Here isn’t the news

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A round of golf, Freedom of Information requests, a BT phone line glitch and of course more nonsense from across the pond as the US Senators and others break yet more political wind.
 
These types of story have either dominated or have been very prominent in the pages and airwaves of Scotland’s main stream media outlets this last 11 days.
 
The ‘Silly Season’ they call it; a time when political news is thin on the ground and any copy, however puerile, is dressed up as news and put to print – or broadcast on TV and radio.


A round of golf, Freedom of Information requests, a BT phone line glitch and of course more nonsense from across the pond as the US Senators and others break yet more political wind.
 
These types of story have either dominated or have been very prominent in the pages and airwaves of Scotland’s main stream media outlets this last 11 days.
 
The ‘Silly Season’ they call it; a time when political news is thin on the ground and any copy, however puerile, is dressed up as news and put to print – or broadcast on TV and radio.
 
Megrahi misinformation aside (it’s now turning very poisonous), the ‘MacLooney Tunes’ seemed to start around the 5th August when a manufactured piece, based on a light hearted remark by Alex Salmond, was given top billing.  Newspaper articles implied that the Scottish government had scheduled a cabinet visit to Dornoch in order to satisfy the First Minister’s desire to play a round of golf at Dornoch golf club.  The laughable articles were helpfully padded out by Labour MSP Peter Peacock who responded with comments that verged on the ridiculous.
 
The story was followed by a series of equally frothy items based on freedom of information requests, some lodged by opposition MSPs.  The cost of ministerial cars and the number of portacabin classrooms were thus expanded to fill yet more column inches. 
 
And so the week trundled along and political coverage in Scotland trundled along with it.  Even the news that Labour councillors in Manchester had embraced minimum pricing for alcohol didn’t excite the Scottish media to any great extent as they presented it in a manner akin to a mundane weather report.
 
The media doldrums were temporarily broken by an ill wind that brought the sad news of the death of Jimmy Reid.  Wednesday and Thursday were taken up with tributes and reminisces about the great man; however there was still no sign of any meaningful political happenings.
 
It was quiet, too quiet …
 
Then on Friday BBC Scotland sensationally revealed to the Scottish public that a BT technical problem had left 999 callers unable to get through to the Scottish ambulance service.
 
The story dominated Friday mornings Radio Scotland, and a BBC web article ran with the headline:
‘Scottish ambulance phone fault prevented 999 calls’
 
The article began:
“The Scottish Ambulance Service was left unable to receive 999 calls for several hours because of a problem with its telephone lines, the BBC has learned.”
 
Prevented 999 calls? Unable to receive 999 calls? This sounded serious, very serious.  In fact when I heard the item on Friday’s Good Morning Scotland I, like many others, thought that people had been unable to get through to the emergency services.
 
I should have known better though.  The wording of the BBC article headline was overly dramatic and, shall we say, a trifle misleading.  999 callers hadn’t in fact been prevented from getting through, they had simply been diverted to other call centres using BT’s own backup system.  Other news outlets ran with the same story which appeared to have been passed to them by Labour MSP Jackie Baillie who had learned of BT’s glitch two days previously.

This was of course around about the same time as Labour councillors were calling for a minimum pricing of alcohol policy in Manchester.  Lucky for Labour’s Scottish health spokesperson (Jackie Baillie) that the BT phone glitch emerged and avoided some embarrassment for Labour.
 
So, a ridiculous round of golf story and some misleading wording in a BT phone glitch story, not really the worst examples of what many believe to be falling standards within the Scottish media; so why this article?
 
Well, sandwiched in between these two (Labour inspired?) filler pieces were three stories that contained some real beef and should have had hungry journalists salivating given the meagre rations they had been forced to survive on.
 
These stories were – save for the death of Jimmy Reid – bigger than any others that week, certainly bigger than a joke about a round of golf and a BT back-up system that worked; but curiously they weren’t prominently covered.
 
Story number one: Schoolchildren data
The first of the three involved a possible breach of data protection laws relating to confidential information on schoolchildren.  Those of us with reasonable memories will recall the near hysteria that used to envelope the Scottish media whenever a disc containing data was lost or personal records went awry.
 
Well, here on a plate was an even bigger story involving a Labour MSP (Karen Whitefield), a Labour run local authority (North Lanarkshire Council) and the use of publicly funded materials and local authority staff in order to send out personal letters to schoolchildren on behalf of the Labour MSP.

Ms Whitefield had acquired the names and personal details of schoolchildren in her constituency and had used parliamentary materials in order to draft personal letters to each child. Local head teachers had then been recruited to hand out the letters to each child. Whitefield then faced calls from Alex Neil to step down from her role as convener of a Holyrood education committee.
 
The Daily Record published an article on the story that in fairness appeared to reflect the seriousness of the situation.  The Herald and The Scotsman also published articles, although both seem to have relied on a distilled press association release.  BBC Scotland who had up until now found tales involving confidential data irresistible, suddenly weren’t quite so interested.
 
That was it, there was no follow up nor any apparent desire to probe this scandal further, even an admission from the MSP, given as some sort of bizarre defence, that the practice had been going on for years was not enough to compel any reporter to probe a little more.
 
This was a shame because they would have discovered that some nine years earlier the same local authority had been involved with another Labour MSP who, together with a Labour MP, had tried to pull the same letter stunt – in 2001 the MSP was one Jack (now Lord) McConnell.
 
So ‘lettergate’ simply faded and died, the alleged illegal acquisition of confidential information on schoolchildren wasn’t deemed as serious as a round of golf in Dornoch.
 
Story number two – Family Tragedy
The second story relates to the tragic deaths of the three Riggi children who were discovered in their Edinburgh flat having been stabbed.  It was reported that the children had been schooled at home.
 
On Sunday 8th August the Labour MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde, Mr Duncan McNeil, tried to use the deaths in order to launch an attack on the SNP.  To paraphrase Mr McNeil, he claimed that SNP inaction on home-schooling may have placed the children in greater danger.
 
The remarks were insensitive to say the least and resulted in immediate condemnation from the Scottish government. There was also a furious response from home-schooling organisation ‘Schoolhouse’ who issued a strongly worded press release.  The language adopted by Schoolhouse reflected the fury felt by their members at the slurs and was itself a story.  It was the kind that newspapers regularly pounce on – this wasn’t just a gaffe, this was in an altogether different league.
 
But what happened instead was that the story was all but ignored.  Save for The Sunday Post, not one Scottish national newspaper headlined McNeil’s shocking outburst.  On Monday BBC Scotland adopted a similar eh? what? stance by completely ignoring McNeil’s remarks.  BBC Scotland decided that the weighing of a polar bear in a Scottish zoo was more important; the weighing was included in their ‘Top Story’ bulletins that day.
 
A couple of days later, and with no indication from the Scottish media that they would take him to task, an emboldened Mr McNeil surfaced in his local newspaper The Greenock Telegraph. McNeil was reported to have ‘hit back’ at Schoolhouse. Anyone who happened to read the small item tucked away at the bottom of pages 4&5 were informed that McNeil would “make no apologies” for his comments.
 
This second bite at the cherry was predictably passed up by the Scottish media.
 
A somewhat different approach to the one they had adopted when an SNP activist made some quite awful remarks about a young man who had died at the height of the Stephen Purcell scandal.  That resulted in considerable condemnatory coverage from the media, and rightly so.

Like the data story, the media now seemed to have lost interest in such insensitive outbursts.
 
Glasgow Council and Labour scandals
The last of the three isn’t actually a single story at all, but the latest in a quite staggering series of scandals involving the Labour party in Glasgow.
 
The actualities of the latest alleged Glasgow Council related misdeeds were reported by most outlets.  But only in a quite sterile, matter of fact manner.
 
Now, of course we are not suggesting that anything other than facts be reported, but what we have here are not isolated incidents, they are evidence of a moral disintegration of a local branch of the Labour party.  That it happens to be Glasgow Labour and involves Scotland’s largest local authority makes these particular revelations all the more compelling and demands some sort of acknowledgement from the media that things are not right.
 
The latest scandals involving the arrest of a Labour councillor and the police investigation of another compelled the leader of the SNP opposition group in Glasgow Council to issue a press release revealing that he had sent letters to Iain Gray and Jim Murphy, urging them to take action.

The media ignored the letters.
 
This is a story that has grown and grown to such a degree that it now dwarfs the original Purcell scandal.  Gangsters, cocaine, sexual harassment, cronyism and corruption – ‘Glasgowgate’ has it all, in spades.
 
At the time of writing, only one other news outlet has come close to recognising the severity of the problem that lies at the heart of Labour in Glasgow – so credit to the Caledonian Mercury and Hamish McDonnell for speaking out.
 
And there we have it, no ‘letter-gate’, no ‘slur-gate’ and definitely no ‘GlasgowLabour-gate’, like the three monkeys, not seen, heard or spoken.

It should be explained that stories are transient unless followed up. A story will attain significance only if the media deem it significant. If a story is merely reported once and without fanfare then it fades and dies – readers, listeners and viewers are conditioned to accept as important only those stories that are headlined and repeated, that is why ‘lunchgate’ was so effective. The reason people believed a lunch in the Holyrood canteen was significant was because the media reported it for a week and told them so, and there is no better media outlet for influencing public opinion than BBC Scotland.
 
As we finish off this piece there is a news item on BBC Radio Scotland involving Glasgow Council.  Have we been too hasty?  Is this, at last, an acknowledgement from BBC Scotland that things are not well in Labour’s Mecca?
 
Sadly no, BBC Scotland have simply provided Glasgow Council’s Labour leader Gordon Matheson a platform in order to attack the SNP.  It seems that Mr Matheson has written a ‘strongly worded’ letter to John Swinney attacking the council tax freeze.

The letter from Mr Matheson also features on the BBC Scotland website and Mr Matheson appeared on Reporting Scotland on Monday evening, together with head of COSLA Pat Watters.
 
So two letters, one written by the Glasgow SNP group leader and one written by the Glasgow Labour group leader. Both written to senior politicians of the others party.

One seemingly ignored by BBC Scotland and one headlined throughout the day.

The circumstantial evidence of media manipulation is well documented by this site, so these latest examples no longer shock or surprise. The purpose of these intermittent Newsnet Scotland articles is to try to document and highlight what we believe to be the duplicitous approach by some media outlets.

However, bad as it is now, I believe that come Friday we will see the Scottish media move to another level as the anniversary of the release of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi is reached.  The disgusting spectacle of propaganda, poisonous rants and partisan attacks currently being presented as news is truly sickening – and the BBC are in the vanguard.

When American comedian, now senator, Al Franken wrote the satirical book ‘Lies and the lying liars who tell them’ that exposed the Republican ‘news’ machine (The book was Newsnet Scotland’s inspiration), he believed that he had highlighted some of the worst examples of news manipulation in a Western democracy.

Unfortunately, the Republicans and Fox News are mere amateurs.

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