What makes The Sun on Sunday a true test of the power of the press
Love or hate him, you have to admire Rupert Murdoch. There he is aged 80 launching a new newspaper. Most would be happy if they could still read one at that age.
Many will argue that his newspaper business is an irrelevance to an empire that is increasingly about television. They will say that the Sun on Sunday is an old man’s folly.
But that is to miss the point. Newspapers – particularly in the UK – gives his empire tremendous power that extends beyond its direct financial significance.
For as long as Murdoch owns newspapers he owns a power base – one that cannot be replicated in TV, which is easier for Government to regulate, and far beyond online, which is not as easily controlled as a printed product.
This is why newspapers proprietors are the focus of so much resentment amongst politicians. They find it frustrating that unelected, self-selecting individuals wield so much power.
But this friction has existed as long as the free press. It is the basis for the term ‘Fourth Estate’. It was coined by the parliamentarian Edmund Burke, back in the early 18th century. During a session of the Three Estates that comprises Parliament - the elected Commons, the clergy and peers - he pointed a boney finger at the press gallery and said something like ‘there sits the Fourth Estate - they have more power than all of us.’
Murdoch recognises that as long has is empire has a newspaper business, it will have the attention of the politicians, who crave access to the audience he can offer, and the respect of others who dread exposure.
But there is risk associated with such power. Launching newspapers is an expensive game. The old joke ‘how to make a small fortune, start with a big one,’ is as applicable to newspapers as it is to football clubs.
How many others out there would risk launching a new newspaper in today’s market? But when it goes right, then it still offers unrivalled power. And it is the sort of power and influence that could hobble the likes of Leveson and the umpteen other enquiries ranged against News International.
The Sun on Sunday is more than a new newspaper. It is also a test of whether Edmund Burke's 18th century observation stands true today.