We need to talk about our problem child. The media in Scotland is suffering from a strange form of mass psychosis. It’s like the witch hysteria of the 17th century, only it involves screaming about the SNP. The same publications which denounce Jeremy Corbyn for being so left wing that even Lenin would consider him to be a dangerous extremist are in paroxysms of huffiness that the SNP isn’t left wing enough. Oooh, get them, say the papers about SNP MPs, they don’t all wear sackcloth and whip themselves in sympathy with the struggles of Palestine while donating all their money to refugee charities. This being one of the few instances in which most of the papers use the word refugee, more typically they use phrases like illegal immigrants with HIV coming over here to steal your places in bus queues so they can go and rape a pensioner’s pug.
We are, if you’ve not already noticed, in one of the Scottish media’s regular fits of SNPbadness. This time it centres on the business activities of the MP for Edinburgh West. Imagine an Edinburgh MP having more than one property eh. Alistair Darling would never have done anything like that. Only he did. And he got the taxpayer to pay for them. The media wasn’t so interested in that, I seem to recall. But I digress.
I’ve been reading the screeds of reports about the Michelle Thomson affair and am still struggling to comprehend exactly what it is that she’s supposed to have done wrong. I’m not trying to defend whatever it is that she’s done, if for no other reason than like most of the country I’m still in the dark about what it is that she’s supposed to have done. She’s not actually the subject of any police investigations herself. It appears that what the entire sorry saga boils down to is that she buys properties cheaply and then sells them on for a profit. This may be morally reprehensible if you’re a fully paid up member of a socialist party dedicated to bringing about the downfall of global capitalism, but it isn’t a crime. It’s a BBC 1 daytime TV show.
In any case Michelle Thomson is not a member of a socialist party dedicated to bringing about the downfall of global capitalism. She’s a former high heid yin in Business for Scotland, there’s a wee clue in the name there to the fact that she’s not exactly an advocate of anarchism. Now she’s an MP for a social democratic party whose claims to left wingery rest upon the fact that for a number of years it has been somewhat further to the left than the Transgeordie Labour party. But then being further to the left than a party which proudly produces anti-immigration mugs is not exactly the same as signing up to the entirety of Das Kapital and vowing to set up a Soviet in Saughton.
Certain figures in the media feel aggrieved that punters and the public, and folk like me, criticise them. You’re against a free press, they cry. That would be a free press which is a fully owned subsidiary of global corporations, controlled by companies based in tax havens. In fact media critics are the champions of a free press. We’re the ones who demand a media which is representative of the breadth of views in this country. It’s not unreasonable to expect that in a country where approximately half the population supports independence that approximately half of our media outlets should support the same view too. But that’s not what we’ve got. It’s not unreasonable that in a country where only 16% of the population support the views and aims of the Conservative party that the views of the Conservative party should be reflected and supported by only a similarly small percentage of our media outlets. But that’s not what we’ve got.
Our media hates the independence movement in general and the SNP in particular. I’m not trying to argue that the SNP should be beyond criticism, far from it. I’m arguing that the unremitting negativity of our media towards the SNP is counterproductive. It makes people switch off. That’s dangerous in a democracy. You cannot have a properly functioning democracy when the media does not broadcast and publish the range of views found in the population it claims to serve. Instead what you get is a public which grows increasingly resentful of what it perceives as manipulation, and a growing anger towards the purveyors of news that’s not our news. Meanwhile the media screeches that it’s under attack by people opposed to press freedom. But the simple truth is this, when public trust in the media breaks down, that’s the fault of the media not the public. The breakdown in trust is reflected in plummeting sales figures for national newspapers, and the growing clamour to reform the state of broadcasting.
Yet even the most modest proposals to redress the balance receive a hysterical response. When Newsnet Scotland was first launched it was alternately ignored or vilified by the mainstream media. The entirely reasonable and sensible proposals that Scotland should have its own national broadcaster – just like every other self-governing country or territory in Europe – is denounced as SNPTV. The notion that there should be a national TV channel broadcasting in Scots, a language spoken by 1.5 million people, doesn’t even get airtime in a media and political class which is inhabited by linguistic illiterates who refuse to accept the fact that Scots is even a language.
Nothing changes. The media stays stuck in its SNPbad comfort zone, and irrespective of the justification of the story, another little bit of public faith in the Scottish media dies. We’ve heard it all before, too often, too stridently, and few are listening any more. What we need to see is a similar zeal in pursuit of the other political parties, a similar eagerness to promote the views of the independence movement as there is to promote the Union. Until that happens Scottish faith in the media will continue to evaporate away. But there’s as much chance of the Scottish media being representative of Scottish opinion as there is of the newspapers attacking the Tories using public funds to promote Unionism with the same vigour that they attack Michelle Thomson. Eventually people get sick of the problem child, and they disown it.
IMPORTANT MESSAGE FOR ‘KL’ and Angus MacInnes Someone identifying themselves only as KL made a bank transfer to my account so they could buy copies of my new books. Unfortunately the only information linked to the payment are the initials KL and I have no means of linking the payment to a mailing address. Could KL please email me and identify themselves so I can get their books sent out. I’ve also received a payment from Angus MacInnes, but he’s not given me his postal address. Could you please get in touch with your mailing address Angus.
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