Can Scotland trust its own media?


  By G.A.Ponsonby
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the American media went into overdrive in seeking a bogeyman for the dreadful event.
Despite most of the alleged hijackers having links to Saudi Arabia it wasn’t long before connections with Iraq were being promoted, in particular Saddam Hussein.

Few will recall that in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion which resulted in no weapons of mass destruction being discovered, the American media machine went on a mass guilt trip and apologised for journalistic failings that had witnessed spurious government claims reported as fact.

The British media played its own part in the Iraq episode with the ludicrous claims that Saddam could hit the UK within 45 minutes.  British intelligence also handed the US authorities the biggest red-herring in the shape of a claim that yellow cake from Africa had been acquired by Saddam’s regime in order to develop nuclear weapons.

All this should serve as a reminder to those of us following the independence debate just how corruptible the so called ‘free-press’ can be and the ease with which the most respected journalists will shed their much vaunted ethics.

In Scotland the media is overwhelmingly pro-Union.  Few would argue that our press are vehemently anti-independence, anti-SNP and anti-Salmond.  The Sunday Herald’s recent conversion to quality journalism is a welcome media ripple in an otherwise partisan tidal-wave.

Last week in the immediate aftermath of Andy Murray’s phenomenal Wimbledon triumph, the pro-Union media machine ran with an anti-Salmond narrative alongside the euphoric celebratory coverage. 

In few countries would a media attack its own leader for holding the nation’s flag at such a momentous sporting triumph – but in Scotland, such is the fear of a rise in Scottish national confidence, that any embrace of such by the nation or its leader has to be dealt with.

One BBC programme, ‘Call Kaye’, hosted by Kaye Adams actually questioned whether Scotland had a right to claim credit for Andy Murray.  The show for once relegating its regular attack on the Scottish health and the NHS to second spot.

The pro-Union leanings of our media have made it easy for the anti-independence campaigners to get their message out there.  Broadcasts and headlines have been dominated with all kinds of claims, from EU membership to mobile phone charges.

Some of the headlines emanated from the media themselves, with BBC Scotland stoking EU membership doubts by cherry picking and, sadly in some cases, misrepresenting the views of some foreign ministers after the politicians were approached by reporters based at Pacific Quay.

Over the last few weeks the relentless negativity has appeared to backfire with the revelation over the MoD’s plans for Scotland’s naval bases at Faslane and Coulport coming hot on the heels of ridiculous claims over mobile phone charges.

There is now evidence that the Scottish media is beginning to realise that the incessant reliance on extreme scares is having an opposite effect to that which was hoped. 

It’s prompted a subtle change in approach which will now see the Yes campaign presented as equally negative.  By presenting both sides as being negative the media will deflect from the No campaign’s self inflicted Achilles’ heel.

It will most likely be accompanied by a new strategy from the No campaign that will seek to emphasise the ‘extra powers’ on offer if Scots stay in the Union.

BBC Scotland

BBC Scotland will play its part in this new ‘as negative as one another’ narrative as evidenced by Glenn Campbell’s overtly partisan analysis of Alex Salmond’s speech on Friday and again with Andrew Kerr’s comments on the Sunday Politics Show.

The departure of respected journalist Derek Bateman two weeks ago from BBC Scotland was a blow to those of us lamenting a lack of in depth and qualitative analysis of the independence issues.  It followed the side-lining of Isabel Fraser from flagship political programmes in favour of the aforementioned Kerr.

Bateman’s voluntary retirement as part of the corporation’s redundancy scheme effectively means there are now few high profile presenters left to challenge the overtly pro-Union and powerful clique at Pacific Quay.

Glenn Campbell, Raymond Buchanan, Douglas Fraser and Gary Robertson are joined by Sally Magnusson, Mhairi Stuart and Jackie Bird.  The gender balance being the only balance we are likely to see at BBC Scotland.

A Radio 4 programme to be broadcast at 8:30pm tonight [Monday] about the SNP, is presented by Business and Economy editor Fraser and contains the following in the preview:

What do its plans for continued close links with the rest of the UK mean for its vision of a separate Scotland?

Not surprisingly the conclusion of this writer is that the media in Scotland, by and large, cannot be trusted in terms of the independence debate.  They will continue to promote the stories fed them by Unionists and some will use, wherever they can, the language of the anti-independence campaign.

But what if they fail, what if Scotland votes Yes?

Then expect the same admissions, apologies and ‘soul searching’ that some journalists in the USA offered up post Iraq.


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