Her Majesty’s Media

Michelle Thomson’s solicitor may have been struck off but she won’t be short of legal volunteers to represent her should she end up in court. Amer Anwar has taken up the case but any criminal lawyer seeking a dripping roast of fees and publicity would be carefully snipping out each and every newspaper cutting that paints her in a derogatory light even before she is the direct subject of a police inquiry, let alone the accused.

Ultimately, she may indeed find herself behind bars for some appalling malfeasance, it’s just that to date, she is neither legally accused nor facing questioning. These are circumstances in which the media might want to tread warily given that if she pleads not guilty, the destruction of her character across the Scottish media could still prejudice the case.

It’s true that legally she remains fair game until she is actually charged, when media references have to be suitably curtailed, but her lawyer can already make a strong case that a jury might be biased because of hysterical coverage. Even if she is tried and admonished or even not proceeded against, she will have grounds for mounting an action against the Press for character assassination.

Cases are never replicated precisely but there are some precedents to consider. Robert Murat, for example, the Englishman who lived near place from where Madeleine McCann vanished. Desperate to construct a case against him because of the demands from their newsdesks for copy, the British reporters clearly suggested he was involved in the McCann case. Murat sued for destroying his reputation. Then the newspapers made public apologies to Christopher Jefferies for the allegations made against him following the murder of Joanna Yeates. The Sun, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Record, Daily Mail, Daily Star, The Scotsman and Daily Express – paid out substantial reparations. Jeffries had his past and his lifestyle raked over by a Press pack that decided he was guilty. His lawyer said: Christopher Jefferies is the latest victim of the regular witch hunts and character assassination conducted by the worst elements of the British tabloid media. Many of the stories published in these newspapers are designed to monster the individual, in flagrant disregard for his reputation, privacy and rights to a fair trial. These newspapers have now apologised to him and paid substantial damages.

Is an MP any different? There’s little doubt that we ascribe different standards of behavior to our representatives, but this is a legal matter, not the same thing as a moral judgement on her business dealings. Even if she is either innocent or not charged at all, her political career may well be over affecting her livelihood as well as her reputation by widespread innuendo and allegation.

The desperate scramble to muckrake indiscriminately reminds me of the difference between John Smith and Neil Kinnock. On becoming leader Smith binned Kinnock’s verbose style and introduced a clinical legal format of short, direct questions at PMQ’s which demanded answers – pinpoint accuracy against scattergun firing. One was precise and effective. The other was noise and counter-productive. There is both scope for reporting on behalf of a public right to know in this case and a wider responsibility to the serve the public with accuracy and, even, fairness. But again, the media just can’t help itself in the rush to condemn. If she is proved guilty of mortgage fraud, then to Hell with her. But so far the media is doing her a favour by monstering her in advance and making the job of the judicial process all the harder.

The introduction of insinuations against the Law Society is another jump-to-conclusions affair. That the secretary of a sub committee – Sheila Kirkwoood – was a member of Lawyers for Yes is immediately translated as a bias against doing her job professionally. To the mob, a declared supporter of independence can’t be trusted in a responsible position. Therefore it is assumed she withheld the case from the authorities to shield Thomson. And I thought it was cybernats who were prejudiced, judgmental and running conspiracy theories up the flagpole?

Here’s what the chief executive of the Law Society, Lorna Jack said: ‘I think the media are looking to pursue a line of political compromise which is absolutely categorically not the case. I want to stress that Law Society employee Sheila Kirkwood has not acted unprofessionally or inappropriately at any time. Shelia is a hard-working, dedicated colleague. She had no involvement in taking papers on the Christopher Hales case to the Law Society Guarantee Fund sub-committee and in no way delayed these papers being taken to the committee. Shelia’s role as secretary to the committee is to write the minute. The names of Christopher Hales’s clients were not included in any Law Society papers that Sheila handled.  The first time Sheila realised Michelle Thomson was involved in the Christopher Hales case was from recent media reports. Sheila is entitled to her personal political views. The Law Society is a non-partisan organisation. However, we do not stop our staff from holding or expressing their own views in their personal lives.  People in Scotland are legally entitled to express their personal opinions. I am confident there was no conflict of interest in relation to Shelia’s role at the Law Society.’

It’s a plaintive appeal for sanity that will go unheeded. The red mist has descended over the media’s eyes and the hunt is in full cry.

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25 thoughts on “Her Majesty’s Media

  1. Yes, the treatment of Michelle Thomson by a baying press reflects far more badly on the press than on its quarry. The reference to Christopher Jefferies is apt – though I have long wondered why the BBC tv was not also censured for its salivating and prejudicial filming of the police uplifting his car following his arrest.

  2. Several sites on this topic today – must be a conspiracy. And they all come to the same conclusion: that it turns people off. The problem is we don’t have a “free” press, unless you mean free to lie, to libel, smear, character-assassinate, convict by innuendo, muck-rake as far back as they can reach. The press are owned by rich ego-maniacs, often resident in tax-havens and their dogsbody editors do their bidding. The risibly termed “quality” press are no exception, except for the Grauniad which is owned by a trust, although it has moved considerably to the right since I first read it in the early 70’s and is just as concerned with celebrity and triviality as any of the others.

    How we change it I don’t know. Even though circulation is spiralling into a black hole this doesn’t seem to have changed their tactics – they still think that trashing the SNP (or anyone else) on the flimsiest of evidence will sell papers. It won’t. Just as our lying, venal mp’s don’t seem to get it that their behaviour and propping up of discredited istitutions such as our FPTP electoral system and the HoL only creates more people so disgusted with politics that they don’t vote and refuse to engage, so our lying, venal press don’t get it either.

    Both the political system and the press are a danger to democracy. Time for people to vote with their feet.

  3. Not to mention Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson using FMQs to raise it publically, knowing it was being broadcast on national television even though it was not a matter for Holyrood and Ms Thompson is not an MSP. Wonder if she’s a constituent of either of them given they’re both list MSPs?

  4. Steve Asaneilean

    I can’t believe the faux moral outrage here.

    As you say if Thomson is found guilty of any wrong doing then she should pay the price. But she is not even being investigated let alone accused.

    So instead the press promote moral outrage at her alleged business activities and use that outrage to call her guilty.

    I really cannot stand the “no smoke without fire” brigade. It’s a pathetic, childish and puerile attitude to life.

    If you can’t prove it then the person is not guilty – that’s how the law works in a free and democratic society. To shout against that is to shout against the rule of law and the democratic principle of innocence until proven otherwise. Do we really want to live in the tabloid world of guilty until proven innocent?

    Let’s look at some of the specific moral objections the press are making.

    First property developers buy properties on the cheap, tart them up a bit and sell them on for a profit. But that is their job and it’s what they do.

    Then we have the “£1.7 million property portfolio”. Remind me – how much does a detached house in a posh part of Edinburgh cost? On that basis alone there are thousands with bigger property portfolios than that.

    Then we have the garbage that “these people talk about being anti austerity but at the same time they make a profit out of other people”.

    Let’s look at that. Firstly you mention John Smith Derek. He was the leader of an allegedly socialist party. But he live in one of the most expensive streets in Edinburgh in a house he owned which nowadays would sell for somewhere between £1 and 2 million. So was he a hypocrit too?

    Are we also saying that people who are struggling shouldn’t be allowed to sell what assets they have in order to ease their struggle? And are we also saying they cannot be trusted not to be exploited or decide who they are going to sell to or for how much? Because that’s the logice of the approach the press are taking at the moment. I for one find that demeaning and patronising in the extreme.

  5. The tainted MSM of Establishment are to be treated with the contempt they so suredly deserve.

    Smear and lies are the next wave of anti-SNP,anti- Independence,anti-democratic freedom.

    Is this all they’ve got left?

    Pathetic,but not exactly unexpected from that shower of shit.

    This won’t stop the steamroller of Scottish Independence that is bearing down upon the stinking hole that is Westminster.

    Deary deary me.

  6. Leveson followed by the referendum was a tipping point in how the public view the press. An industry already waning due to the surge of newer and faster communications technologies received the ultimate body blow of exposure for who and what it was.

    Corporately and politically compromised, manipulators and users. They created news where none existed and they built careers or ended them at a whim. With concerted effort they could make a life or destroy one put someone behind the door of No10 or remove them. Much like those they crawled into bed with, they believed themselves beyond ethical codes, the laws and accepted norms of society.

    For all the good they have done over their existence, they tore their own integrity apart in their excesses. If no one pays attention, if trust in their product is at an all time low, they have absolutely no one else to blame for their current sorry state than themselves.

  7. Yesterday, on Ken McDonald’s programme, the political guy from the Daily Record , said something along the lines of while he didn’t think ( I think it was JC ) would be such an issue for the SNP they may have more of a problem with the ‘ Michelle Thomson issue’
    Mm well, if your paper is going to plaster MT across the front page , with accusatory headlines , yes they will.
    Derek , you have a better understanding of how the media works , is it the Labour Party in Scotland, setting the Record/Sunday Mails agenda or is it The DR /SM setting Labours ?

  8. It wasn’t JC , it was Fiona Hyslop – just remembered. Och it was the guy from The DR, it would be biased nonsense , whatever he said.

  9. If someone says “there’s no smoke without fire” I always want to know who is holding the spent matches. The MSM starts fires, fans them into roaring flames by bellowing half-truths and the worst interpretations they can make of a story; malicious gossip, rumour and prejudice are the petrol. Ruthie and Kezzie have immediately rushed to feed the flames only because it gave them an opportunity to cry SNP-bad on broadcast FMQs.

    I have no doubt that every single SNP MP and MSP is due for a smear campaign of one kind or another. It’s all the opposition has: no arguments, no ideas, no useful contribution to the governing of Scotland, just pulling down those whom half of Scotland voted in, for nothing more than a power struggle. It’s Westminster-type politics and just as ugly.

  10. Its anti-SNP desperation is a sure sign the unionist media is panicking

    • Aye, the by-election results went down a treat as no doubt the polling results for Holyrood next year are too. This is all they have. I was going to add ‘left’ to the end of that sentence. But that would have implied they there was ever another agenda apart from SNPbad.

  11. Our politics is all getting very American – dont you think?

  12. Derek, I thought the MSM had gone relatively quiet in the few months following the general election results in May. I think they were shell shocked by the extent of the losses sustained by the unionist parties in Scotland, and also the extent of the SNP’s victory.

    I think this started to change when they leapt on the (non imo) story in regards to T in the Park, and I noticed Euan McColm and others targeted Jennifer Dempsie specifically, as well as Fiona Hyslop, which I interpreted as meaning they saw her as a threat (she was aiming to be selected to be a SNP candidate for Holyrood next year at that time). As I believe the story was essentially a smear, I took a note of it in the back of my mind, as McColm in particular appeared to want to intimidate and bully Dempsie. However, I did not think much of it at the time because these types of characters are nasty pieces of work, and McColm seems to have a reputation for this type of smear based journalism.

    However, it seems they have been trying to find dirt on the new SNP MPs. I am not sure if Michelle Thomson is innocent or guilty, but the MSM seem to already have made up their minds on it. You have to ask yourself if they ever behaved in this manner to Scottish Labour MPs, and I just do not see any comparison between the way the two parties have been treated, or still are treated. SLAB have been given the kid glove treatment from the MSM, while the SNP have been given, and still are given, the red hot poker treatment by the media in Scotland.

    I believe what we are seeing from the MSM now is their real reaction to the general election results in Scotland. Their shock has worn off, and it has been replaced by one of a generalised fuck you rage and resentment against the hated and vilified SNP. I expect this to go on from here on in until the Holyrood elections next May at the very least.

    • Aye Mutley, the MSM were nice and quiet for a while. I knew it couldn’t last. If the shock in May has finally worn off, perhaps it is time to give them another big shock! 🙂

  13. Derek, it’s the start of your second paragraph thst bothers me. “She may indeed find herself behind bars”.
    Surely, with this phrase you are doing the M.S.M job for them?
    I know you go on to qualify this by saying that she, Michelle Thomson, has never even been interviewed by Police Scotland, despite her lawyer making her available at any time or place. Like you, I have no idea if she has commited any offence whatsoever, but even to introduce the concept of “jail time”, into a so-called defence of a person whose name, and reputation, has been blackened by the media, is dangerous, and uncalled for, in what may prove to be the first of many smears against S.N.P supporting individuals, not only M.Ps.

  14. I think this has the hallmarks of a vendetta. It look as if someone from the previous BfS board has fed the story, along with copy emails, to the media (the Herald in particular) so they could run with it and inflict maximum damage. And as it fitted their strategy and was aimed at their targets the media was only too happy to push it.

    BfS is an indy supporting organisation so some person is willing to damage, Michelle, Nicola the SNP and chances for independence to get their own back. Now, I wonder who that could be?

  15. Westminster slowly starves the Scottish Government of cash and the mainstream media undermines Scottish public confidence in the SNP government. The tactics are obvious. Save the union and that end justifies all means. The BBC and the newspapers can win a referendum but can’t swing an election at the moment due to the strength of the Independence movement. Hopefully that strength will remain as the newspapers lose readers and people see through the BBC for what it is.

  16. I’ve been getting e-mails from one of the campaign groups, asking me to sign a petition to save the BBC from David Cameron.They say he will turn it to radical right wing programming like Fox News.

    I refuse to sign on the grounds that the BBC is already the propaganda arm of the Tory Party and that it is too late for it to be saved.

    I now assume that everything the BBC and the MSM put out is twisted as far from the truth as they think they can legally get away with. The continuously falling circulation figures show that I am not alone in this viewpoint. The more people like me avoid newspapers, the sooner they will be gone.

  17. smiling vulture

    SNP have been projecting themselves party of the left,when it suits them(Mhairi Black)

    When in fact they are centre left(nothing wrong with that)

    Kevin McKenna guardian never pulled his punches this weekend–friendly fire

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/04/there-is-a-property-boom-especially-for-the-snp

    It’s not so much about sleaze,but double standards

    48% of scots remove trident,52% for?

    my gut feeling is SNP will allow fracking—economic reasons

    Greens will go ballistic

    Who will be the SNP spokesman who says multi property ownership is fine

    3 higher/lower

  18. This is not really a major scandal is it?

    We all know that the media is making a meal of it purely because she is an SNP MP. They will try to run it into a scandal of massive proportions because of this. Meanwhile top establishment figures get involved in far greater scandals, which (relatively speaking) get only a passing mention in the press.

    I have been saying since the election that we must be prepared for this. There is more of it to follow. They will continue to search and smear and we must be realistic. We must not assume that all of these SNP MPs are 100% dirt free. Remember that probably about half of them did not think they had a realistic chance of winning the seats they now occupy.

  19. I wonder when the penny will drop for the SNP and their happy clappers, who still cling to the vain belief that ‘playing the nice guy’ will see us win the day? For two years, I saw the SNP (and the abysmal, timid YES Scotland umbrella organisation) stumble through what was a long, hard campaign – a campaign in which they simply absorbed blow after blow, like a washed-up journeyman boxer looking for his next paycheck, while never finding a knockout blow (or even power punch) of their own.

    For those who defend this approach, ask yourselves where it has got us. For all the positivity and all the hope over fear (pun intended), it has not won us a single ounce of reprieve and unless the gloves come off, we will continue to see barrage after barrage of blows rain down on us from a great height – and we will still fail to win our ultimate goal.

    It’s time to come out fighting and to expose the MSM, the political system and the entire establishment for what they really are, a scumden of villainy, sleaze and corruption. Let Indyref 2 be the final bugle call of a pathetic former Empire that should have been put out of its misery decades ago.

    • I have to say that I was and I continue to be perplexed by the shortcomings in our attack policy. During the last couple of years there have been countless incidents of MSM media manipulation. There is what appears to be clear proof of the BBC manipulating images and stories. We have had hundreds of publications of clearly wrong information about Scotland and its finances.

      The only people I have seen trying to do anything about are people like myself who have made formal complaints to the BBC only to receive the patronising shit about their impartiality with which they respond. You can almost taste the contempt with which these complaints are treated.

      Why on earth didn’t the SNP take them to task for this? The evidence was and is there and they do virtually nothing about it. If a clearly biased authority like the BBC continues to contemptuously dismiss all complaints against them surely there must be another way of escalating this to a higher level?

      • What powers does the SNP or the Scottish Government have to do anything about the BBC? Please list them. What higher level exists for the matter to be taken up with – other than Westminster perhaps? Surely you do not imagine they will do anything.

        • When BBC executives are being interviewed by the Scottish Government I have yet to see anyone confront them with direct evidence of manipulation of images and stories. All I am saying is that it would be harder for them to deny when presented with such evidence and it would be interesting to hear their reaction.

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