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.
If you enjoyed reading this article please feel free to make a small donation.