A new Scotland … A new media

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  By G.A.Ponsonby

On Sunday I went along to an event in Glasgow organised by the Common Weal.  It was ostensibly a Yes supporting event but there were discussions and performances that wandered into other related areas.

One such was the media.  Head of the Common Weal, Robin McAlpine, gave an impassioned speech about the need for a Yes vote.  He also gave the audience a glimpse of what a new media could look like post referendum.

  By G.A.Ponsonby

On Sunday I went along to an event in Glasgow organised by the Common Weal.  It was ostensibly a Yes supporting event but there were discussions and performances that wandered into other related areas.

One such was the media.  Head of the Common Weal, Robin McAlpine, gave an impassioned speech about the need for a Yes vote.  He also gave the audience a glimpse of what a new media could look like post referendum.

His vision of a newspaper far removed from the current traditional titles was something we at Newsnet Scotland could share.  He also outlined a blueprint for a broadcasting vehicle providing daily news bulletins.

McAlpine has energy, bags of it, and an enthusiasm that is infectious, and God knows we need something to provide an alternative to the daily churn of establishment press releases we currently have to endure.  Has anyone read the Herald lately!

Also speaking at the event, although not sharing a platform with McAlpine, was the editor of the Sunday Herald, the daily’s more respectable sibling.  The weekly newspaper, as many will know, has come out in support of a Yes vote.

In his talk, Richard Walker explained the reasoning behind the decision to back Yes.  He conceded that newspapers were more inclined to run anti-independence attacks.  This, he argued, was more to do with the perception of Holyrood as a regional administration and Westminster as the real power base, than any suggestion of bias.

In his delivery to an interested audience, Walker sought to defend the BBC insisting it was not institutionally biased against independence.  Few in the audience agreed, but a respectful silence was afforded the man who edits Scotland’s only traditional pro-indy newspaper.

The BBC is the talk of the media steamie these days.  The recent demonstrations have caused some to sit up and take notice.  None more so that head of the NUJ in Scotland.

Newsnet Scotland editor Lynda Williamson and another team member caught up with Paul Holleran at the same Common Weal event and the subject of the ‘bias’ protests came up.

“We know BBC Scotland has problems” he said “and we know people are not happy with their coverage of the referendum…there are many inside BBC Scotland who share their frustration”.  Paul went on to reveal that his union were looking into trying to set up a debate on the media’s handling of the referendum.  “We’ll see if we can persuade the BBC to take part” he revealed.

For those who don’t know, Paul attended one of the first protest marches that called for balance from the BBC in its handling of the referendum.  Unlike the most recent demonstration, which was bathed in sunshine, those who took part that day were soaked by a monsoon-like downpour.

Paul was keen to impress on the Newsnet team that there are those within the BBC at Pacific Quay who are striving to improve their handling of this debate.  Time and again, the impression we got was that the disintegration of BBC Scotland was down to management.

Another source we bumped into revealed that the much hyped ‘biggest debate’, planned by BBC Scotland Chiefs and featuring 12,000 school pupils at the SSE Hydro, is in chaos.  We heard how the logistics is causing concern and how nobody has any idea which schools will be taking part.  We also heard that the original budget of £100,000 has risen to £500,000.

If true, the BBC Scotland bosses will be spending a tenth of their referendum budget on one set-piece show made up of 12,000 teenagers just seven days before the ballot.  It’s a madcap idea dreamt up by a broadcaster whose reputation is now beyond repair in Scotland.

Professor Mark McNaught, writing this week in Newsnet Scotland, suggested an alternative not-for-profit model to replace the BBC in Scotland post the referendum.  An interesting idea but one that requires a Yes vote.

The inescapable fact is that a Yes vote, if it prevails in the referendum, will be achieved in spite of the state broadcaster.  Its referendum coverage has been lamentable – symbolised by the god-awful radio show ‘Crossfire’.

What was management thinking of when they ditched Ken MacDonald and ‘Headlines’.

I had an interesting exchange with one of those in charge of the BBC’s referendum coverage following the latest ‘debate’ this week.  Jim Mullin, who is in charge of the referendum unit at BBC Scotland, tweeted how much he was enjoying the debate from Portree.

The tweet came moments after an audience member had asked if the Scottish Government’s intimidation of businesses was acceptable.

The question, posed as if the bullying claims were true, was of course based on a completely evidence free media bombardment provided by journalists who are sympathetic to the No campaign and its aims.  It was a contrived smear which only the most pro-Union media outlets were treating seriously, but it was given oxygen in a programme which was billed as informed debate.

My objection to the question being included in a prime time debate was met with one word from Mr Mullin … “Yawn”.  It symbolised the BBC’s disdain for the people who pay for the service and pay the wages of people like Mr Mullin.

But it wasn’t just the latest debate that caused the team at Newsnet Scotland to wince.

Mr Mullin was also contacted after BBC Scotland completely misrepresented a comment from the soon to be EC President Jean-Claude Juncker. 

In online media and broadcasts, the broadcaster told Scots that Mr Juncker had stated, in reference to the EU membership of an independent Scotland that, “No one becomes a member of the EU by sending a letter.”  It sounded like a bit of a blow to the Yes campaign who were cock-a-hoop after Juncker publicly endorsed the referendum by saying he was “in favour of democratic expression”.

The BBC reports served to spike the story and the benefit to the Yes campaign was muted to say the least.

However it soon emerged that the ‘letter’ quote was not in fact directed at Scotland but was a reference to a letter sent by Catalonian President Artur Mas and was a response to a question from Catalan MEP Josep Mari Terricabras.  The Spanish media made this clear in a series of newspaper articles.

Indeed, looking at how Mr Terricabras worded his question, it becomes clearer this was the context of Juncker’s reply.

Terricabras asked if: “respecting the election means that EU institutions will accept the choice that citizens have made freely, peacefully, and democratically

Here is part of Artur Mas’s letter: “I trust that I can count on you to move this peaceful democratic process forward”. [both my emphasis]

That BBC Scotland presented this remark as though a reference to a newly independent Scotland, is so breathtakingly inaccurate that one has to conclude that the BBC deliberately set out to mislead the public in order to dampen the positive effect Juncker’s comments may have had on Yes.

The BBC has lost its way in Scotland, there’s little doubt about that now, and whatever the result of the referendum I firmly believe the current management will be shown the door.  Boothman, MacQuarrie, Mullin and a host of other middle managers will depart to slow handclaps.

Until then, we will simply have to endure the BBC and its overpaid and over confident communicators.

I hope the Common Weal and Robin McAlpine succeed in their quest for a new media.  I know that Newsnet Scotland stands ready and willing to help out in whatever way it can.

Oh, and I almost forgot.  A reliable source told us that the Daily Record had been requesting more indyref copy from its journalists.  They [the journalists that is] are up for it apparently, but have told management that they want to cover more than the usual pro-Union, pro-Labour press releases. 

A change in the wind at the Record?