The Sun’s ridiculous takes on Ukraine, immigration and fracking

We take a look at what Britain's biggest media platform is obsessing about this week.

For our Right Wing Watch articles this week, we are going to start taking a more structured look at the kinds of narratives and talking points being promoted by the right wing media in the UK. And what better place to start than the Sun, which is the biggest online news brand by reach, according to Press Gazette.

Figures for the Sun’s print edition seem to have not been published since 2020, meaning that the Daily Mail is currently top of the list for print readership in the UK. It seems that the pandemic may have had some negative effects on the Sun’s print edition, though its digital readership remains high.

So let’s take a look at what kinds of things the Sun is obsessing about at the moment, because here at LFF we know that doing opposition media research is like being a sewer inspector – you can wash and scrub all you like but it’s hard to get rid of that lingering smell. So come with me, dear reader, as I wade through the bowels of Murdoch’s main UK content farm.

War! What is it good for? The defence industry and clickbait

What’s better than a war your own country is waging? One you’re not involved in but can still profit from and feel tough and macho about. The Sun carried a lovely infographic on its front page today which doubled as an effective promotional advert for the Stormer HVM, a weapons system supplied to the UK Ministry of Defence by Britain’s largest arms dealer, BAe Systems.

The Sun clearly sees the Ukraine conflict as a good opportunity to do a bit of sabre rattling and let the British public know how powerful Britain is. They also recently reported that one of Britain’s new submarines, HMS Audacious, was loaded with Tomahawk missiles (also manufactured by BAe Systems) in Gibraltar which they said was a “warning to Putin after his threat to Nato”.

The Sun’s desperate need to farm clickbait content doesn’t always come with due diligence, however, something that has been particularly on display in relation to the Ukraine war. One video they shared, which purported to be of the conflict was actually a military display in Saudi Arabia in 2013.

Another article repeated online claims that Russian military installations had recently been revealed on Google maps. BBC Monitoring journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh also pointed out that Google had never blurred out Russian military sites, a fact also confirmed by GoogleMaps in a tweet. A lot of this kind of content farmed from Twitter is obviously not fact checked by the Sun, but is probably useful for increasing ad revenue.

The left hate Britain and shouldn’t be allowed to have fun

Now I don’t know about you, but I generally quite like Britain, the country of which I am a citizen and have lived in most of my life. We have great arts and culture and our renowned sense of humour is good and necessary because we have to deal with being ruled over by lying, venal corporatists out to stripmine the place of every last vestige of fun and communal feeling. 

So I don’t take very kindly to someone who would like to misrepresent my legitimate and democratically necessary criticisms of the government for ‘hating Britain’. Especially from someone like Douglas Murray, a man who once said that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition.”

Murray’s book The Strange Death of Europe, beloved of the far right, essentially argues that immigration and especially Islam is destroying the West, and that white people will be become a minority; a paranoid fantasy with echoes of the far right ‘great replacement theory’. Yet Murray’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is exactly the kind that the Sun is looking for in one of its opinion pieces defending the Tories’ plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

In his article, Murray repeatedly claims, as other right wingers have done, that “none of the people who have spent the past few days moaning have come up with any plan”, which is demonstrably untrue. The Fabian Society, a think tank aligned with the liberal wing of the Labour Party, published an immigration plan on April 13 that could well make up the core of Labour’s immigration policy at the next election.

Murray specifically criticised LBC radio presenter Natasha Devon, who said that it was arrogant to assume people were claiming asylum in the UK because Britain was so wonderful, and that “we’re not a great country everybody wants to come to. We’re a silly little island”. This, Murray seemed to claim, meant that she hated Britain, and that her comment “sounds pretty racist to me”. Apparently it’s racist to criticise your own country now.

In fact, anybody who criticises the government or takes direct action to improve society seems to be a target for the Sun, which regularly rails against activists from Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil. On Monday the paper published an exclusive report on a party held by XR activists on the weekend.

The ‘eco-mob’ “sank £6.50 cans of beer, with some seen staggering out of the club”, the Sun fumed, while reporting that ‘a source’ had told them that “everyone was drunk and some of them looked high. They were dancing all night”. Absolutely monstrous behaviour, I’m sure you’ll agree. Presumably this unnamed source may also have been responsible for the uncredited mobile phone photos inside the venue, meaning that they may have sent a reporter there pretending to be an activist. 

Fracking support

And of course, it’s no surprise to learn that the Sun has been backing the campaign to restart fracking spearheaded by Net Zero Watch, a Tufton Street think tank with a history of climate science denialism. The Sun published an article titled ‘Fracking is Fine’ on April 5, reporting the results of an opinion poll commissioned by Net Zero Watch which found that 44% of voters would support fracking.

The Sun of course made no mention of who commissioned the poll or what the exact question asked was, saying only that “A poll found that 44 per cent were in favour of shale gas extraction.” 

On April 7, the Sun published an opinion piece criticising the government’s energy strategy written by ‘energy expert’ Dr John Constable, who happens to have worked with Net Zero Watch’s parent organisation the Global Warming Policy Foundation, as well as Civitas and the Institute of Economic Affairs, both also Tufton Street based. What a small world!

The Sun of course has many other obsessions, particularly with Meghan Markle and the crime rate in London, both of which have a whiff of dog whistle about them. As a platform to launder right wing talking points, the Sun’s influence remains huge despite their falling print circulation. As long as they maintain this influence, it remains important to monitor and counter their propaganda.

John Lubbock leads on the Right-Watch project at Left Foot Forward

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