A MOTION has been passed by Cheshire West and Chester Council banning councillors and staff from giving interviews to The Sun newspaper.
The move also includes backing any businesses and vendors who choose not to sell the national tabloid, which has a daily circulation of around 1.5 million.
At a meeting of the full council on Thursday (July 20), 37 members voted in favour of the motion, with one against and 31 abstaining.
While the majority agreed the newspaper should be shunned for the way it reported on the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, many felt the motion impinged too much on individuals’ rights and press freedom.
Proposed by Labour member Paul Donovan, it is aimed at showing solidarity with the families of the 96 victims.
Believing a cover-up had taken place, they fought for 17 years to uncover the truth about what led to their relatives’ death.
At the time, The Sun ran a front page story under the headline ‘The Truth’ which reported claims from unnamed police sources that Liverpool supporters were to blame for the tragedy.
The paper published an apology in 2012 following a report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
And it apologised again in April last year after an inquest jury cleared supporters of any wrongdoing and ruled the victims had been unlawfully killed.
However, it drew criticism for failing to cover the outcome of the inquest on its front page and came under fire again this year after publishing a column by Kelvin MacKenzie – editor at the time of ‘The Truth’ story – which compared mixed-race Everton footballer Ross Barkley to a gorilla.
Football clubs Liverpool, Everton, Tranmere Rovers and Chester have now all banned Sun reporters from their grounds with CWaC being the latest organisation to do so.
Introducing the motion at Thursday’s meeting, Cllr Donovan said: “I believe that this council strives to uphold a moral compass and we should distance ourselves from any organisations that fall short in that regard.”
He was promptly backed by fellow Labour Cllr Ben Powell, who said: “It’s one of the most shocking periods of our country’s history and it’s something that still haunts me whenever I read about it. But perhaps the most shocking of all was the way that the people were treated afterwards and the way they were slurred by what was printed in this newspaper.”
Referring to MacKenzie’s column, written the day before the anniversary of Hillsborough on April 14, he added: “It shows this newspaper has learnt absolutely nothing.
“We should have nothing to do with them.”
Cllr Karen Shore said she had once refused to speak to a Sun reporter who asked her to comment for a story. She said: “Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are fundamental to democracy, as fundamental as the rule of law.
“From freedoms come rights, and with rights come responsibilities.
“The right to speak freely and the responsibility not to slander or incite hatred or prejudice.
“The right to a free press but with the responsibility not to print lies. [These are] all the things this publication has shown a flagrant disregard for. It’s a stain on democracy, British values and the fundamental freedoms that we hold dear.
“And it’s a stain on the 96 unlawfully killed.”
However, while backing the element of the motion that pledges ongoing support for the 96, many Conservative councillors felt it went too far.
Cllr Charles Fifield also suggested the motion could “undermine Chester’s status as a neutral venue” should the criminal trials relating to Hillsborough take place at the city’s Crown Court, as has been rumoured.
Cllr Neil Sullivan agreed, saying: “Our democracy depends on having a free press and my concern is this is an attempt to restrict the free press. I’ve never bought The Sun and think it is unlikely I ever will do, or will read it. However, it’s for our citizens to decide, based on their experience of how they dealt with this tragedy, whether they want to buy that paper.”
Cllr Andrew Dawson said he backed taxi drivers who pinned up personal messages in their cabs imploring people not to read The Sun, but he added:“As a public body we shouldn’t be saying these sorts of things. I can’t impinge on the press.”
Cllr Lynn Riley, the Conservative Group leader, described the cover-up by the authorities as “insidious” and the press coverage by some publications as “shameful”.
But she added: “However abhorrent the actions of The Sun, it’s for individuals to choose to buy the paper or not. It’s for individual businesses to choose to sell it or not. And it’s for members of this council to choose to speak to it or not.”
l The Hillsborough disaster happened on April 15, 1989, during a cup clash between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool when police ordered an exit gate to be opened to relieve pressure on turn-stiles outside the ground. The resulting surge led to hundreds of Liverpool fans being crushed in the standing-only terrace.
See full story in the Chester Leader