Richard Walker says Yessers need to alter their approach to journalists

I didn’t attend the Scottish Independence Convention last Saturday [Jan 14th].  Sitting for hours in a hotel conference room listening to speeches really isn’t my bag.

I did though manage to catch most of Richard Walker’s speech courtesy of Independence Live.  Walker was billed as giving a speech on the media – and that does interest me.

This article is part one of a two part response to that speech.

Richard Walker is the former editor of the Sunday Herald.  It was under his stewardship that the paper came out in support for Yes during the latter stages of the first independence referendum campaign.  After the referendum Walker introduced the pro-independence daily The National.  His Yes credentials are therefore not in question.

His speech at the SIC conference was, as you’d expect from someone steeped in the main stream press, defensive of the sector.  He urged respect for journalists and support for what he termed the pro-independence media.

Nothing controversial you might think.  But I for one found some of his arguments unconvincing.  I have selected a few quotes from his speech and provided my own response.  If you wish to hear the quotes in context then a video of the full speech, courtesy of Independence Live, is available here.

We need to adopt a new approach to journalists, particularly those we disagree with.

… So although I think there was some serious failings in the referendum coverage by some newspapers and by the BBC in the run-up to September 2014, it’s not really going to help matters to pick over those issues again and again.  If we want those journalists to change their attitude to us then we have to change our attitude to them.  That ball is in our court.

Why do we need to adopt a different approach to journalists we disagree with?  They are unlikely to alter their opinions and their writing because they are no longer criticised by pro-independence activists.  These journalists produced pro-Union/Labour copy long before the internet gave us the opportunity to challenge them.  I for one could not care less what professional journalists think of me.

The BBC did indeed have some “serious failings” with its referendum coverage.  The reason myself and others ‘pick over’ these serious failings “again and again” is because the BBC refuses to acknowledge them and the rest of the media refuses to discuss them.  Thus, the Scottish electorate is overwhelming ignorant of these failings.

There is no ball.  There is no court.  The constitutional issue is not a game with rules.  Unionists will lie and cheat.  Newspapers will push the lie and ignore the cheating.  The BBC will take its lead from these same newspapers.  This is how indyref2 will be fought.

I’ve seen reporters move from generally supportive of the Yes campaign to hostility because they feel continually under fire from a minority of independence supporters on social media, for whom any criticism of the SNP or pro-indy arguments is simply not acceptable.

A position where the SNP is beyond criticism in the media is simply not compatible with how we would define journalism.

If some reporters have been generally supportive of Yes then it will be because the Yes argument was persuasive.  If they have altered that opinion because they were criticised on social media then that doesn’t say much about their resolve.  Did they then resort to writing more anti-independence copy because they were criticised or did they maintain their journalistic integrity?  I would hope the latter.

What frustrates many independence supporters is the relentless attacks on the SNP across news media.  Journalists should be aware that this has an effect on how the entire profession is viewed.

When, instead of challenging Unionist inspired spin the corporate media body merely regurgitates it then why are journalists surprised that they are criticised?

Nobody has ever suggested that the SNP is “beyond criticism” but there has to be an acknowledgement that much of the SNPBad copy that appears in newspapers is manufactured tripe.  Decent honest journalism, and there is some, has been tainted by the concocted nonsense that passes for journalism.

And ‘fair’ means acknowledging that the journalists role of holding power to account means in Scotland holding the SNP to account.  They are in a strange position of being a party working to achieve radical anti-establishment change for a country while at the same time running Scotland to a large extent.

So let’s stop berating journalists whether in print, radio or television for tough questioning of government ministers.  That’s their job.  Honestly, SNP Ministers are strong enough to handle it.

The SNP does not wield unfettered power in Scotland.  Nicola Sturgeon’s Holyrood administration controls only that which Westminster allows it to control.  Real power resides with London.

We have a Tory Secretary of State who wields enormous power.  David Mundell is arguably more powerful than the First Minister.  We have a majority of councils with a non-SNP ruling group.  Holding power to account means more than just the SNP.

Journalists are not ‘berated’ for tough questioning of government ministers.  In the case of BBC presenters, they are often ‘berated’ because they press SNP politicians in a far more robust manner than they do their Unionist counterparts.

They are ‘berated’ because they run with newspaper/Unionist contrived narratives and rhetoric like the Scottish NHS being in Crisis or the SNP being a centralisation party.  Listen to the clip below which is of very recent broadcasts on Radio Scotland.

 

They are berated because they will push clearly contrived smears and conflate issues in order to mislead the public.  Anyone recall when newspapers and the BBC pushed the lie that the compassionate release of Megrahi was linked to Blair’s Deal in the Desert?

Journalism, and by that I mean political journalism, is broken in Scotland.  Independence supporters do not trust the media.  And with good reason.  It was the professional media that allowed the false claims and dishonest pledges of the Better Together campaign to embed during the first independence referendum.

The pinnacle, or should that be the nadir, was of course ‘The Vow’ which was dreamt up by the Daily Record and promoted relentlessly by every other outlet.

Torcuil Crichton appeared on Radio Scotland last year and claimed that ‘The Vow’ had been delivered.

 

The following day John Swinney appeared on Good Morning Scotland where he was interviewed by Gary Robertson.  Listen to the exchange below as Robertson virtually accuses John Swinney of lying when the Scottish Minister points out – correctly – that The Vow hasn’t in fact been delivered in full.

 

This is the kind of journalism that Yessers have rejected and that they hold in contempt.  It is not Yessers who have to try to foster a ‘new approach’ to journalists, but journalists that need to try to foster a new approach to us.  I’m not holding my breath.

Part 2 of my response to Richard Walker, which deals with his views on the alternative media, will be published on Monday.

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16 thoughts on “Richard Walker says Yessers need to alter their approach to journalists

  1. Morag

    The Megrahi thing was more complicated than it appears at first sight. I wholeheartedly agree with you that the episode of the US senators was shameful and the BBC’s failure to stand up for Scotland in an international context was appalling.

    However, there was a foundation for the senator’s false narrative. In the spring of 2007 Tony Blair was all set to grease Megrahi’s road home by way of a prisoner transfer agreement, when in May the SNP unexpectedly won the Holyrood election. The whole thing was already stitched up with BP and the Libyan government, and Blair had assured the Libyans that there would be no problem. He expected Jack McConnell as FM simply to do what he was told. So the “Megrahi release in exchange for an oil deal” is absolute fact.

    When Bob Black tried to explain to the Libyans that the Scottish government had a veto on any prisoner transfer, and that the new SNP government might not be as compliant as Blair had indicated, the negotiator said “But Tony promised!” They simply didn’t understand about Holrood and thought Wesminster controlled everything – as indeed it did up to May 2007.

    Indeed the SNP govermnent decided not to play ball on the prisoner transfer precisely because they saw it as a betrayal of promises given to Lockerbie relatives that Megrahi would serve his sentence in Scotland. And of course the oil deal was of no benefit to Scotland anyway. However, Megrahi was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and at that point compassionate release came on to the table.

    I’ll skip over the machinations by which Megrahi was induced to abandon the appeal that would have cleared his name before he was granted compassionate release, even though there was no legal requirement for him to do that. It does Kenny MacAskill and the Scottish criminal justice system no credit. I do wonder however who put him up to that? Was that another instance of Westminster pulling the strings?

    Westminster saw the way the wind was blowing, with MacAskill being inclined to grant the compassionate release (by which a sentence is ended, thus technically at least not breaking the promise to the relatives) although he was still opposed to prisoner transfer. It was realised that in this way the oil deal could still be salvaged, if MacAskill would just let the damn man go. So they kept quiet in public and telegraphed little nods and winks in private to indicate that everybody was absolutely fine about that.

    Then once Megrahi was on the plane, all hell broke loose. The inevitable US backlash against the release was directed wholly against Scotland and the Scottish government. Wasn’t us, mate, said Westminster, we’d have let him rot in jail. It was those dreadful Scots. And look at all the oil Scotland has. It was probably a deal.

    That was the story waiting to be told. It didn’t even need any great investigative effort as it was plain to see to anyone who had been following the events. But that might have taken a bit of heat off the Scottish government so what we got was the BBC weighing in with the attacks on Scotland.

    But there was an oil deal, and it was behind Megrahi’s release.

  2. Dan Huil

    The britnat media in Scotland is beneath contempt. Boycott the lot of them. Keep the circulation and viewing figures on a downward path.

  3. Jockanese Wind Talker

    Posted this on previous article “A breed apart?” but comment is as valid here as there:

    The problem these ‘journalists’ have is that we the electorate have seen through their lies and are now actively calling them out and attempting to hold them to account as soon as their drivel is published.

    They don’t like it and see it as an attack on their status, their perceived position in society as the arbiters of truth which harks back to the past.

    It is very simple

    If they are not impartial or objective

    If they publish unquestioned Political Party Press releases

    If they omit salient facts or comparative facts/statistic

    If they think a freedom of information request equals investigative journalism

    If they use Front line services like the SNHS, Police and Fire Brigade to attack the Scottish Government without mentioning Westminster Unionist backed cuts to Scotland’s budget

    If they are the BBC

    THEN THEY ARE PROPAGANDISTS, NOT JOURNALISTS, PLAIN AND SIMPLE.

    They all know that the establishment won’t require them to denigrate Scotland to keep the natives too scared of becoming independent once we are.

    They also all know they will be as employable in an iScotland as William Joyce would have been in Post WWII London.

    So they rail against those of us who know what game they are playing and won’t accept it any more.

    These “supposedly beleaguered journalists” complain not in the name of freedom of speech but in the name of their own personal financial liquidity.

  4. Hugh Wallace

    Thank you for writing this. It is pretty much word for word what I was thinking when I read Richard Walker’s speech.

    It pretty much made me think of Donalda McKinnon’s interview in the National shortly after she became chief of BBC Shortbread when she made it clear that our lack of trust in the BBC was because of their failure to communicate their message clearly & our failure to understand it rather than any issue with the message itself.

    Those poor, poor journalists; nobody understand them at all. Must be hard to take being surrounded by all those ignorant plebs who think they are smart enough to challenge their journalese…

  5. Big Jock

    Gary Robertson giving opinion rather than asking opinion. Sounds like an opinion column in a tabloid. Brown was given air time on BBC to peddle the vow. Federalism! Yet suddenly the BBC think he doesn’t matter as he’s not in government.

    It reeks of excrement and is utterly deplorable. No matter what BBC Scotland journos think. They are first and foremost Scottish citizens. They should be disecting the missing parts of the vow in everyone’s interests including their own.

    Instead they just accept Londons message and peddle it as truth. I forgot how angry I was in my car listening to that piece of state sponsored propaganda. We were not sensitive or paranoid, the BBC really were working for the state.

  6. Flower of Scotland

    I watched the SIC Conference on Indy live too and was annoyed at Richard Walker.

    Donald Trump complains about the lying MSM in the USA, he only has to come to Scotland to hear and see the same untruths in journalism and downright lying from the BBC.

  7. John Robertson

    Richard Walker is embedded. He has too many friends in mainstream journalism to really be counted as on the side of the Yes campaign. He likes appearing on the BBC. He doesn’t accept Chomsky’s condemnation. He can’t because it undermines his delusions.

    1. Tommy Addison

      Would this be John Watson Robertson by any chance ?

      I agree with most or your opinions john ..bang …Robertson .but jury’s a oot on this wan

  8. John McLeod

    One of the things that we are seeing is the knock-on effect of the loss of Ian Bell. His writing was at another level, and transcended the yes/no divide. Imagine if he was still with us now – every week there would be an example of what is possible, in terms of writing about politics and society in Scotland.

  9. Macart

    That needed saying.

    I respect Mr Walker. One of the very few I do respect, but he needs to understand that there is a lack of trust and a sense of grievance for a reason.

    The media, by and large, have earned it.

  10. Brian Powell

    The journalists in Scotland were overtaken by events in Scotland, they just weren’t good enough to deal with them. There is a mixture of pettiness, embedded Toryism and years of unchallenged self regard.
    I saw the old movie, Oh What a Lovely War, the other day and the scene where the Brit General Staff, after numerous defeats, are gathered round a map table. Suddenly the Americans come storming in and the Brits GS are surrounded and left looking muddled, befuddled, out of their depth and frightened. It reminded me of the ‘Scottish’ media in the face of the Independence movement.

  11. Kevin

    Dwindling sales and changing attitudes to news sources, news options where none previously existed, electorate discovering more accurate information – all of this in tandem with a burgeoning SNP message of success and capability in government, of transparency and accountability, of an alternative to the same-ole-same-ole. Journalists, broadcasters and corporation heads don’t like it and they direct their childish ire at what they perceive as a threat to their ‘rule’.

    Only since the Independence Referendum have I took any kind of interest in the politics of our country, and that is wholly down to the information I’m able to access from sites like this one. Would they have us continue to be misled and ignorant? Oh, I’m sure that’s EXACTLY what they want. No. That’s not going to happen again. We’re never going back to those days of being deliberately kept in the dark, of being mis-informed and lied to by an out-of-control media.

    Want our respect? Start to tell the truth about what’s really going-on in Scotland, stop brushing scandal under the rug, put an end to the ignoring of fraud and dubiety, stop lying to us for the sake of a bent union. Start by telling Scots how Brexit will *really* affect us, and while you’re at it, how about reminding Scots that we were lied to that voting No would guarantee EU and single market access. Then, and only then, can we talk about mutual respect. In the meantime – pardon my French – go and fuck yourselves.

  12. Geejay

    Great analysis as usual and comments spot on.

    Who does he think he’s kidding? Journalist defends “journalists” – that’s not news. Let him think of some real journalists, you know the ones who dish the dirt on the despots, the oligarchs, the gangsters and end up murdered. Then there are those who write the lies and excrement, such as shown in the little montage above and exposed by GA, Peter, Wings, John Robertson et al, and he says we’ve got to be nice to them. Presumably because they’ll write even worse lies than before.

    Once the “Lord Haw Haw’s” start writing even-handed, objective, impartial stuff and call to account the Brit Nationalist, the Labourites, the Tories and all the rest of the appalling apologies for Unionist politicians and their backers in business and finance then we’ll maybe give them some respect.

  13. tartanfever

    Richard Walker is going to look extremely stupid in the next year or so. By then, Brexit negotiations will be looking economically shaky, the EU will be all over the UK delegation and much of the London press will be berating May.

    However in Scotland, that won’t be covered. Scottish media will be in full counter attack against a newly formed Yes movement. If you think the last time was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet.

    We will be inundated with unionist ‘astroturf’ groups claiming to be independence supporters but deriding the SNP. These groups will get full unadulterated coverage on Reporting Scotland.

    False flag attacks will start to happen against unionist politicians – windows will be smashed, hate articles will appear all over the place and twitter will be full of sexist and bigoted attacks against unionist politicians. These events will be carried out by unionist attack thugs and again, receive full unquestioned coverage in our media.

    In 2014 when the polls tightened, we saw the ramifications clearly in the media coverage, and unionist parties clearly breaking the rules of purdah. Now we begin this campaign on a pretty level footing, and you can rest assured that the Yes movement will not dominate the grassroots as it did before.

    This is going to be one hell of an uphill struggle, we’d better prepare ourselves well for the onslaught which is going to head our way.

  14. Peter

    It is not the job of the media to hold our government to account.

    It is their job to tell us the truth and then WE hold them to account through the ballot box.

    Otherwise what’s the point of elections?

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