For 45 years I have been a ‘Member of Her Majesty’s Press’ and have now become a lifetime member of the National Union of Journalists. I was never one of the top gun star performers in any of the places I worked but I was steady and occasionally inspired. I didn’t ever cut it as a news reporter because it requires an unflinching doggedness for information that I lacked. I just didn’t care enough about what passed for news most of the time because it was the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ sludge that you still read in the papers today.
I became a better journalist when I left the staff job and was free to think for myself and come up with ideas based around issues rather than a traditional concept of hard news. This was particularly valuable in the BBC current affairs department where I eventually made what I think of as my main mark – presenting Good Morning Scotland for 10 years – my proudest moment.
At the BBC, I quickly realised that there was instant criticism of a kind that didn’t happen in papers. One of my first jobs was a film package on the ‘87 election in which, for timing reasons, I excluded mention of one SNP target seat. (Dumfries and Galloway, I think). I was sitting at the news desk watching Reporting Scotland, with my report, go out live. As soon as it finished, the phone rang. I picked it up and it was the SNP convener from Dumfries demanding to know who Derek Bateman was and why his electoral seat was ignored. I owned up and learned a lesson…you may not get everything right but you must bloody well try. If you know something is true, you fight to get it in. Demand the time from the producer. Stand up for the public’s right to know. Even the detail can count. People also regarded the BBC as theirs in a way they didn’t with the papers.
And, despite the ego and vanity, both of which you need in the media, especially in broadcasting, I learned that criticism is part of the game. I had been pretty much inured to it in papers because people wrote letters of complaint and it was unlikely any would ever appear on the letters’ page. The attitude of editors was mostly to wish complaints away unless they were legally based. There was a kind of collective protection scheme in operation. By-line journalists were superior types and complaint was treated as a form of personal insult.
So, although I didn’t like criticism, I learned at the Beeb that if you didn’t balance, if you over-interpreted or went too far to one side or other, it came right back at you because there was a complaints procedure and you would be called to account.
Now this has changed dramatically for the press with social media because it means no one can write anything without an instant in-your-face reaction. I call it digital democracy.
But what hasn’t changed is the freemasonry of the media – a highly-tuned sense of commanding a special role that no one can breach. Anybody producing an alternative is an enemy, an outsider to be resisted. The mainstream enjoy their special status as upholders of freedom and champions of the people despite the ugly truth that led to Leveson.
Even when they are interfering with a murder inquiry or spying on detectives, they are adamant there should be no interference with their rights. It is after all a threat to democracy to interfere with the running of the media… And if you want to fire up a journalist try some criticism. Try suggesting that the source of their information might be contaminated by self-interest or that they regurgitate government releases as fact. Try suggesting that the funding of BT from Vitol is a revolting denial of everything that any socialist would hold dear and should have been investigated fully by the press. It is a truth as old as print that the first person to take offence will be the person who gives offence. No matter what inaccurate, unfair, insulting or offensive material a paper prints, the journalist will turn into a delicate petal at the first word of snub. People who spend every minute of every day judging others – organisations, families, politicians, artists – cannot abide themselves being judged. It has always been true which is why Scotland’s mainstream journalists are lining up behind Magnus Gardham of the Herald whose execrable one-sided column I objected to (see above). I went further and questioned the professionalism of someone in a key role who could write what is plainly a regurgitated Better Together briefing ahead of Monday’s leaders’ debate.
I think the piece beggars belief in suggesting that two interventions – one nakedly political – were from reluctant champions of the truth forced in the public interest to correct the deliberately misleading case of Yes. He writes that this is the Yes weakness which will be exploited – its untrustworthiness.
If you really wanted to make that case and stretch credulity, you really would have to acknowledge what only the most one-eyed already know – that the misleading, the hysteria and negative fear-mongering has been the hallmark of No. There are always two sides but in ignoring the documented record of No, he himself misleads. Is it deliberate or is it innocent?
I suggest there is a common view – and that much is true – that he is out of his depth, which is the bit they can’t take. You’re not allowed to personalise criticism in their world even if it’s relevant.
But where were these champions of restraint when one of their own, the Daily Mail, was pursuing innocent pro Yessers and photographing them and branding them Cybernats? Which of them supported me when I was called a nazi stormtrooper in the Scotsman? Did they object when the Express called me a bigot or any other number of Scots on one side of this argument? Of course not. I – and they – are not part of the Freemasonry of the Media protecting itself from what it is more than happy to dish out to others.
I ‘m sure there are pro Indy people who don’t like what I wrote but isn’t it interesting that on Twitter standing alongside the mainstream journalists are one from the Record, the paper that gave us Magnus, Paul Sinclair and Tom Brown whose withering anti Scotland views were reviewed here; Mike Elrick, the Labour spin doctor; the anonymous and notorious Labour troll Grahamski; a raft of bigoted Unionist twerps and the inevitable James Macmillan, the conspiracy fantasist. Could you have a clearer illustration of what the mainstream now represents – BT stooges, Labour loyalists and Union extremists. If that’s the combined opposition to telling the truth about the tawdry state of the Scottish media, you can keep it. You’re welcome. And it’s revealing that not one has anything but personal abuse or criticism of me to offer. I can’t see a single critique of the Magnus item. Do they agree with his analysis or is it just blind loyalty to one of their own?
The meetings I attend up and down the country seethe with contempt for those they see as misleading them and misinforming them. They know there is good work too but the overwhelming weight is seen as deliberately biased. Today’s Herald piece is a prime example and with the very existence of some papers in doubt you’d have to wonder at the intelligence of this suicide journalism.by