The Media We Deserve

I’ve never believed the media lost us the 2014 referendum. That’s deflection and avoidance of responsibility. But they played their part. And having had our eyes opened, we just can’t stop looking. It must be a torment to find your journalistic efforts nit-picked on the net, corrected and derided, not to mention you yourself decried as an agent of Unionism. I sympathise.

But then there was always criticism of the Press, it just didn’t surface the way it does today. It lay hidden in corners of contempt and festered, erupting now and then in a withering Letter to the Editor. Although in my experience, the dignity of the journalist’s trade is sufficiently fragile to prompt the binning of any complaint deemed too close to the bone. Nowadays no Editor can prevent the tirades of the aggrieved from reaching not just their exalted office but spreading across the land.

The news has never been a perfect thing and is a continually evolving resource subject to judgment and analysis by professionals. You could spend to Doomsday debating what constitutes news and, in a real sense, it is almost entirely defined by what an Editor decides to publish. That is one definition – a newspaper printed it, ergo it is news.

Only we know that’s nonsense. The photoshop distortions on the front page, the pointless drivel about so-called celebrities, the overstating of a simple phrase into a screaming headline, have robbed journalism of a swathe of credibility. There is also the adjustment to a digital world which has been painful, not just the decline in hard copy readers and ad revenue but in deciding what people want to know when the world is instantly at their fingertips on a keyboard, be they in a farm kitchen in Angus or a croft in Lewis (broadband notwithstanding).

We thought live television would be the instant outlier that would redefine news but it’s now as obsolete as VHS as live streaming and global access to every known news source sit snugly in our pocket on a phone.

So deciding what consumers want in an age of all-consuming information is much tougher than it was when far-flung correspondents called in from a phone box with the latest.

Everybody now thinks they know what news is and they waste no time telling you. But, revealingly, it often comes down to their own personal interest or partisan beliefs. And if your product doesn’t reflect that, you are denounced. There are many voices in wee Scotland indignantly unhappy with the media and wishing it all would burn in Hell. Well, I’m indignantly unhappy with the state of Scotland but my response is not to want it engulfed in flames in Hades. Our movement doesn’t follow Pol Pot and seek Year Zero absolute solutions.

Like everything else in Scotland it is, as they say, what it is. We are where we are and wishing it were different cuts no ice. It may be that the lack of an active campaign or a key date to aim for, that ire needs something to focus on and if there’s an ever-present, it’s the media, publishing every day with hourly bulletins. It’s a dripping roast for resentment troughers. And we can all play.

We shouldn’t though ignore what quality coverage there is and the range and insight of commentary. Only ever seeing the negative is not the approach we take to Scotland itself. We seek to persuade and transform, not eradicate. Journalists are not part of a conspiracy and if sometimes they sound aggrieved, it’s probably because there is only so much they can take. Hysterical attacks and demands that they lose their jobs and that their titles disappear merely confirms their existing prejudices about the nature of some on the Yes side. It probably makes it easier to find a bias against Yes as a result. They are human after all.

It doesn’t need conspiracy, only mindset, to think the Christmas Box fiasco was acceptable behaviour. As Professor Murray Pittock of Glasgow University said: Just printing political party press releases is disgraceful. His colleague Professor Iain Docherty, said we need better journalism and respect is being lost.. Noticeably, not one fully paid-up professional journalist employed by a mainstream outfit justified thePress release scam. The only reaction I saw was personal attacks on me for publishing it– the same behaviour journalists complain about from Yes.

And how predictably sad to see paper after paper picking up and repeating the Tory fabrication about the flying of the Union Jack – without the most basic check of asking if it were true. That is a failure of journalistic standards and shows how desperate some are to generate outrage. Any old garbage will do.

And some stuck doggedly to it even after the First Minister and her predecessor had corrected it.

It has been a wobbly few days after the other non-story of a David Torrance look-alike made fools of the papers. Someone tweets for a joke, it ‘becomes news’ and an entire narrative is developed that this is a secret plan for Nationalists to attack the freedom of the Press – a Loony Tunes fantasy given wings by the absurd Alex Cole-Hamilton and Jo Swinson. A front page story? Only in the kailyard, I’m afraid. It must be clear to all that the media have few concerns about being answerable to the regulator.

For a glimpse of how different it is elsewhere try this : Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark are consistently ranked highest in the world for both freedom of the press and participatory democracy. The Scandinavian population has among the highest news readership in the world, and can choose among the world’s greatest number, per capita, of local and national newspapers.

They sell more papers and they have no statutory regulator. Instead the media themselves recognise the value and importance of accuracy and fairness which sustains their high circulations. Therefore they care about the quality of journalism and collectively judge their own colleagues when complaints are made. It isn’t threats that make this happen, it’s the common self-interest of the industry and its ambition to be respected. Is that your impression of the Scottish media?

But none of this gets us out of the woods in terms of giving a message that is positive as we head towards an uncertain future in just over a year’s time. There remains a powerful background buzz of concern that rebuttal has not been strong enough – that deliberately misleading information is published in some outlets without official complaint. However, I think it is possible to detect a stirring in this direction at government level with hints of a more robust approach – the FM’s Twitter denunciation of the false flag story being one.

There should not be an attack on the media as a whole as the government tries to persuade more Scots on to its ground – as some would want – but targeted rebuttals of incorrect information and, I think, misleading ‘news’ stories. The government is entitled to expect that official information released for publication should appear accurately – that’s the role of the media. It doesn’t mean simply repeated and it doesn’t mean the news top line should be the same. It means that a fair and accurate assessment is reported. It is open to the paper separately to give its analysis and comment on the content without interference so its editorial line, on for example independence, comes through. Too many articles are distorted to a pre-determined line designed to influence the reader than, in the first instance, to inform. I know this is naïve but that is what a properly functioning media would look like.

For balance, the members of the old media should not wish away the new media either. There is already a degree of intertwining to mutual benefit – Angela Haggerty of Common Space is also employed by the Herald and must have her own dressing room at STV, Paul Kavanagh is in the National, Bella produces a magazine with the National and my mate at Newsnet Maurice Smith makes programmes for the BBC and writes in the Herald. There are other examples. In that sense Scotland has one wide media field and there is competition – and acrimony – within it.

Neil Mackay of the Sunday Herald tweeted that his front page – about Keith Cochrane of Carillion assisting at the Scotland Office (and getting sacked as a result) was a reason we need real newspapers. I agree and think it’s a pity there isn’t more of that kind of work being done in the Press. But I couldn’t help noticing that myself as the alternative media tweeted three days before his story that Cochrane was in These Islands AND had a role at the Scotland Office. I just missed off the Exclusive tag. That’s news for you!

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47 thoughts on “The Media We Deserve

  1. Derek,

    One of your best, thank you.

    My view is you can only protest against a publication you once admired and trusted, (Glasgow Herald), by not buying it.
    I do miss Fidelma.
    I increased the sales of that paper in the North Sea, long story, and feel a sense of betrayal. Not because it isn’t the National, but because it moved so far right.

  2. EXCLUSIVE – no shock release – UK media overwhelmingly support the UK!

    We all have our biases, obviously. The main difference is that we minions who consume and comment on media output are not being paid to produce unbiased news copy.

    As with any other product we don’t approve of, we can and are registering our disapproval by voting with our feet. Not many buy the record, sun, torygraph etc around here these days.

  3. Derek,

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The vox-pop man in the street, a CEO, social workers, politicians, civil servants and – of course – journalists. Bar some repellent individuals, they’re all valid in their own context.

    However, the broad church of journalism has been deliberately blurring the lines between *reporters* and *commentators*.
    While a reporter MUST report the news in the most professional and unbiased way, a commentator MUST express a clear opinion that defines where he’s standing on the matter.

    Surreptitiously bending the reporting of events to an agenda is straight out of Goebbels playbook and can only lead to unlimited raw disdain for the entire category.

    I guess this hodgepodge comes from the “par condicio” nonsense where for every fart that reaches someone’s nostrils we need to hear every politician’s opinion: that’s where the mere reporting of the fact is tainted with opposite opinions, one of which has the favour of the journalist, the sub-editor and/or the Editor.

    Why, when we get told that A&E waiting times have reached the target of 95% of patient seen in 4 hours we need to hear from a politician to glorify himself or another to poke holes in it with whataboutery?
    Instead of rising the spirit with positive information, that irritates and alienates people that will no longer tune in.

    Here’s your solution: Unbiased fact reporting, followed by an opinion piece, with clear demarcation.

    TV, Radio, Papers, New Media: get your shit together.

  4. I think that it isn’t that long ago, ten years or so, that the phrase “The Scandinavian population has among the highest news readership in the world, and can choose among the world’s greatest number, per capita, of local and national newspapers.” would also have applied to Scotland. How times change.

  5. Great article Derek. I sense your disillusionment with your past profession is increasing but …

    “I’ve never believed the media lost us the 2014 referendum. That’s deflection and avoidance of responsibility.”

    Consider this, would we have won the referendum had the MSM been as uniformly in favour of independence as they were against it?

    I think there is only one answer to that.

  6. Sweden,Finland, Denmark Norway, are all independent countries, so conceivably an independent Scotland would gain an informative, level-headed newspaper media too. Meantime the media will dance to Westminster’s tune.

    First Minister’s QT today was disgraceful, the opposition are now resorting to lies and personal insults to Nicola Sturgeon, a sign of their desperation. Contemplate Davidson or Leonard being First Minister.

    The media and Unionist politicians have brought the public’s scorn upon themselves, all by themselves, not by any proIndy conspiracy via the internet.

  7. Great piece, Derek.

  8. A good piece Derek. I’d probably add however, that it’s not simply respect that’s been lost to the press, but also and probably more importantly, trust. Both take an age to earn, but a heartbeat to throw away.

    This past week alone hasn’t exactly covered the profession in glory.

  9. As someone familiar with Norwegian newspapers as a regular visitor to the country I would echo Coraddo Mella’s point about the proliferation of commentators and columnists in the British press, most of them living in the Westminster bubble and out of touch with the mood of the country and the ordinary man in the street. Most of them highly partisan. There are very few of those in the Norwgian press, perhaps an editorial only, or at most an opinion piece by some kind of expert in the field, is about all you get.

    There is far more local business news and happy local ‘human interest’ stories of a type we used to get in the Scotsman and Herald in the 80s and 90s. More on local campaigns as well. When did a journalist ever cover a story in Scotland about local campaigners, trying to explain their views?

    This strong local focus of mainly upbeat stories of either campaigns to improve something that needs sorting, and is getting sorted, thanks to the press and campaigners highlighting it, or of business success stories, ensures a loyal local following of the many regional newspapers.

    There just isn’t the same toxicity or skewered viewpoints. When the Catalan issue was reported it was also reported matter-of-factly that nationalist sentiment increased after the decision in 2010 of Rajoy to abolish and earlier Spanish statute passed in 2006 recognising Catalonia as a ‘nation’. That seemed like a key point to me yet I have never found it mentioned in any British newspaper.

  10. Can’t agree the media played no part or very little in 2014 , as everyone will remember the last weeks and it was weeks of wall to wall horror stories ,
    All news outlets were peddling propaganda masquerading as news , every news bulletin was peppered with stories from all over the world describing as fact ,impending disaster should a small northern european country decide to govern itself .

    This Colony we reside in as long as control rests with westminster will never be allowed control of TV or Radio , It’s much too important and a dangerous tool in the wrong hands
    When a country is occupied the first to fall is the means of communication it happens every time .

    This is why i take issue with the media played no part Really ! .

    • Spot on, it’s the first article in the news if there’s a coup “soldiers have seized control of the local TV station”

      Good article Derek, enjoyed it but I still wonder how we get past such an obvious bias, you seem to suggest that calling in out only makes it worse, should we meekly accept it and bemoan our fate at their hands ?

  11. I don’t see a “Scottish Media”, Derek. I see a corporate, British Nationalist media. We might see a “Scottish Media” post Indy.

  12. “…a front page story.Only in the kailyard.” Maybe off topic, then maybe not. Why this cringy bashing of the kailyard. There’s more honour in the kailyard than is to be found in any BBC newsroom or any unionist newspaper office.

  13. What you didn’t mention, and where I think much of the problem originates, Derek, is in the ownership of newspapers. The control of newspapers by large corporations is not really a totally new thing but much, much greater now than before. If you look at the history of the Hurst newspapers in the US you can see that it is almost entirely a pernicious influence. It is all very well to blame journalists. I often do because they adopt those values as their own (to defend to themselves what they have to write, in part, I suppose). But the truth as you pointed out is that editors control what is in the newspaper and THEY only keep their job if that satisfies the corporate heads. Anyone who thinks that editors at Murdoch owned newspapers, to point out one particularly egregious corporation, News Corp, don’t make damned sure that Murdoch is happy is deluding themselves.

    As for the role of the government, the day I trust either the US or UK government to protect ‘the truth’, you have permission to cart me off to the loony bin.

  14. Another interesting article. I don’t buy Britnat newspapers and I don’t pay the bbc tax. The bbc, and other TV networks, have an incestuous relationship with the press. The press has polluted television news; TV news journalists probably know this but aren’t doing anything about it.

    To hell with the lot of them.

  15. Steve Asaneilean

    Having hijacked the old Quaker phrase “speak truth to power” this what our journalists and newspapers claim to do.

    So my proposal is simple – hold the to that.

    License all newspapers (free of charge) – no license, no publishing. Then have a simple rule – publishing stories they know to be untrue means loss of publishing license for a fixed period of time.

    And impose strict liability such that a newspaper becomes liable for whichever ever journalists it uses.

    Newspapers will then be encouraged to “speak truth to power” instead of spewing vicious, bilious lies.

    • In principal great. However given the evidence on the performance of the current “gatekeepers” I have little faith in the appointment of the body issuing the license to be fair or balanced in reality.

  16. o/t a bit
    Rumour has it the DUP in Northern Ireland are actively blocking a power sharing agreement and actually favour direct rule from London .

    This Template will be used when the British government moves to neuter Holyrood Fluffy and the Scotland Office replaces the Scottish government , powers will be returned to Scotland , just not to our parliament .

    This project in the making at Leith Docks will be our parliament , well administration offices as Holyrood slowly is stripped of any useful powers , the Tory government will never again be put in the position that their power and divine right to rule is challenged .

    Where is our media ferreting out the ultimate aims of this vastly increased budget and staff of this department who will ultimately control events in Scotland , the referendum was a one off event there will not be a replay or extra time .

    All the warnings are there will Scots respond , or just moan and move on as usual

  17. Still burying your head Derek!

    If you do not think the media had an impact on the five percent swing required you are deluded. From the constant negativity up to the Vow/Brown finale they mislead and betrayed the public sufficiently in my opinion to create a NO win.

    Your defence of the Scottish media is blinding you to the facts!

  18. I have said it before I believe Derek is a plant he is still defending the union in directly by all his comments and watering down our arguments for freedom

    • I sometimes wonder about that, and some people in our independence movement too, it would be easy to infiltrate over time as new members joined up. Worst thing about it is the stink raised by outing any of them would cling to all of us and cast the whole movement in a bad light. Give a load of new crap (ammunition) for the UK media to sling at us, yet more sneering ridicule. As the police say, they have form.

      Has any nation ever won it’s freedom by media based argument alone? Usually it takes one hell of a lot more, just saying…..

  19. In order to win any election or referendum in any country, it is essential to have support from most of the media. This concept is so well known as to be barely worth mentioning, and yet here we are again!
    Any lawyer worth a dam will tell you not to even try defending the undefendable, the best you can do is make a deal, a compromise of sorts amounting to a partial let off.

    Is that what this is Derek?.

    Do you really think the media had no effect with it’s constant blizzard of anti independence doom mongering? You should know after all it’s your profession, do you really believe it’s that ineffective and if so why bother writing anything at all? why should we read any of it?

  20. If the media in Scotland is so poor at persuading the populace over to the Unionist way of thinking through it’s 90+% of media ownership, then surely it would be more than happy to ensure 50/50 coverage in IndyRef2. Or would that be just too much like an even field for Unionists to stomach.

    • In an even field the union would never have happened in the first place, it took a huge amount of dishonesty and corruption to create it and much, much more to keep it. We need to wake up!. We have ALWAYS been played like mugs. The media we deserve eh Derek? on my dark days i think you may be right.

      • the daily amount of lies emanating from the eh let’s call it the media , is starting to really harden attitudes the time for talking has sailed that ship is well and truly gone , nothing short of total independence is acceptable , just look at the national news do we even get a mention its like watching another countries TV Oh Wait We Are , Silly me .

        • I want to believe Derek when he say there is no organized attempt by the press to derail our independence. Sadly most of the media have gone out of their way to give the opposite impression. Look into who owns UK press and who they support politically. It seems to be a few billionaire barons who mostly support the torys and live abroad.

          Originally i had doubts about us ever getting a fair shot at independence by following the directions set out by those who run the UK. Now i am convinced that they will always find some way to stop us. Some say they rigged the postal ballot, maybe they did but the truth is they dont need to rig anything, they just need to keep their media baron donators happy and they will do the rest for them.

          I’m starting to believe that UDI may be the only way to ever gain independence from these crooks. We are trying to play the game but the opposition not only dictate the rules, they also own most of the pieces AND the board.

  21. Hi Derek,

    I always read your articles and agree with this one. But I got a Google malware red page warning today when I tried to go here, and ignored it to get here. It occurs to me that it is one way to keep people from reading your work. Do you know anything about a malware problem?

    • That warning used to happen and i thought it had been solved , i think it was something to do with site authentication by ISP providers ( protecting you from derek’s thoughts and thinking ) ha ha . or just another (scotland in unions ) tampering with indy supporting websites just like they flood the letters pages in scottish newspapers , they seem to have lots of cash I wonder where it comes from .

  22. I think one of the problems is the lack of journalists employed by the media. Cutting costs by cutting headcount leads to using news fed in by partisan organisations, rather than research a story.

  23. THis blog reminded me of Coward’s satirical song, ‘Don’t Let’s be Beastly to the Hun’

    Don’t let’s be beastly to the Papers
    When our victory is ultimately won,
    It was just those nasty owners who persuaded them to lie
    And their Mail and Sun are really far worse than their bite
    Let’s be meek to them
    And turn the other cheek to them
    And try to bring out their latent sense of fun.
    Let’s give them full air parity
    And treat the rats with charity,
    But don’t let’s be beastly to the News.

    The original song is here:

  24. “if Scotland had a media which spent as much time and energy critically examining and dissecting the behaviour of the UK government as they do criticising Thatessempee, Scotland would be independent already. And that’s precisely why they don’t”

    Even a wee Wee Ginger Dug can see it Derek, we are all wondering why you still cant.

  25. Up late can’t sleep but reading through most of the comments it appears the final
    score looks like .

    Derek ‘ 0 ‘ the rest ‘ 10 ‘

    Better luck next time Derek have you arranged a date for the replay ? .

  26. Very sad to hear of the passing of John Jappy.

    A man of conscience and commitment. RIP.

  27. Would we have won the referendum had the MSM been uniformly ‘independent’ in it’s thinking and presentation..? I would like to think so but that’s a question we’ll never know the answer to either…

  28. Eh is Derek oot ? , is he alright or just given up ? , any sightings would be helpful to the many who followed his blog .

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