Viewpoint: Alternative media should be more ‘joined up’

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Personal view: G.A. Ponsonby

We lost the referendum because of currency.  The SNP’s policy on keeping the pound was an albatross around the pro-independence movement’s neck.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read that.  So many people believe it that it’s now become a passage in the ‘referendum scriptures’.

I’ve said it until I’m blue in the face and I’m writing a book about it.  Yes lost because of the BBC.  Everyone seems to have forgotten that Yes took the lead two weeks out from the vote.  Public and private opinion polls showed a lead for the pro-independence movement.  Darling and McDougall were heading for failure until the state broadcaster stepped in.

I’ve already covered the last two weeks of the campaign where the BBC sidelined the Yes campaign and promoted No to a hitherto unseen extent.  I’m currently writing a book which chronicles BBC Scotland’s role in the referendum and its metamorphosis from political observer pre-2007 to political participant after the SNP’s first Holyrood win.

In truth though, even the eleventh hour intervention by the BBC could have been rendered moot if the Yes Scotland campaign had been more savvy.

The official Yes Scotland organisation didn’t have a particularly good referendum.  Too much money was spent on creating a glossy looking website and staffing an inaccessible central office.  Early campaign literature was over complicated and ineffective.  The grassroots movement saved the Yes campaign.

The official campaign also failed to utilise the very effective new media which had already established itself.  There was no serious attempt at coordinating with sites like Newsnet, Bella and Wings over Scotland.

One of the most effective weapons the No campaign had was a sympathetic media that would readily synchronise the latest anti-Yes message.  No sooner had a statement or scare been issued against independence, than it was headlined by pro-Union newspapers and broadcast by the BBC.

The resultant bombardment could last for days, even weeks, as the media artillery rained No-bombs on voters.  Pundits discussed, not the strength of argument, but the effectiveness of the respective campaigns.  Thus, the public were regularly told how No was winning the campaign war and either ‘currency’, or ‘the EU’, or ‘Cybernats’ was a Yes weakness.

Yes could have hit back by ensuring a similar coordinated line of attack from the sympathetic new media.  Had Newsnet, Wings over Scotland and Bella Caledonia synchronised pro-Indy stories then Yes would have been more effective in countering the traditional media machine.  But it never happened.

And the weakness is being exposed all over again, this time the target is the UK general election.
Newspapers and media are employing exactly the same tactics as were employed during the referendum.

Have you noticed how the price of oil has been used by Unionists in order to mount an attack on Home Rule?
It’s no accident that the Scotsman and Herald newspapers are running stories attacking the Scottish government over the drop in oil price.  Scottish Labour is running this show.

Your Call presenter Kaye Adams
Your Call presenter Kaye Adams

On Friday the BBC gave Labour a free party political broadcast in the shape of the morning radio phone-in Morning Call.

Listeners were asked: ‘Do you want Home Rule? Does the price of oil make a difference?’ – the image of a tweet from Radio Scotland can be seen at the top of this article.  The programme was presented by Kaye Adams, who bizarrely told listeners Gordon Brown did not pledge Home Rule during the referendum campaign.

 

Wings over Scotland has a good article highlighting Adams’ claim and that of Labour MSP Lewis MacDonald who joined the BBC presenter in denying Brown mentioned Home Rule.  This is a news story but nobody will run it.

Days ago the media were running with a story of a so-called ‘row’ between Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and London Labour MP Dianne Abbott.  It featured on BBC Scotland news including Reporting Scotland.  Thus, Scottish voters were presented with the image of Jim Murphy standing up to London, which was exactly what he wanted.

The new online media has to start working together if it is to combat this ultra-effective pro-Union media synchronicity.

But how?

Days ago I tweeted that the new media needs to start pooling resources, cooperating and coordinating.  There is an incredible amount of talent within the Yes movement but there is no communication.

I suggest an overarching body be created that will encourage cross-pollination and discussion.  The decision makers at Newsnet, Bella, Common Space and Wings need to start meeting and talking regularly.  The goal should be to ensure the new media shares content, synchronises and grows.

There is currently no online outlet running with regular news stories that might challenge or even apply pressure to the Murphy/Scottish Labour narrative.  Newsnet used to do this and might yet again within time.  As things stand though, areas of weakness within the Scottish Labour campaign are not being exploited and brought to the attention of the wider public.

A case in point is the oil story itself, where a first class article by Stuart Campbell at Wings over Scotland highlighted Labour duplicity over an oil resilience fund.  Campbell’s research ought to have appeared across new media, but it hasn’t.

Similarly, weaknesses in Scottish Labour’s pledge to add 1000 more nurses to any figure the SNP pledge should have been exploited and effectively syndicated across the new media.  Ofcom’s decision to exclude the SNP from its list of major parties has resulted in an angry response from the party of government in Scotland, but you won’t find it in any news outlets.

These shortcomings existed within the new online media throughout the referendum campaign.  They were never addressed.  The reasons are not important.

What is important is that the lack of real cooperation has allowed the traditional media to steal a march as we enter the campaign period for the UK general election, an election which offers an opportunity like no other.

Newsnet, Wings and Bella have carved out their own little niches, and very successfully too, the Common Space will no doubt carve out its own as well.  Four welcome voices.

These four voices will be heard by more people if they occasionally shout the same message at the same time.  When that happens, we really will be Better Together.

G.A. Ponsonby co-founded Newsnet Scotland, and edited it until shortly after the September referendum. He is writing a book about the role of BBC News in the referendum and now has his own blog, Ponsonby Post. He contributes this article in a personal capacity.

36 COMMENTS

  1. Absolutely correct. MSM has enormous power, which has to be broken before the next really decisive moment in t he move towards independence. I totally agree with your points about unity of approach and unity of purpose.If we can form ” our ” media along the same lines, then our cause will be advanced greatly. One of the first goals of any bargaining post May , should be our own broadcasting powers.

  2. Totally agree with all that was said in this article.
    I had done some research and although I am SNP and was leaning towards a yes vote, I carried out my own research; finding facts and figures independent websites. The blatant lies I discovered that had been spun by the NO camp on the TV and lengths they went to in promoting these lies was absolutely incredible.
    Now we see a Westminster government that can not be held to any of its promises. That is no surprise – broken promises follow lies and deciept

  3. Good article. The BBC in Scotland openly supports the Labour party; it has no intention to refrain from its unionist bias. There’s no point in complaining to the official watchdogs because they have no power to make the BBC change into a non-partisan corporation. What Bernard proposes makes sense.

  4. Quote “Days ago the media were running with a story of a so-called ‘row’ between Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and London Labour MP Dianne Abbott. It featured on BBC Scotland news including Reporting Scotland. Thus, Scottish voters were presented with the image of Jim Murphy standing up to London, which was exactly what he wanted.”

    Even “The National” joined in with the headline “MURPHY MAULED …by his own party”. Without a hint of irony.

  5. It may already be too late as much valuable time has already been wasted.

    While the Westminster parties are already actively fighting the General Election, here in Scotland the pro-indy websites and the “still Yes” activists are still awaiting a coherent campaign strategy from Nicola Sturgeon and Stuart Hosie let alone any mobilisation directions.

    • The unionist parties have started too soon. The public are easily sickened by campaign overload. The more Westminster parties, including so-called “Scottish” Labour, fight amongst themselves the more people in Scotland will see it as unionist self-indulgence. The more Murphy appears on television the better for the SNP. They will see the BBC’s unionist prejudice even more. They will remember Murphy’s disgusting behaviour during the referendum.
      The SNP is, I believe, going to push for Home Rule during the election campaign while at the same time telling the people of Scotland it will be another step on the road to independence; independence still being the whole point of SNP existence. The SNP has, for the last few decades, concentrated on a policy of gradual progression. It has been successful. The push for Home Rule will continue that policy of progression. It is a coherent campaign strategy.

      • I agree about the Unionist parties starting too soon. Just because Jim Murphy gets publicity doesn’t mean people believe him. He is dripping out spin every day and the other parties are not, so it fills up column inches…. I can accept the need for a concerted effort regarding the Scottish media, but surely after the referendum people are if anything wiser? They know when they are being taken for fools, and most of us can tell when we’re being “spun”, by Labour or whoever else. I accept the analysis of the piece, but do not accept that the BBC alone made the difference. People voted no for a variety of reasons and there is no doubt that the huge reaction of the final two weeks galvanized the middle class No voters, who were queuing up to pile in their votes in places like Edinburgh and E Renfrewshire.

  6. I think what won the referendum was simple scaremongering,threats and bullying. Allied to a complicit media. So our real war in any future campaign is not with the no voters ,its with the media ( The unnoficial opposition to the yes movement).

  7. The media acted effectively as a working propaganda wing of HMG. Broadcast, print, both news and commentary all singing from the same hymn sheet. They betrayed the public trust and their own remit as our fourth estate. Their job? Simple enough. Hold all to account, to seek and report the truth, the facts. To question, probe and inform without fear or favour.

    They failed in all of the above. They proved themselves no better than those who yanked their chain. Mr Ponsonby is correct, we build our own media online, print and eventually broadcast. If we cannot trust the media as it stands then we create and support one we can trust.

  8. What happened to the cohesiveness that came through the YES organisation? That time was surely a country united and it pulled people together; the nationally committed and then the latter-day committed.

    I’m SNP through and through, but must ask this question of leadership. If we need to engage all parties in Scotland to come under the one nation banner and get independence, what is being done about it?

    I have to see the same driven cohesion that formed the purpose of YES. Let’s have it only with much more grit and force.

  9. Agreed. It was very clear to many times both pre and post referendum that messaging and tactics were very co-ordinated among the unionist machine. We do not have the resources to hand that they do for example a state broadcaster happy to illegally propagate their message.

    All the more reason then for a coordinated approach for the good guys. Btw, ScottishStatesman.com wrote on some of the areas you mentioned, albeit with our own take. In fact, we (as I wrote some myself) have had hard hitting articles in several areas and landed a fair few blows we felt other outlets missed entirely.

    For the sake of a coordinated approach, talk in terms of ‘these 4’ could be counter-intuitive, as there are many talented people, blogs and a couple of other websites all working there arses off for something they believe in. In short, I agree with your sentiment and count us in.

    • Point taken re: ‘these 4’. I lost count of the number of times Newsnet Scotland was ignored when new online media was discussed during the referendum campaign, so I understand your frustration.

      I like the idea of a conference, bringing online media together. There are film-makers and other talented people keen to lend a hand and contribute. My article is intended only to spark some discussion.

  10. O/T Unless the result of an EU In/Out referendum seeks to take Scotland in a direction which the clear majority of the Scottish electorate do not wish to go, any UK In/Out referendum in the coming decade would undoubtedly be subject to Madrid/Catalonia type action by Westminster.

    As for the MSM in Scotland, it will NEVER be of use to those who wish to obtain Devo-Max/Home Rule/Independence for, (With the two noteable exceptions of the Sunday Herald and The National), it is a creature of the Union which, as part of the British Establishment, is tasked with maintaining the status quo.

    Without media outlets of ‘our own’ we have no voice, but in having such we risk simply preaching to the converted. Those in the Yes camp should be addressing this issue and not waiting for the SNP to take the lead.

    An excellent contribution by Mr Ponsonby.

    • At Newsnet.scot we believe that in 2015 we must reach as many of the “55” as possible – otherwise, as you say, we risk only preaching to the converted. Although parties are already in election mode, the many issues of indyref remain important – how do we make Scotland a better place ? This issue will underpin our approach.

  11. It’s been my experience that one of the prime targets of an invading army is to take control of the broadcasters. We’re already there and I fear that without direct action against the BBC we’ll never get the message out. I kept my own council during the referendum campaign. I assumed those at the top of the SNP knew better than I and that their softly,softly approach might indeed catch the monkey. Well, that didn’t work. Now we need to step up.

  12. I completely agree with all the points made by Mr Ponsonby and having read Chapter 1 can’t wait to get my hands on the completed book.

    The SNP leadership and their adherence to their gradualism policy need to recognise that British Establishment resistance to Scottish Independence will continue the MSM/BBC will exert the same control over Scottish Voters in ant future referendum that is why we need to ditch this Alex Salmond (oft repeated by him during the INDY Campaign) opinion that a positive campaign will win over a negative – it didn’t ! THE REASONS WHY ARE CLEAR .

    I see no sign that the SNP leadership have learned any lesssons . Gradualism delivered 45%- the final push needs a much more robust focused less defensive all out attacking performance from the SNP. New SNP members can and must influence this change.
    What is being done to resolve and present a coherent Scottish Pound solution to the currency issue / What is being done to challenge the EU on our continued membership? Issues that the BT/BBC /MSM used against us so effectively. Lets concentrate on resolving these issues and presenting the Independence Proposal /case via a Scottish Election Manifesto in 2016. WE don’t need to win an election to hold yet another Referendum where the cards will again be stacked against us. Winning an Scottish Election should deliver the mandate to negotiate Independence not a referendum.

  13. If we wish to compete with the MSM online and attract No voters to our sites,we need more content of a salicious nature,gossip,fitba and semi naked ladies.
    Many No voters never engaged with the debate and are not particularly interested in politics or matters of democracy but simply how to keep their perceived comfortable lives intact,which includes consuming the pap from the Daily I’m All right Jock publications.
    Do we descend to their level or maintain our high ideals?

  14. I think this makes a lot of sense actually. It had occurred to me during the campaign, and I contacted several sites (including newsnet and wings) offering to contribute or share articles, but most did not respond. The Point was an honourable exception.

  15. “(The YES campaign made) “no serious attempt at coordinating with sites like Newsnet, Bella and Wings over Scotland.”

    It was worse than that. It dissociated itself from those sites and other new media. It even believed the lies about cybernats.

    The YES campaign was in my view a disaster and it still is. Too wishy washy and too afraid to stand up and CAMPAIGN even if that means making nasty comments about the opposition. Murphy takes every opportunity he can to show his face and to get headlines. Getting in first at the Dustbin Vehicle crash. And he pushed himself in first again, by upstaging Nicola Sturgeon in re of commenting on Charlie Hebdo. Surely to God the SNP can organise a decent Press Corps to feed the media and to look out for news opportunities, and more importantly not to miss any. The SNP needs to get its finger out or the same thing is going to happen again.

    I have been fighting as hard as I can on twitter against the Oil Price nonsense and it would be nice to receive some hard hitting support from the SNP. I was impressed by Murphy’s stance on the Mansion Tax and more so by his comments vav Scotland’s Oil being shared with the UK. Something I don’t think I heard once from the SNP during the Referendum Campaign.

  16. Thank you for your well thought out article. Pity there is no MSM outlet for it(irony)
    To me the most telling sentence you have written in this is “The grassroots movement saved the Yes campaign.”
    No amount of slick publicity can outweigh the importance and integrity of “Grassroots Democracy”. That is where the real power is. We can not direct it or control it because it comes from the almost anarchic will of people not organisations. This level of the YES campaign engaged with NOers and waverers in an unprecedented and heartening manner. Nothing beats personal discussion and the expression of experience face to face.
    What I believe is needed are clear channels of alternative (not MSM) information to the activists and they will use it as they did before to persuade and inform. So trying to confront MSM tactics and imitating their ways may not necessarily be as productive as publicising and promoting the existing Newsnet, Bella, Common Space and Wings etc as the main channels for informed debate.
    Homogenising their message may not be so appealing to so many different strands of Indy supporters who need to hear their individual opinions enhanced and encouraged.
    Mind you a few emails/Tweets between the different writers to maybe coordinate any major situations would be a human way of operating rather than having another overseeing level of “organisation”. Organisation leads to spin and spin does not touch peoples hearts.
    Keep it simple. It is working, in it’s own rather chaotic and beautiful way!

    • “Organisation leads to spin and spin does not touch peoples hearts.”

      Very important point. We are here to inform, not to propagandise, surely? Diverse alternative media voices are key to democracy and ultimate change.

      • Spin maybe doesn’t touch peoples hearts but it sure as hell touches their thinking. It is naive to believe that political campaigns can be won purely by ‘informing’ people. Unfortunately peoples’ opinions are formed by reading headlines. So news and events MUST be spun and presented in the most favourable light to give those headlines. The lack of it on the YES side didn’t help during Indy Ref Campaign.

        Alex Salmond is now doing it in his search for a Westminster MP seat. Too bad he and other senior YES people didn’t do it last year.

  17. At last somebody in the Indy media stating the glaringly obvious – we cannot hope to defeat the Unionists without our own joined up TV and printed media. GA Ponsonby mentions WOS, Bella, Newsnet – but there are many others including Scottish Evening News soon to be launched ? What’s needed is an alternative media conference where ideas for cooperation could be generated and agreed. I’m sure such a conference could be organised and funding provided by a call for donations. Maybe Business for Scotland could be the facilitator.

  18. James Coleman “The SNP needs to get its finger out or the same thing is going to happen again “. Good point. I would ask what’s happened to the 93000 SNP members ? is their voice, their ideas, their innovations, inspirations being heard by the SNP leadership ? I see no sign of the ‘engagement and interaction with the new members’ as promised. In fact as a member myself I have written 4 times to the SNP and not received so much as an acknowledgement. The SNP need to be careful they don’t alienate the very people they will rely on come election time. I dunno about other people but ‘deafened by the silence’ comes to mind when I think of the SNP. I mean have you seen the website – it’s embarrassingly out of date, has no place for comments or a forum, never has a reply to the latest MSM misinformation – I’m actually curious where I could actually find out what the SNP viewpoint is on the latest political developments – do I need to wait for a statement in an ‘enemy’ newspaper, suitably distorted ? I’m sure there are others like myself beginning to feel disillusioned and angry.

  19. Preaching to the converted is vital.We need them to bother to vote in May.But we mustn’t bore them to death with it.
    Of course people involved in the pro Indy media should talk to each other.Send each other a few emails.Get together for a pint and a craic.How hard can it be?

  20. Why is ‘The National’ not taking up tne mantle. The whole way it’s digital presence has been set up seems to be in order to preach to the converted and not get any message out. I am very cynical of the whole thing.

  21. The MSM’s role as guardian of the Union, to anyone with a remaining firing neuron, is now beyond question and, of course, their propaganda and lies should continue to be exposed and denounced.

    I think, though, the key point in GAP’s article is the missed opportunities in terms of pooled resource and strategic planning which the on line media have, up till now, eschewed. An area in which the MSM have been decidedly superior.

    It is therefore not without some irony that I remind those who have read this outlet long enough, that 3-4 years ago, long before the referendum campaign got under way, I urged NNS and other outlets to do exactly that.

    My proposal was to have an online portal which gathered together the then existing most popular outlets into a pseudo on line newspaper/magazine where each ‘page’ was the opening page of each outlet. It would ideally have had page turning capability, like the digital version of The National, to increase the illusion that the reader was reading an actual newspaper but editorial control for each ‘page’ would remain with the separate editors and individual site access would continue as before as well.

    In effect, while technically being no more than a kind of list of recommended outlets such as exist already on most pro indy sites, it would have presented a more familiar experience for the newspaper readers we needed to garner and would have, de facto, encouraged a more coordinated strategy from regular consultations between editors.

    Unfortunately, this proposal was met by a deafening silence from all sides.

    Why? Egoclash?

    • Totally agree.
      To G A Ponsonby, have you made sure that the other outlets have read this article and if so would they consider Chickmac’s proposal or something like it?
      What about getting articles in the National. I know, preaching to the converted again but more readers than for each outlet.

  22. Legine, I quite agree with your comments.

    I’ve been to a couple of Branch Meetings and I think that the main problem for the SNP now is the diverse membership and their vastly differing views and how to deal with it.

    Being a West Fifer, I’ve asked my local SNP Councillor his and the parties view on fracking which is one of the big vote winners for me and said that if the SNP don’t wise up they will lose members to the Greens and other parties that have already come out against it. No response.

    Another thing that I think will affect them is the SNP backing up a possible Labour Westmister Governement. This is something that myself and many non-political yes voters are totally against.

    The ScottishStatesman has a brilliant on-line article about Jim Murphy which would make interesting reading in any printed edition, and until they get their printer problems resolved then for getting that information out, it should be forwarded to the likes of the National and Sunday Herald and ALL other on-line pro-indy Websites.

  23. Bernard P has been tweeting for days? Months and years have gone into this. There are men with money waiting, there are men with assets waiting, there is the interest, there is the drive, there is the route of facilitating this privately whether on a donations basis, crowd funding basis or privately facilitating a hub in every city for media studios, fleets of media capture, a new tv station (“Aye tv” ?) and all the attendant social media, just too much caution and tentativeness is what i see by those willing. The “yes” campaign was a success, we are no longer minority in the shadows, but a huge glaring public profile capable of changing the status quo, but change always requires extra work, dedication and deep consideration of new foundations on which to build. For all this vast increase in the social media revolution, never have we been so isolated, think about it.

  24. Bernard and all the rest of you are absolutely right in all except one point. According to the Post Referendum analysis only 11% of Referendum Voters were getting their News and Commentary from “Alternative” sources. The question is really how to change that. I wrote to “The National” the other day pointing out how powerful Headlines are. I defy anyone to go in to the shop to buy one paper and not cast an eye over the Head;ines on the others? Or even go in for Milk and cast an eye over the headlines? I was trying to make the point that their Headline “Murphy Mauled …..by his own Party” was exactly what Labour want to see, knowing full well how few people would read the full article inside. And I mean Labour, not ‘Scottish Labour’ because the whole thing, right from Lamont’s “Branch Office” remarks is a Labour ploy to get the Scots Sheep back in to the fold.
    Headlines are ‘Visual Sound Bites’ and immensely powerful as we saw with “The Vow”. How about a Crowd Funding exercise to buy front page advertising using Headlines from NewsNet, Wings, Bella etc.?

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