The digital paint job on the Subway train seemed to go down well – although some confused people believed that Stu at Wings Over Scotland had actually had the trains repainted … Which isn’t such a bad idea, come to think of it, after all if you’re going to advertise on a train – advertise on the whole train … But thanks to everyone who popped in and visited the Dug’s wee blog, yesterday the site broke its (modest) viewing statistics record and there were over 3500 page views. Which isn’t too shabby at all, considering I’ve not repainted any real Subway trains. (Yet. I’m hoping to make a working model. And I really will paint it in WoS livery. Just because.)
But it’s another illustration of the thrust of yesterday’s blog piece. When a wee blog written by some random punter and a mongrel dug in Glasgow with a lower public profile than an extra in a Kwik Fit advert can gain such a readership – purely by word of mouth and without advertising or publicity – it proves yet again that there is an enormous appetite for pro-independence and Scotland centred commentary which the Scottish mainstream media is not feeding.
Because it can only mean either that there is a breadth and depth of opinion in Scotland that our media is not reflecting, or that our media is of such utter craposity that thousands of people find it preferable to seek out the amateur rantings of a full time carer than to read the offerings of highly paid professionals. Neither possibility shows the Scottish media in a good light. Both ought to tell them that they’re not doing their job properly.
I’m not taking another pop at individual journalists. Well, except Alan Cochrane – why is that guy employed? The Telegraph could save itself a fortune if it just printed “I hate Alicsammin” over and over again instead of paying him to write. What does he add to any debate apart from that? When Jack Nicolson wrote the same thing over and over again in The Shining, we at least got a proper horror story out of it. Cochrane’s scaring no one, except possibly himself. It’s a genuine mystery. Does he have secret photos proving the owner of the Telegraph is really an alien lizard dressed in a human skin or something?
The real problem is structural. That structure is the regulatory framework created by and imposed by Westminster.
The UK has few specific restrictions on print media ownership. UK media ownership is regulated pretty much like the ownership of any other private concern, at least in theory the UK Government will intervene to ensure market competition and avoid the formation of monopolies. But as the Leveson Enquire pointed out, the undue concentration of influence in the media is not the same as a commercial monopoly. The UK regulatory system does nothing to ensure that the media reflects the breadth of opinion across the UK.
Scottish opinion gets a double whammy under this set up. We have a media which operates in a nation with a distinctive political culture, but which operates under a regulatory framework concerned primarily with ensuring a minimum degree of market competition across the UK as a whole. The regulatory framework is not overly concerned with ensuring that the range of UK opinions is represented, the range of Scottish opinion has no chance. This is how we have ended up with 37 newspapers of which only a handful are Scottish owned, and not one of which openly supports an opinion held a large and significant segment of the Scottish population.
The media is not just another commercial interest. It is vital to the functioning of a democracy. You cannot have a functioning democracy without a free and representative press. The problem is that the UK Government has interpreted the “free” part as “free market”. If you subscribe to the neoliberal dogma beloved of Westminster that the market always responds to need, then you’ll believe that the question of ensuring that a free market media is also representative does not arise. The clear and evident lack of balance in the Scottish media proves how misguided that view is.
The Leveson Enquiry was going to reform the media and prevent abuses. Ask the independence supporters who were harrassed by the Daily Mail how that’s working out. Shortly after Leveson published his findings, the organisation Media Reform published its own study, examining the differences between the market driven approach to media regulation found in the UK, and the approaches in other modern democracies. All of them had systems and regulations in place to ensure balance in the media and many have rules to prevent too large a proportion of the media being owned outside the country. The UK relies on the Culture Secretary not getting too pally with media barons.
Remember that shortly before the News of the World became the news of the world, its owner Rupert Murdoch was bidding to take over majority control of Sky News, which threatened to turn an already conservative outlet into a foaming mouthed Great British offshoot of the US Fox News. It was only the emergence of the hacking scandal which prevented it. That’s not proof that a regulatory system is working. It’s proof that it’s broken.
Interestingly, Media Reform’s report notes that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that states are under a positive obligation to ensure that “the public has access through television and radio to… a range of opinion and comment, reflecting inter alia the diversity of political outlook within the country.”
Clearly the UK Government is failing to meet this obligation to the Scottish public, and it’s possible that a case could be made that our human rights were being breached. Because it’s not good enough to ensure that opposing parties must be alloted equal time for a month or so leading up to a vote when the background music is biased one way and the period of purdah has been preceded by a two year long orchestrated assault on what’s being portrayed as the forces of Eckness.
Reform of Scotland’s media does not figure as a distant blip of the radar of the Unionist parties. Labour specifically ruled out the devolution of broadcasting in its review of the powers it doesn’t want Holyrood to have. (Weird how they are capable of being extremely clear in the powers they won’t let Holyrood have, but tie themselves in semantic knots trying to explain the non-powers they will let it have, isn’t it.) No Unionist party is about to introduce legislation to ensure that a significant proportion of Scotland’s print media outlets are owned and controlled within Scotland. None of them have the slightest interest in ensuring that the breadth of Scottish opinion is represented, because there’s a large segment of Scottish opinion saying things they don’t want to hear.
Saying things that powerful politicians don’t want to hear is the media’s job. In Scotland, the real power lies with Westminster. Scotland’s media is not speaking truth unto that power. They’re its mouthpiece.
Scotland needs an independent and politically diverse media, which properly represents how this nation really is, with all its positivities and all its faults. We need a media which is not afraid to challenge those in power. A written Scottish constitution spelling out the “positive obligation of the state to ensure that the public has access through television and radio to… a range of opinion and comment, reflecting inter alia the diversity of political outlook within the country” would be a good starting point.
You already know what I’ll say next. But I’ll say it anyway. We’ll only stand a chance of getting that if we vote yes in September.