Failing in an obligation

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.


0 thoughts on “Failing in an obligation

  1. I was watching BBC News 24 a wee while ago. There is an article about the Turkish government banning Twitter and attempting to ban Youtube. There will be no surprise to find out that there is an upcoming election in Turkey.

    The BBC correspondent live from Turkey informs us that this has come about because the opposition has been denied a voice in the Turkish MSM and has taken to the internet and social media to spread its message.

    Sounds awfi familiar!

    • Was in Turkey and have to say the Ukraine in the Autumn last year, and both our guides in Turkey were definitely not fans of the Administration. I would also like to clear up any idea that we were complicit in the trouble in the Ukraine, honest. Crimea was lovely but our thinking was much more Russia than the rest.

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  3. I agree with your analysis of the UK and Scottish media. As a lifetime reader of ‘serious’ newspapers such as the Guardian, and listener of Radio Scotland, I have found that one of the by-products of involvement in the independence movement has been that I am no longer able to believe or enjoy much of their output – if they can be so wrong and so biased about the indyref, how can I trust what they have to say about anything else?

    However, I think that there is another side to this. We are in a transition period around use of the media. I guess, like many people, I rarely buy a newspaper any more. On my desktop I have a collection of pages that offer me the opinions and information that I want – Newsnet Scptland, the wee dug, Wings, Bella, DB, SR, and a lot more. I have wondered whether, post-independence, it might be possible to find some way of linking these things together (and paying for them) to create an on-line Scottish ‘newspaper’. It doesn’t seem too hard to add sound files, or bits of video, so maybe it could also become a news channel. I’d be interested in hearing from media researchers and academics – has this sort of thing been achieved anywhere else?

    • I totally agree with you.

      I started reading the Observer around 1977, The Guardian a couple of years later. (They had different owners then). I now question their agenda on every story.

      Radio Scotland’s news output was always predicated on giving bad news the highest profile, even before the independence campaign started. The journalists seemed to be having a collective nervous breakdown. (Of course, now we have Derek Bateman explaining what’s going on, it’s entirely possible that is what’s happening!) I stopped listening to Good Morning Scotland just due to the negativity, so the press releases of Project Fear would be right up their street, even if the BBC wasn’t so anti-indy.

      I actually rely more on Twitter for news – the wholesale destruction of the NHS in England would be an unknown to me if it wasn’t for all the links that people post. The local press seems to cover these stories, but not the broadsheets.

      The UK is entirely too Londoncentric and upper-middle class, and it’s destroying both democracy and its handmaiden, the news media. In my opinion. 🙂

  4. An excellent and clear argument – thank you. I must be one of the last Scotsman readers (but subscription is cancelled from the end of April). I cannot understand how the print media can’t see that with a baseline figure of indy support of around 40% (if you believe the polls, and I think they may understate the level of support) there is obviously a profitable niche for pro-indy newspapers. Ah, but wait a minute, yes, that’s the thrust of the article isn’t it. The external owners of these same papers are agin it, and ideas mustn’t be put into the heads of the lumpen proles. If George Orwell were still alive, there would be a wonderful satirical novel in this I think. I’ve followed your blog for months, and have been informed and amused – my first venture into commentary today (ps the WoS branded subway looks awfu smert!).

  5. “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.”

    Some things are worth repeating time and again.

    I’ve been part of the print and publishing industry for over twenty odd years. I’ve never been so damn depressed and ashamed to be associated with it as now. When we needed them. When we should have been able to turn to and count on them for information, objective reportage and holding all parties to account, that’s when Scotland’s press deserted the public. To a title and ‘almost’ to a man they left us to fend for ourselves and do our own digging.

    The birth of civil journalism though has been a bright light in this darkened room. A huge thanks goes out to the bloggers, without them we’d still be left without a voice in a very dark place.

  6. After a YES vote, and once the £300+m in licence fees we send to London is retained for our own Broadcasting Service, we could add film, television, radio, theatre and the arts to the list of communication tools which are currently used to promote a one sided debate.

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  8. Wee Ginger,
    Thanks for another great blog, it’s always a pleasure (and such a welcome respite from the ever faithfully negative MSM ) to read someone with genuine honesty and passion.
    ps. Please keep up the good work…

  9. A few years ago I decided to replace my dilapidated farmhouse and as well as being keen on a vernacular style, wanted to offer local contractors the work. Remember this was just before the credit crunch. Anyway the prices per sqm were supposed to be £2000 in London and £800-1100 in Scotland. The price of £2200 was thought “reasonable” by the Quantity Surveyor ( the builders get him his work ) and reflected their attitude at the time ” look pal, we’ve enough work on, but if you’re prepared to pay a stupid price we’ll do it for you ” ie supply, demand and profiteering.

    So I walked away and with a clean sheet of paper eventually got my farmhouse on artics from Europe at 2/3 of the price.

    The message is – look what you can do with a clean sheet – and this not only applies to a new Scottish press regulator, but to the advantages that a small global trading nation can have.

  10. “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”
    You are selling yourself sort, young man!

  11. I stopped buying newspapers in the 1970s when a lot of the time I worked with, but not in, the print news, and broadcasting industry. This was an era when most of the national daily,s had fairly large numbers of people working for them in Glasgow. Some of the methods used by these so-called journalists to get their stories, were,to say the least, dubious, and the accuracy of their printed piece doubtful, to say the least. But then, why let the truth get in the way of a “good story”. Today however, the situation is much more serious. Led by B.B.C Scotland news programmes,which I no longer watch because I have to be careful of my blood pressure, the ever compliant media, that is to Westminster of course, get away with either outright untruths, or even more insidious, not reporting stories beneficial to the Yes campaign. Just see Professor Robertson’s study. Obviously this is going to continue right up until the date of the referendum, but then what? In the event of a Yes vote, what attitude will the media in Scotland then take? Going by what the Scottish Government have said, the staff at B.B.C Scotland will have their existing contracts honoured while a Scottish Broadcasting Service is established, but will they continue tto denigrate our country in the meantime? Personally, I won’t be watching until the present mob have left the building and the new organisation, I hope, can regain some respectability and report accurately and responsibly. The print media is a different kettle of fish. Privately owned, they can do, and say, what they like, but with newspaper sales plummetting, perhaps the people who pay for the newspaper, the advertisers, might have an decisive influence. Maybe I even might consider buying a mewspaper again.

  12. Endorse everything that has been said and you are my next port of call after WOS. You have a wonderful incisive style which cuts through the waffle. More power to your elbow, and love to the Wee Ginger Dug, have a wee apricot one who should be ginger but looks more like an apricot milkshake.

  13. Well done on your increased readership.
    I agree with all of the comments above.
    It seemed that whilst the rest of us were getting on with our lives, the BBC was taken over by Labour Party apparatchiks and we didn’t notice until the Indy ref came about.

    I always distrusted Labour in Scotland but I couldn’t put my finger on why it was – I thought maybe all the ‘best’ ones went to WM.
    Then when we got Holyrood, it became apparant that they were all pretty useless and were promoted for their compliance rather than their ability.

    Well most of us have seen throught them now and we (hopefully) will not get fooled again

  14. This campaign has brought to the fore a raft of vibrant new voices, showing up the majority of traditional journalists for what they are. As in politics, the system of news dissemination was changing but that change has now greatly accelerated and things will never be the same again. Power is moving. A yes vote in September will see it take a seismic leap.

  15. I wholeheartedly agree. The TV news is now as unwatchable as the newspapers are unreadable. What strikes me most is that I no longer trust overseas news reports; if they (the BBC, Sky etc) can’t report impartially and accurately events in my own country why on earth should I believe what I’m told about what’s happening in the Turkey, Ukraine, Syria etc ?

  16. What will we do after the event in September ?? we do need more balance and questions I only hope the out there someone is keeping a little list of the events the lies and downright deceit that has been going on our children and grandkids need to know about these dark events, Eric Blair would be spinning on Jura at the thought of it of it all,we missed the chance in 79 lets not slip up again Scotland must have independence.

  17. I think this article and comments above echo what many Scots are now finding, that they no longer, and WILL never again trust the Scottish Mainstream press (regardless of September’s results). Perhaps the owners of the laughingly titled ‘Scotsman’ and its pro union ilk believe that once the referendum is over, it will be business as usual, but it won’t. This particular genie really cannot be put back in the bottle.

    In many ways, those newspapers who are so comfortable talking down Scotland, and pushing the anti independence narrative are effectively killing their own business. As Macart pointed out above, with around 40% solid pro independence (at least) support, there is a commercial open goal for a mainstream newspaper to change its editorial line to back independence, We have even seen the financial clout of independence supporters recently, yet still no newspaper is able to see the potential. Don’t they want to make money??

    The mainstream media (including the BBC) in Scotland is a sick joke, and it daily betrays the people of Scotland, with its pro London, pro union sycophancy.

  18. As an 11 year old boy I had a discussion with my father, a committed socialist and passionate Scot, what newspaper was the best to take up he recommended I try the Telegraph. His reasoning was that I would find more news about this country and the rest of the world per column inch than in any other newspaper also that I would be educated through its pages on many matters and be exposed to a variety of opinions from many contributors. I asked him why he thought a Tory paper was suitable for the son of a Scottish socialist and he pointed out you can ignore the middle and make up your own mind based on what you will read and assimilate elsewhere in the paper. I have since then, even when living in Africa for a period as a young man, tried to ensure I accessed a copy of the Telegraph every day since. I have many times vehemently disagreed with their editorials and middle opinion pages but have always found their reporting of facts and circumstances fair, educational and sometimes enlightening. However I find their current reporting of the Scottish Independence Referendum very wrong, it is full of inaccuracies, lies and assumptions. They are making no attempt to clarify the truth in regard to the historical situation between Scotland and England and at times the coverage is like that of an hysterical Tabloid Celebrity playing to the gallery. As a lifetime reader of the Telegraph I cannot agree more with your comments on Cochrane his vile and vitriol knows no bounds when it comes to Wee Eck. It will not surprise you that my constant letters to the editor on this matter never reach the Letters page.

  19. “people find it preferable to seek out the amateur rantings of a full time carer than to read the offerings of highly paid professionals. ”

    You sell yourself short. The people you call “professionals” may be highly paid but journalists they are not. It is to the credit of Scots that so many excellent proper journalists are and have been produced over the years, and currently most of those are writing blogs for the Internet.

  20. You may gain your readership by word of mouth — but you’re keeping it because of the quality of your writing and thinking. And it’s much higher than many press columnists who make a living from theirs.

  21. @ Andrew Brown It’s been said the main function of a secret service is to keep its population ignorant of issues rather than seeing off nasty foreign spies. To some extent this could be a proxy for our media.

    If you want to see the other side in a different context, watch Five Broken Cameras in which a Palestinian villager logs five years of hell and how it affects the next generation – produced with the support of some enlightened Israelis, by the way.

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