Press Prima Donnas

As a general rule, if you’re going to be a journalist, best to learn some of the basic skills first…one would be to read information properly and comprehend it before reporting or commenting. (It’s those old-fashioned principles that just won’t die).

My blog on the parliamentary press corps being entertained by the First Minister at Bute House doesn’t argue that all journalists or all papers are Unionist. It doesn’t argue that the First Minister shouldn’t have the reporters for drinks. It does question if officially hosting one aspect of a deeply divided media – undisputed, I think – really reflects the media reality. It does suggest – again indisputably – that she fails to recognise equally the part of the media that works on her side.

The underlying case made in the Herald by David Torrance implies that there is no Unionist media at all, merely a collection of different viewpoints reflecting a free press which selects items based purely on news value. This makes him the lone voice of a lost cause. This is so in conflict with everyone’s experience as to be verging on the extreme. From academic study to George Monbiot to Alex Massie to the BBC’s own Audience Council to the National Union of Journalists to Paul Mason to Stuart Cosgrove. Indeed, to any sensate being not dependent for a living on the same mainstream media, one of the defining issues of modern Scotland is our failing media – up to including the mighty BBC. (Apologies: Kenny McQuarrie does agree with David…there is no bias.)

Ah, the dignity of a Free Press and the intellectual stimulus it bestows on the nation. Grateful we are for those soothing voices of reason, untroubled by tribalism. Alan Cochrane, Simon Johnson, Alan Roden, Chris Deerin, Euan McColm, Magnus Gardham – a veritable pantheon of journalistic brilliance. There was a fine example of true-to-form free press journalism in the king of papers this week.

Is David the only journalist in Britain who doesn’t understand how the media overwhelmingly works in the interests of establishment interests? Does he know who owns the papers? Has he noticed how the Herald, which pays him, has steadily diluted its journalism in the interests of profit? Perhaps a dose of the New Media would help.

It is surely disingenuous to imply that an individual journalist’s political leanings make any difference to what he or she is obliged to write – or is that a Freudian slip by a someone whose personal politics very much dictate his professional output.

Touching too to read the First Minister expressing appreciation for the work the media do. Everyone I know at the SNP, especially at the media relations end, never stops saying how much the whole party acknowledges the debt they owe to the honest endeavours of the Scottish mainstream.

I’m sure Nicola Sturgeon does believe in the role of a free press, whatever that means in a Britain where a handful of tax-dodging billionaires control most of it, but I’m equally sure she understands she can’t win either. By sidelining the media, if that were somehow possible, she merely antagonises them and it’s generally true that she herself gets a good press because even the partisans can’t find enough to taint her with. ‘The SNP leader receives an overwhelmingly good press, but the politics of grievance contrives the opposite to be true.’ The difficulty here of course is that they are inseparable in that constant attacks on the government with little foundation and certainly scant context ARE attacks on Sturgeon because she is the administration. Perhaps that slipped David’s notice. And isn’t it just a trifle laughable to hear the term grievance dispensed by those whose entire daily schtick is based on complaint about everything the SNP does, including win elections?

But overwhelmingly I’m sure she understands that the ham-fisted vitriol and Unionist cheerleading hasn’t changed the mind of a single Scottish voter. No matter how many ‘SNP failure’ think pieces David writes – and I’m anticipating a slew of Tory revival articles before next May – not a tiny fissure has appeared in the voting patterns. The truly humiliating fact for the celebrating hacks to swallow is that no one actually cares what they write – insofar as giving up on the Nats is concerned. It’s a living but it’s of limited consequence. Far from inspiring writing, the media gives us instead the whine of the loser. And a bad loser at that…it’s easy to forget who actually won the damned referendum.

The Jackanory journalism that contrives to portray Yes as uncritical and automatically self-proclaimed good guys provides  a misunderstanding by the author of the role of New Media. It isn’t designed to replace mainstream but to challenge and supplement it and it was born out a need for more and better information. If the old press had been doing its job, there would be no New Media. So long as we are  bombarded by one-sided coverage with dubious foundation, there will be a need to contradict and correct. New Media has struggled to get into a broader game of general coverage because of the need to respond to the continuing poor quality of established outlets. Perhaps the greatest myopia of all is wilfully to see only the New Media has partisan and the Old Media as unbiased.  It’s like the Unionist parties pretending to be relevant by telling themselves it is so.

(We bury Ian Bell tomorrow. That makes it a raw time for anyone who actually knew him for 30 years, drank with him and maybe shared an office. I was mildly piqued that his name was being casually appropriated here in a piece extolling establishment journalism and proximity to power at the expense of critics prepared to challenge vested interest. But I probably misread that part. Otherwise it would be too distasteful.)

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28 thoughts on “Press Prima Donnas

  1. Sorry to say, but you know already, you did not misread his last paragraph. There are a few cracking BTL comments that point out the paucity of Mr Torrance’s claim on Mr Bell. So much of DT’s output is riven with ill-constructed argument and lazy juxtaposition that it seems to be practiced rather than accidental…in that regard he is the form of a ‘New Media’.

  2. Steve Asaneilean

    Superb piece of writing Derek – as was the Whose News? piece on Bella that you link to above.

    The trouble with the DTs of this world (ironic initials for a “journalist”) and the papers like the Herald and the Scotsman is that they effectively their own echo chambers, audible to perhaps a few tens of thousands of the Scottish populace.

    No-one else gives a stuff and Scotland would in my view be very little the poorer if both these papers went under.

    The mainstream journalism in Scotland at present is basically crap to a greater or lesser degree.

    I have complained about it before but I will do it again. There is no attempt to weed out both sides of a story or research the background or verify the veracity or put things in context.

    Press releases and unsubstantiated personal claims are taken at face value and left uncontested when they feed into the narrative of SNP Bad, Yes movement bad, desire for self-determination and independent control bad.

    Most of us have just stopped reading it any more. We get our information elsewhere and do our own research and analysis and verification. And then come to our own conclusion and view.

    Who knew it felt good to live your life independently?

      • Forgive me, SA, that comment was too brusque. Bordering on impertinent. Apologies.

        However, have we learned nothing since the publication of Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Massage” written, it seems, aeons ago?

        Or have we not taken on board the insight of the old Scots adage “Who pays the piper, calls the tune”?

        Nor evidence that the British state vetted actively in the recruitment of staff at the BBC since Reith – see THE CHRISTMAS TREE FILES (a process I was subjected to as an aspirant graduate trainee by the MI5 man at Queen Margaret Drive); and betcha it continues albeit in another form today and that there is/has been a leeching out of this mind-set and practice in to all the other arms of the official British MSM (a very large elephant in the room very quietly skirted around).

        And, yes, you are – I believe – quite right; in that more and more folk seem to be going to alternative information sources and doing their own independent research and verification in reaching their own independent conclusions perhaps as a result of modern technology (?).

        Yet, and this said, something itches at me in the sense that certainly I am not immune, even allowing for these multiple alternative sources, to cross-referencing against established and state/publisher sanctioned “sources”.

        Och well and ah dia, one can but do one’s to guard against the psychological infection (to kind of echo Lamont of the Lament but turn her assertion on its head) and independently move on with conscience squared with intellect (to paraphrase John MacLean, this time).

        Thank you for your comments

  3. No more watching BBC or STV news, no more listening to BBC Radio 4 estuary news, no more reading the papers.

    Welcome Wings, Wee Ginger Dug, Derek B, Newsnet, Lallands Peat Worrier, Scot Goes Pop, Craig Murray…

    Oh, and there are some really good programmes on RT – the Keiser Report if you want to really understand what is happening in the world of low finance, Crosstalk, for another look at stories where the Western media propaganda line dominates even The National, Watching the Hawks for an inside look at the USA from a different perspective.

    Welcome to the Scotland of independent thought. The one thing that really scares the Ukokian establishment.

  4. The fact that the press immediately looked for ways to blame the SNP over the bridge problems. Rather than praise them for immediately authorising a replacement, when they came to power in 2007. Speaks volumes about how disrespectful and prejudiced they are.

    When you hate without reason or justification. You are blind to any good things that another individual may have achieved.

  5. I have been looking forward to your reply all day.

    As always, you did not disappoint.

    Felices Pascuas y un Prospero Ano Nuevo!

  6. As ever Derek, an excellent analysis.
    Ive sent the link to so that they have the opportunity to redress the balance.

  7. The corporate media are just so much white noise to me now. I listen to Radio 4 but take little notice of their news bulletins or the blarney of Today. I work at home and switch it on and off depending on the level of concentration needed.

    I get all my news links and analysis from alternative media now and other sources of mainstream news. For me it’s where Twitter and FB come into their own: a global source of news that allows you to read people you know have researched in depth and have keen, forensic minds. The difference between these people and the likes of mouthy, annoying presenters is stark.

    We still have a way to go to get more voters surfing the news rather than relying on the telly or the columns of the likes of Sue Reid, but it can happen.

  8. I am afraid that when the vast majority of your country’s “news” media is based in someone else’s country,you will have to expect content to be skewed not in your favour.
    Would the London elite allow French,German or how about Scottish media to dominate their air waves and breakfast tables?
    The situation Scotland is in with respect to news and current affairs media is symptomatic of the one sided “union” that we find ourselves in where England continues to dominate Scottish affairs and dictate what happens in our country.
    The problem they are going to have is when none of the English based political parties have a toe hold left in Scottish affairs and it becomes clear that Scots don’t want the “union” in it’s current form.
    A friend of mine was commenting the other day that the English Tories must be employing a shed load of private detectives to get the dirt on SNP MPs at Westminster and feed their media outlets.
    I said,they are probably not “private” but public,given the threat to the British/English state represented by Scottish self determination.
    HM press in that respect are just another organ of state (just not ours).

  9. kevinparafinlamp

    Thanks for excellent post, Derek.

    You know, my brother is a Daily Mail reader, he started to buy it a right few years ago when he out-grew the children’s Daily Record. I think he’d have stopped buying the DM by now except he needs his sport-fix and he considers its Sport section to be less obnoxious than the others, and, his missus likes to look at the pictures. Does he regard its political content with any sense of veracity? Not at all, never will – he’s an independence supporter and SNP voter through-and-through.
    Sure, it does irk me that Billy finances part of the establishment’s propaganda machine, at a time when they’re reeling from our burgeoning movement and our continuing successes. However we’ve never had a cross word in about 40 years and I don’t want to get on his case now. I do however have gentle words with him on occasion along-the-lines; “You still reading that stuff?”.. I usually accompany that statement with a look that says ‘You shouldn’t be’.

    It’s been said by many and on countless occasions; this country is changed forever and will never regress to the old-ways. We now have an odd situation in Scotland whereby a large section of the population continue to read Unionist publications, support a Unionist football club, watch BBC television shows, think the Queen and her entourage are just a nice, normal family etc, etc – and yet they are supporters of Scottish independence. That is some achievement by the pro-independence movement. It’s some achievement to sway, so dramatically, almost a whole country in such a short space of time. Sept. 18th 2014 might not have provided the outcome we wanted, but it sure as hell opened the Unionists Pandora’s Box.

    Let’s horse-on and complete the job.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, Derek

  10. In our present culture, the mass media, along with the public relations racket, fulfill the role of communicating the messages and symbols that support the ruling discourse to the general population.

    This is done by amusing, entertaining and informing the public in a manner that inculcates values, beliefs and norms that accord with the views and class interests of concentrated wealth (Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p2).

    It is hardly a coincidence therefore, that the owners of these media, whether Murdoch, Berlusconi, or Rothermere, are members of the ruling elites, that their media form part of their corporate interests, and that the content of their organs simultaneously betray and support their corporate interests. As Edward Herman has pointed out:

    “The crucial structural factors derive from the fact that the dominant media are firmly imbedded in the market system. They are profit-seeking businesses, owned by very wealthy people (or their companies); they are funded largely by advertisers who are also profit seeking entities, who want their ads to appear in a supportive selling environment. The media are also dependent on the government and major business firms as information sources, and both efficiency and political considerations, and frequently overlapping interests cause a certain degree of solidarity to prevail among the government, major media and other corporate businesses”.

    Edward Herman, The Propaganda Model Revisited, Monthly Review, July 1996

    Nor is it any surprise, therefore, that where the media are in the hands of a state bureaucracy, state interference on behalf of its dominant interests dictate content, and what is censored. Censorship is fairly obvious and at its most crude in dictatorships; in the so-called liberal democracies it is less crass, but more subtly successful since it relies on its most effective form – self-censorship, whilst simultaneously braying platitudes about the media being, free, fair open and even-handed. The people in media organisations know the boundaries of what it is permitted to say, and take an editorial line that will not displease the owners – or governments that overwhelmingly represent ruling class interests. This is fairly well-understood in the corporate media. See what former Murdoch editor Andrew Neil wrote of his ex-boss:

    “Rupert (Murdoch) expects his papers to stand broadly for whatever he believes: a combination of right-wing Republicanism from America mixed with undiluted Thatcherism from Britain”. (Quoted, Alan Rusbridger, ‘Sour Times – The Only Good Editor is and Oberdient Editor if you are Rupert Murdoch, Guardian, October 24, 1996).

    (No irony intended by Rusbridger – one suspects).

    In recent times, it has become ever more clear that the role of media, public and private is identical – in for example, the BBC, which had always tried to portray itself as ‘above these things’, particularly in its continuing post-Gilligan capitulation to government pressure. This event resulted in the taking of major BBC scalps, from which the corporation has never recovered.

    This approach to the uncritical echoing of the words of Power, without question or dissent has been summed up admirably by Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor (2005 -15), having previously served in a similar post for ITV News (2002-5), in which capacity he wrote about the Iraq war in Rupert Murdoch’s Times newspaper:

    “In the run-up to the conflict, I and many of my colleagues were bombarded with complaints that we were acting as mouthpieces for Mr. Blair. Why, the complainants demanded to know, did we report without question his warning that Saddam was a threat? Hadn’t we read what Scott Ritter had said or Hans Blix? I always replied the same way. It was my job to report what those in power were doing or thinking…That is all someone in my sort of job can do.”

    (Remember the Last Time You Shouted Like That? I Asked the Spin Doctor, Times, July 16, 2004).

    Such articles and attitudes will have burnished the professional reputation that saw his appointment to the BBC a year later. It is entirely appropriate that he now presents the Home Counties Broadcasting Corporations ‘flagship’ Today programme, succeeding one of our own ‘Uncle Jocks’.

    We should harbour no illusions. We need you, Derek, along with Ginger Dug, Craig Murray and the rest cited by Bill Dale (above).

    Keep up the great work os speaking truth to power.

  11. I read Torrance’s article and my head noticeably dipped when I read:

    ~ As Ian Bell told the author: “there’s no such thing as free in journalism. Free is just another word for hobby.” ~

    All I could interpret from that was that no media source can be independent from its paymasters. If I have interpreted that correctly, and that Torrance agrees with the sentiment, then perhaps he’s forgetting that declining circulation figures are a reflection of how the people get their news, and a new business model is necessary.

    Dare I say it, but perhaps said new model is likely to be independent media sources with no specific paymaster; which write their material, and if good enough, papers will bid for the work (not a journo, but imagine this would be nothing new).

  12. I dropped a mail to the FM on this a few days ago.

  13. katherine hamilton

    I like watching 2015 and STV. It’s fun. The cack the cretins cackle, knowing in their hearts it’s cackle, is a wonder to behold. Scottish NHS isn’t above average performing, the bridge will be fixed, a new one on the horizon.
    Torrance is rancid. Bought and sold.

  14. Seasons Greetings to you Mr Bateman. One of your sharpest articles yet. Spot on.

    I hope you and yours have a very merry holiday.


  15. Dave McEwan Hill

    There is a point to be made here. The more the media impugn the SNP Government,the more the media slander SNP figures, the more the SNP is nice to them in return the more the media destroys itself. Look at the media’s Referendum campaign – the more it promoted Murphy the more it actually exposed him and the more it destroyed its own credibility.

    I weep for the Herald – the world’s oldest newspaper reduced to a tabloid rag retaining its format to pretend to be an intelligent broadsheet. The most offensive thing about Torrance is that he obviously believes the Scots are stupid.

    I have little doubt that our leaders know exactly how important our free media is

  16. Good post.

    Our media are what they are. They are so compromised, so invested in the narrative they have created with their political counterparts, that they have effectively burnt their bridges with the public.

    They couldn’t turn back the clock now if their existence depended on it (and it does).

    They were given so many chances by the public in recent years. Their columns and comments sections were filled with people begging them for, at the very least, balance. It could have and should have been so very different for them. In the end… their choice.

    On a less depressing note, all the very best for Christmas and New Year to you and yours Derek.

  17. The press generally in Scotland appear to live in a bubble that the rest of us aren’t in. In that bubble they are always right and they pass down their knowledge to us while the rest of us views them ,generally,as a shower of liars and just below double glazing salesmen in the pecking order.
    In recent weeks we have had NHS scandals and police scandals in England. It barely rated a mention.There was no clamour for resignations or an attempt to make bad situations even worse. If this had happened in Scotland the Herald would be producing a pull out and the BBC would halt the news to force ministers out.
    As for Mr Torrance. He has a very unhealthy obsession with Alex Salmond and I fear he can never move on until he gets over it.

  18. It’s a vicious circle for BritNat journalists. They heavily, hysterically criticise the SNP government then stand open-mouthed when the public’s reaction does not compute with their own. So they increase the hysterical criticism and the public reacts accordingly. It’s a form of arrogance on the Britnat media’s part. They still think that because they are printed in traditional newspapers their views are more important than internet journalists. No wonder newspaper circulation is falling. No wonder the bbc is a laughing stock. No sympathy.

  19. “Alan Cochrane, Simon Johnson, Alan Roden, Chris Deerin, Euan McColm, Magnus Gardham” and some others like Torrance, Daisley, et al

    They have been…”bought and sold for English gold – Sic a parcel o rogues in a nation!”

    ’twas ever thus, before and since Burns.

  20. Nice to see took up my request to link this blog in reply to Torrance. (See my earlier post), especially as today is their last day of their ‘Noon Briefing’ column.
    As the Tesco ad says every little helps!
    Merry Christmas to Derek and all your readers.
    May they go forth and multiply!

  21. With a few exceptions the entire Scottish MSM has become an uncritical mouthpiece for Scottish labour. Does the SNP need to held to account – yes of course it does. But when the media just trots out one attack on the SNP after another, only to learn they have no substance and in some cases little context. Then one can see that the media has, by trying to puff Scottish labour, become as dysfunctional as Scottish labour. They have become the 24/7 follies for a union that won a referendum but led to the lack of relevance for British politics in Scotland. The loss of respect for UK journalism in Scotland as well, while we’re at it.

  22. Many moons ago, we were fortunate to take an internal flight to Havana . On each seat was a newspaper with screeds of black ink, close paragraphs and big pictures . To while away the time, as I couldn’t read it, I sat and looked at the pictures.
    I more or less do the same here.

    I didn’t form my opinions about Cuba with what was in the paper, I based my opinions on what I saw, who I met etc .

    It’s kind of the same here. I don’t buy an msm paper and stopped reading The Herald online . If I find one lying about, I more or less flick through it and look at the headlines/pictures but now instead of taking the headline at face value, I question the context of it .

    One exception, my better half buys me a Sunday Herald. I read it because of Iain Mcwhirter and Ian Bell . Not because I always agree with them but because they have something interesting to say and make you think.

    Ian Bell will be missed .

    As for the Cochranes, Torrances etc , as someone on another blog said” they don’t speak for us and they don’t speak to us so who is their daily depressing, negative diatribe aimed at when the polls show a rise in support for the SNP , numbers up in the greens, RISE getting more coverage?

    Bit of a niche market but hey if the ‘Portable Restroom Operator ‘ magazine ( another niche market ,helping you dispose of crap better ) can get 5000 + readers, you can live in hope Alan /David/Severin etc

  23. Jim Woods, I agree with your comment about Torrance’s “unhealthy obsession with Alex Salmond” and would add the demented SNP-hater Alan Cochrane to that category. In the political field, another of these intellectual pygmies with an Alex Salmond obsession is the sozzled old “Lord” George Foulkes. They are collectively like a group of mice discussing which one should bell the cat, without realising that the said cat is really a lion!

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