The persecution of journalists, eh? James Foley, beheaded by jihadists. John Cantlie still held by ISIS two years on. US reporter Alison Parker shot dead live on air. Gadzhimurat Kamalov hit six times in a drive-by shooting in Moscow. Of the 27 journalists known to have been murdered so far this year, 37 per cent were related to politics, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Across the world, even excluding the largest category (killed in war), journalists lose their lives as vested interests see no option to prevent truth being told or minds changed. Surprisingly few result in prosecutions. Russia now has a Remembrance Day for Journalists Killed in Action.
I knew an editor in Kashmir who published what rebels told him or he would die, a female reporter from Chile who had been forced not to tell the story of abductions under Pinochet and a Yugoslavian journalist who feared he could not work under threats from Serbs and Croats as the Balkan conflict got under way. (All encountered in the US in 1991).
I’ve had my notes examined and my camera crew’s film vetted by Israeli security, been delayed at a Romanian airport while my director’s passport was held up (for a bribe) and recorded secretly in China after being denied a journalist’s visa. I had to go up a stair into a room full of unsmiling men to ask ‘Sinn Fein’ permission to record voices on the street in West Belfast.
Believe me, working as a hack at Holyrood is a doddle.
Which is why the petty hysteria of the Scottish media looks so parochial. David leaves Twitter. Stephen forced to stop writing. STV intimidated by MPs. What a bunch of self-obsessed pansies. Just how many of these straw characters has actually earned their spurs in what the wider world thinks of as frontline journalism, I’m not sure. I know one who bravely confronted a lesbian TV presenter on her doorstep because she was pregnant. (That’s a story, see?)
You get the impression that making a name for yourself means, in reality, stirring up controversy. It doesn’t seem to entail learning the trade or building a reputation, laying a foundation for consistent quality or insight. In other words, say something outlandish to provoke a reaction and, hey presto, you make your mark. In the dolls’ house that is Scottish journalism – a miniature construct staffed by small people –opinion divides. Your wee gang takes against the other lot. It’s…what do we call them?…the Brian Spanner Set against the Nat Loyalists.
The result isn’t just febrile, it’s deranged. Thank the Gods of Newsprint that above the rabble there are rational voices of intellect that have mostly been with us a long time, indicating lasting quality.
Newspapers in my experience were always creatures, if not of the establishment, then of the consensus. Whatever we as reporters dug up on corruption, hypocrisy or error and blasted across the front page (with any luck) didn’t shake the foundations of Scottish society. Yes, individuals were brought down, companies destroyed or elections lost as a result of media scrutiny. But we never challenged the basis on which society was built. There were areas that few, if any, ever entered. There was little or no public appetite for a communist Britain for example or a Nationalist Scotland. We laughed at those. Proportional representation was foreign. Bosses confronted unions. Politics was binary. We did get a fright in the 80’s when the Social Democrats very nearly broke the mould but they were terribly nice middle class types who weren’t very threatening. So, although it wasn’t particularly happy, Scotland in Britain knew its place. Our demands were limited to a measure of local responsibility for running police, the courts, the schools and a bit of industrial development which we effectively did anyway. We could oversee it with an elected assembly, maybe. What do you think?
What has happened since is of course the SNP’s fault. No, I mean it. The rise of the SNP did what no movement had done before – it broke the consensus. The basis on which we all viewed our country and ourselves fell away beneath our feet.
Suddenly the certainties turned into doubts. Our indulgence of nationalism became dangerous because for the first time it really could mean independence. This was no longer protest or grievance. They governed. It was raw politics – a new reality. Something we could reach out and hold. Instead of teenagers talking loudly of sex, we were doing it. This was the real thing.
I think this change has been fundamental, like a bereavement or a redundancy or maybe a medical diagnosis. It has left us searching for a new stability, an emotional concrete. Throw in the still barely believable demise of Labour and the minor catastrophe of Brexit and we are a nation discombobulated.
Our media reflects that, caught in addition in a downward spiral of sales and revenue, the move to online overshadowed by the loss of advertising income. Within shrinking budgets Scotland’s media is searching for a new reality, trying out new messages and charting possibly a new course. Meanwhile a gale is blowing against it in social media where it is not only challenged with a ferocity it cannot comprehend but ridiculed and often humbled by instant correction and contradiction. The idea that there is a respectable newspaper industry which, whatever individual titles’ foibles, still represents the consensus of society, is the Woolworths of the media world – just a memory. Putting a Unionist writer under, for example, a Scotsman masthead no longer confers status or respect. He is just another writer alongside the bloggers and online commentators. One day soon the BBC will realise this too and stop pretending the public cares about print content as if it were the latest despatch from the front.
For these reasons the tiny circle of newspaper diehard anti-Nats who constantly reference each other are, I think, suffering a spasm of bewilderment at their fate. This is what defeat looks like. The self-identification as one of an embattled group implies ‘Yes. We’re going down but we’re going down together.’ So they support each other. When David is chased off Twitter – by Nats, of course – Kenny pays him to write it in the Times. I didn’t look but I assume he also wrote it for the Herald so, right there, you get paid twice for your tantrum. There is a living in this victimhood thingy.
When STV decided the reputational damage wrought by Daisley was too great, this was put into the public domain (wonder by whom?) as another SNP-initiated purge of the innocents. I have been utterly astonished that a regulated broadcaster allowed this unpleasant, low-grade, agit-prop student drivel to go out under its name. Separating commentator role from editor would have helped but even then it would be damaging. STV can definitely have as part of their website a commentary page with the most provocative material it is legal to publish. What the rules on impartiality demand and a wider expectation from the viewing public expects, is not to be confronted with an STV staff journalist expressing personal views on issues of the day. Commissioning them from other, yes. Supporting a political party? Israeli policy? Insulting SNP supporters? Absolutely not.
The word is that objections came from within STV. Are we surprised? If you were concerned about the integrity of the station would you be happy to see Daisley represent your journalism rather than Ponsonby? The truth, as I wrote on the one occasion he attacked this site, is that he showed he was a first rate writer with something to say – when he started. Three months later he had said it all and descended into the infantile. He became an embarrassment.
But as one of the commentariat insiders he has to be championed. And it’s here we can trace the threads of influence our Stephen has inculcated as an array of media luvvies, whom I assume to be anti-Nats, retweet his ousting by the SNP (never mind its not true, this is a propaganda war) – Andrew Neil, Oliver Kamm, Nick Cohen among them. It is a given in some circles that the SNP is a sinister force akin to Putin’s Russia – so that’s why Sputnik is here?
We have to live with that because there are some things you can’t change and the bigotry that infects the British media establishment is beyond reform. Although I have to admit for me personally this is a positive development. The more these opinion-formers misrepresent us, the more they encourage us to hold to our beliefs. The more British thinking regards Scotland as separate and incomprehensible, the more likely independence becomes. Their real message is: You’re not like us. (Thank you)
That the reinforcement of his role as editor is taken as a cause celebre by the aggrieved tells us more about the small-minded journalists of Scotland than about the issue itself. All I can see that’s happened is confirmation of his actual job as editor – hardly comparable to arbitrary imprisonment or threats of death. I suspect he’ll be writing again too but maybe more in the style of Laura Kuenssberg than Katy Hopkins.
Did SNP MPs complain about him? You bet. All politicians play the same game of questioning journalists. Did they ‘force him out’? I refuse to believe a) that his dismissal was suggested or b) a media management would bow in such a way. They might decide to change a writer if they agreed he was giving them problems but they would make sure it couldn’t be construed as the result of pressure. Did someone else on their staff embarrass them by suggesting otherwise to contacts outside?
Funny how this little episode has been manipulated into an anti-Nat conspiracy when so many previous confirmed incidents were downplayed or ignored. Did they rush to defend Isabel Fraser insulted on air by Ian Davidson? There are countless attempts by Unionist politicians to oust journalists. The Tories tried with me under Annabel Goldie and George Foulkes also tried through the Sunday Times (today outraged at the Daisley nonsense). There was not a murmer of complaint over either. You may remember Alistair Campbell and the Gilligan affair which not only lost him his job but the director general as well.
The Daisley business is the latest outbreak of contrived victimhood which fits perfectly with Adam Tomkins’ one party state. Imagine being a professor of public law and an elected opposition politician in a country (that isn’t a state) with six parties and a proportional voting system and actually calling it a one party state. And Adam is the brains of the Scottish Tories.
Shrinking as it is, our journalism has some who can live with the best, who know not just the newspaper trade but the people and the country of which they write and whose breadth of understanding defies partisan branding. We should treasure them. Treasure too the freedom we have to express without persecution. Respect the trade in words and ideas denied to so many elsewhere.
And please, don’t pretend there is a civil rights controversy in a man being asked to do his job properly to safeguard his employer’s reputation. That’s not persecution. Ask the Committee to Protect Journalists.