What exactly is the point of a newspaper if all it does is to regurgitate press releases? It ceases to become a newspaper, it becomes a propaganda sheet. There’s a place for opinion, polemic, and bias in newspapers, that place is in the opinion columns. That’s why they’re called the opinion columns, the clue is in the name. What I write for The National is shamelessly biased. I wear my bias on my sleeve. I write an opinion column. I don’t pretend that what I produce is unbiased and balanced news. Primarily I am a polemicist. That’s my job, that’s what I do. When your open and honest about your bias it’s not a problem, because then readers are able to apply their own filters. The problem arises when you present your bias as balanced and unbiased. That’s dishonest.
Fact checking is the job of a news reporter. That’s what they do. Only in Scotland they don’t. In Scotland the Unionist press prints press releases from the Labour and Conservative parties and calls it balanced news. That would be bad enough. What makes it utterly unforgivable is that in Scotland our newspaper landscape is itself heavily unbalanced. In a country where approximately half the population support independence, only one daily newspaper and one Sunday do. Every other newspaper in this country is Unionist. So when the Unionist media decides, en masse, to run a Labour press release and call it news without properly checking the facts, news reporting in Scotland is sacrificed on the altar of Union.
Yesterday the majority of the Scottish press were caught out by Wings Over Scotland. They printed a Labour press release containing an elementary error. The story was the allegation from Labour in Scotland that over half of all trains arrive late at Scotland’s busiest train stations. The error was to confuse the punctuality figures for the entire year, a year which was characterised by major closures of routes due to electrification works, with the figures for last month. All the newspapers who carried the story repeated the same simple error. In fact, the figures for last month show that over 93% of trains arrive on time in Scotland.
That doesn’t mean that there is some great Unionist conspiracy. It doesn’t mean that Unionist journalists sit down with Labour press officers in a dark and smoke filled room and plot evil ways to do down the cause of independence. What it does mean is that when Unionist newspapers receive stories from Unionist sources which enable them to indulge themselves in their favourite sport of SNP bashing, they’ll print the story as it is because it happens to confirm their own pre-existing bias. They can no longer pretend this doesn’t happen, because if it didn’t they would not all have repeated the same simple error in the Labour press release. Memo to the Scottish press, never trust anything that comes from a party that maintains that the entire purpose of weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde is to keep open a medium sized Tesco Express in the greater Helensburgh area.
One of the reasons they do so is because in the small and incestuous world of the Scottish media, journalists from Scotland’s Unionist press move seamlessly on into positions as communications officers for Unionist politicians. The Daily Mail’s Alan Roden now works for the Labour party, the Herald’s Magnus Gardham is now in his spiritual home as press guy for David Mundell. It says a lot about the Labour party in Scotland that they’re comfortable with someone from the Daily Mail as their press guy. It doesn’t say much that’s flattering. However the real point here is that when the Unionist press receives a press briefing from Labour or the Tories, they’re getting a story from one of their own. So they don’t check it with the same degree of suspicion and diligence that they apply to stories from other sources. That’s compounded by the cuts and pressures under which newsroom staff operate.
The outcome is that Scotland gets poorly served by its press, trust in the media plummets even lower, and it’s already the lowest in Europe. Then the press dies a little bit more. A large and significant proportion of Scotland’s population no longer has any faith in the press or in our state broadcaster. That isn’t the fault of the public. It’s the fault of the press. It’s easy for the press to sling mud at its critics and claim that we are conspiracy theorists. That’s just a way of avoiding the issue, avoiding responsibility. It avoids the simple truth that you don’t need a conspiracy for bias to flourish. Most bias flourishes without any awareness that it is in fact bias, and we see that in the Scottish press every day.
This is a very serious issue for Scotland. In this country we have a traditional media which is overwhelmingly supportive of the Unionist status quo and which gives short shrift to a constitutional position favoured by almost half the population. We have a new media which is weak, lacking in secure funding, marginalised, and prone to fits of self-destructive in-fighting.
Stu Campbell of Wings Over Scotland is a controversial figure and a controversialist, but we need his fact checking services. He’s the one who highlighted this issue and he’s the only one who does this kind of work. We don’t get that kind of fact checking from the traditional media, nor indeed from his critics in the new media. If the new media critics of WOS want to remove his blog from Scottish life, then start doing the same job of media critique, start doing it as effectively, and start doing it as accessibly in a language and format that the vast majority of people can understand without making them feel patronised. Until that happens, there’s always going to be an appetite and an audience for Wings Over Scotland.
The bias of the traditional media and the weakness of the new media are compounded by the fact that Scotland has no public service broadcaster of its own. A country which is incapable of reflecting itself in its media, of providing its public with a forum in which all opinions found in that country can be aired, discussed, and debated, is a country which cannot function properly as a democracy. That’s Scotland in the Union, a substandard democracy in a substandard state.
Oops. For some peculiar reason WordPress decided to publish this blog post without comments being enabled. I have no idea why that happened. It’s fixed now, comments are open as usual.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
Wee Ginger Fundraiser
I’m doing a fundraiser this year to keep this blog going for another twelve month and to allow the dug and me to continue visiting local groups all across Scotland. You can donate via my crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo –
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