun. They might now consider whether their paper would have subjected them to the same awful treatment. Indeed, now any central ambiguity over what happened at Hillsborough has been removed, the game of football itself might be more reluctant to engage with The Sun, making life harder for its respected roster of correspondents.

In its defence, The Sun has argued in a contrite editorial that "the vast majority of current employees" were not at the paper in 1989. The News of the World, we may recall, made similar protestations about phone hacking. Has The Sun changed? Yes, under Mohan's stewardship the paper has lost some of the naked aggression it had during Kelvin MacKenzie's time in the editor's chair. Recently, it clumsily tried to show some of that old shameless bravado by breaking ranks with Fleet Street and publishing naked photos of Prince Harry – drawing widespread criticism rather than any sneaking admiration.

Mohan is trying to make the paper relevant to a younger generation, with heavy helpings of entertainment news and headlines that pun on modern pop songs. These younger readers have probably never stood on the type of caged terraces that contributed to the disaster in Sheffield. The Sun probably felt they wouldn't bear grudges over monochrome pages produced a generation earlier.

The previous doubts about the paper's culpability over Hillsborough were partly down to the obfuscation of MacKenzie himself, and his repeated refusal to acknowledge a gross mistake. He once publicly claimed that the notorious front page "The Truth" was based on material produced by "Liverpool journalists", though we now know it came from the Sheffield-based Whites Press Agency, which clearly had a close rapport with South Yorkshire Police.

The Sun has always walked hand in hand with the boys and girls in blue. That relationship has sensationally soured. Rather than helping The Sun, Scotland Yard now has it under investigation. And, after years of depending on titbits from police officers – some of whom were so trusted that they were allegedly on the paper's payroll – Britain's biggest tabloid suddenly feels betrayed. "Police Lies 'Disgrace'" was its headline last week as it desperately sought to apportion blame for its own failings. And if The Sun has itself lost confidence in its sources and what it publishes, then why would even those 9 per cent of the public believe what it says anymore?

European rugby may cry foul at BT Vision's audacious rights win

A fearful ruck has broken out in the rugby world over BT Vision's cheeky £152m deal with Premiership Rugby last week to poach the broadcasting rights from rivals BSkyB and ESPN. Tomorrow in Dublin, the board of European Club Rugby, which represents governing bodies of the leading European rugby nations, will discuss whether the rights for showing English teams in the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup should have even been on the table. The ERC was under the impression it had already done a deal with Sky.

The former England stars Rob Andrew (of the Rugby Football Union) and Peter Wheeler (Premiership Rugby) are among those expected to attend a session that could be more heated than a collapsed scrum. One scenario is that the English clubs leave the ERC and then no one gets to watch them in the prestigious Heineken Cup. The Premiership Rugby chief, Mark McCafferty, says the intention is to "remain" in the competition but BT Vision's boss, Marc Watson, raises the idea of a "dazzling new European tournament". Confusing.

Another possibility is that the ERC takes legal action over the BT deal. Having muscled in on BSkyB and ESPN's Premier League football coverage earlier this summer, BT Vision thought it had forced another sensational TV play over the line – but this one might be referred to the rights equivalent of the video referee.

BBC'S new boss breaks with tradition at Portland Place

George Entwistle starts work today as the new Director-General of the BBC. Staff can expect an introductory email from him this morning, followed by a televised question-and-answer session later this week.

Entwistle has chosen a corner office on the fourth floor of the recently-refurbished New Broadcasting House, decorated with images of the BBC's founder, Lord Reith, and the pioneering TV producer Grace Wyndham Goldie, who transformed political programming on the BBC and championed her team of "Goldie Boys" presenters, including Cliff Michelmore and Richard Dimbleby.

Entwistle's move to Portland Place is a break from predecessor Mark Thompson, who based himself in White City. The new DG is anxious to present himself as a programme-maker and will be positioned close to the BBC's biggest newsroom. The new boss may have fancied a top (eighth) floor office in the crowded building but that space has already been allocated to Radio 1.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam