‘Lifted from the internet’ – The poisoning of the independence debate


  By G.A.Ponsonby
Friday saw the continued erosion of political journalism in Scotland.  A story exclusively revealed by Newsnet Scotland in October finally made it onto the pages of newspapers and the airwaves of the BBC.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
Friday saw the continued erosion of political journalism in Scotland.  A story exclusively revealed by Newsnet Scotland in October finally made it onto the pages of newspapers and the airwaves of the BBC.
The story was, sadly, unrecognisable by the time it had been manipulated, twisted and contorted.  A political agenda had been applied and a caricature – replete with attacks on Alex Salmond – presented to readers, viewers and listeners.

The First Minister’s ‘crime’ according to the repackaged version, was to highlight a communication that blew a gaping hole in the anti-independence narrative being cultivated by Unionists and helped by Scotland’s fourth estate.  Alex Salmond drew attention to correspondence from an EC official that made it clear there was no legal barrier to post-Yes negotiations taking place whilst Scotland remained a member of the EU.

The communication highlighted by Mr Salmond had been sent by Mario-Paulo Tenreiro, who is responsible for institutional questions at the Secretariat General of the European Commission.  Mr Tenreiro had replied to a question on the EU membership of a newly independent Scotland.

It’s worth quoting exactly what Mr Tenreiro said in his response to a member of the public who asked “Does the President agree with me that, given Scotland is already in the EU and therefore meets criteria for membership, an independent Scotland would be able to negotiate its terms of membership of the European Union within the European Union?”

In a reply, Mr Tenreiro said that whilst a change of treaties would be required – needing the approval of other members – that: “…as you say, it would of course be legally possible to re-negotiate the situation of UK and Scotland within the EU.”

We ran the story as an exclusive on the 9th October this year.  We waited to see if any other news outlet would run the story … none did.  For seven weeks the official EC response was ignored by every Scottish traditional media outlet … bar none.

When this week Alex Salmond held up a printed copy, in response to the latest claims over the EU membership of an independent Scotland, we were pleasantly surprised and wondered if now, the media would finally report on its existence.  Surely with Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s outrageous undiplomatic attack on the EU membership of an independent Scotland, the Scottish media would now rush to the defence of its own democratically elected Government and her people, who according to Rajoy, would be summarily stripped of their EU citizenship .

It didn’t quite turn out like that.

It’s no secret that the Scottish media is a pro-Union animal, it’s been that way for as long as most of us can remember.  However its reporting of the Tenreiro response defied the very tenets on which journalism is supposed to be based.

“…as you say, it would of course be legally possible to re-negotiate the situation of UK and Scotland within the EU.”

Far from righting a wrong when they initially employed a blackout of the communication, the media reacted to Mr Salmond’s citing of it by attacking the First Minister.  What apparently irked the media-machine was the fact that the Scottish Government had learned of Mr Tenreiro’s reply from Newsnet Scotland.

Newspapers launched an unprecedented attack on the SNP leader for daring to reveal what they themselves should have already reported – official confirmation that claims from Unionists were nothing more than vacuous scares.

The Daily Record, the Scottish Sun, the Scottish Daily Mail, the Herald, the Express and the Guardian all launched attacks on Mr Salmond.

The Daily Record headline read: Alex Salmond accused of ‘government by google’ after pinning an independent Scotland’s EU membership hopes on internet letter.

The ‘Government by Google’ claim was a reference to remarks made by Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont.  The ‘internet letter’ phrase was a reference to the Record revelation that the correspondence had been, “found on Newsnet Scotland, a pro-independence website”

The Scottish Sun shouted ‘Eck’s EU net gaffe’ and led readers to a two page spread headlined ‘SALMOND IN PARLY EU LETTER BLUNDER’.

The paper also claimed Mr Tenreiros’s response had been “lifted from the internet”.

The other newspapers continued in the same vein, with not one acknowledging the extent to which the contents of the official reply damaged the claims from the No campaign.  It was as though the communication contents weren’t important.

Even the BBC got in on the act, BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor, in his coverage of First Minister’s Questions, wrote: “Mr Salmond replied that he had a letter from the secretariat of the European Commission.  He did indeed.  But it was not written to him.

Rather it emerged later that it was lifted from the internet, having been addressed in response to an unnamed interlocutor.”

“lifted from the internet” – Johann Lamont’s accusations were gaining traction and the media were playing ball.

But what was Taylor implying by describing the recipient as an unnamed interlocutor and not Mr Salmond?  Was the letter fake, were its contents irrelevant because the recipient’s name had not been disclosed?

On Friday, Mr Taylor’s colleague, BBC Scotland reporter Niall O’Gallagher made exactly the same ‘internet’ claim when giving his own analysis of the exchanges at Holyrood, stating the missive had been “lifted from the internet” by the Scottish Government.

The phrase “lifted from the internet”, dove-tailed nicely with claims from Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, who levelled all sorts of accusations against Salmond.

“This is an amateurish and shameful attempt by Alex Salmond to mislead the people of Scotland.

“It seems Salmond is basing Scotland’s future on his ability to Google.  What other parts of the White Paper rely on random websites?” she said.

Lamont added: “The First Minister just can’t seem to tell the truth when it comes to Scotland and the European Union.

“Did Alex Salmond write to the EU Commission to ask for this opinion? No. Did the Government? No.

“The fact is we do not know who wrote the original letter or what they asked because Alex Salmond pulled the letter off the internet.”

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson added: “Alex Salmond’s position on Europe has become increasingly desperate that he has been forced to resort to printing off a letter from a pro-independence website.”

Today we can reveal that the communication was not, as claimed by Johann Lamont, the BBC and a host of other newspapers, “lifted from the internet” or as Davidson claimed “printed off from a website”.

In fact the document held up by Mr Salmond was sent to the Scottish Government by Newsnet Scotland, we did so on 9th October, the day we published our article.  So claims from reporters and political opponents that the reply from the EC official was “lifted from the internet” are false.

Johann Lamont even called for Mr Salmond to apologise, saying: “The First Minister’s use of this letter was an attempt to deceive the Chamber and the Scottish people.”

Given that her own claim that the Scottish Government had “pulled the letter off the internet” can be proven to be false one wonders if Ms Lamont will now herself apologise.  Will the BBC issue an apology and a correction?

But there’s another aspect of this story that readers may find interesting.  Newsnet Scotland can reveal that, one day before we sent the communication in the form of a PDF attachment to the Scottish Government, a copy was also sent to the BBC.

BBC Scotland’s morning radio show Good Morning Scotland received a copy prior to the story appearing on Newsnet Scotland.  The purpose of this was to alert the BBC to what we believed was a significant development in the debate over Scotland’s membership of the EU after a Yes vote.

BBC Scotland ignored it, as did every Scottish news outlet after we published our exclusive.  This week, this same broadcaster gave wall to wall coverage of comments from Spain’s Prime Minister.  Indeed BBC reporter Gavin Hewitt was scouring Brussels looking for officials prepared to echo Rajoy’s sentiments.

Mr Hewitt clearly forgot to contact the office of Mario-Paulo Tenreiro.

What does it say about the media in Scotland that they will all readily headline threats against Scotland from foreign politicians [Rajoy] who have an agenda, but presented with evidence from neutral officials that undermines the threat, and it is itself attacked by those same outlets?

Rajoy’s attack on Scotland’s EU membership is nothing more than a politically motivated favour to UK PM David Cameron, who will no doubt reciprocate.  However with Catalonia having a very real indigenous broadcast media and newspaper industry, Cameron’s attacks will have little impact.

In Scotland we have no such traditional Scottish centric media – we rely on ordinary people and so-called citizen journalism to defend the nation against such political corruption.

And this fear of citizen-journalism runs through the attacks on Salmond over the Tenreiro communication.

The newspapers are using the source of the story, namely Newsnet Scotland, as reason to dismiss the contents of Tenreiro’s response.  It’s a bizarre line of attack and one that indicates a worrying development in the independence debate.

This success for citizen journalism should have been applauded.  The communication is genuine and ought to have been picked up and reported by our traditional media.  But like many of our equally strong exclusives, such as the Viviane Reding interview and the secret meeting between officials from Rajoy’s party and the Conservatives, it was suppressed.

Incredibly, the Scotsman in its Saturday leader referred to a separate comment from Viviane Reding from November last year.  This, unlike her previous comment, suited their anti-independence agenda.

They wrote:

Viviane Reding, commissioner in charge of justice and vice-president of the Commission, wrote to the Spanish government last year insisting that “Catalonia, if it seceded from Spain, could not remain in the European Union as a separate member”.

This was a story covered by Newsnet Scotland at the time and, as ever, the Scotsman’s interpretation is – as was that of Herald Political Editor Magnus Gardham – at odds with the facts.

Contrary to the claim by the Scotsman, Ms Reding was not asked to comment on a constitutional vote for Catalonian independence, but on a very specific unconstitutional situation.  She was asked to comment on a unilateral declaration of independence by Catalonia without prior negotiation or agreement with Madrid.

So suppression and misreporting go hand in hand with smearing, as the Tenreiro communication demonstrates.

There have also been thinly veiled suggestions that the communication from Mr Tenreiro is somehow tainted because it was prompted by someone who is a member of the SNP and had not in fact been sent directly to the Scottish Government.

The Guardian’s Scottish correspondent Severin Carrell wrote:

“But the significance of that disclosure was quickly undermined after it emerged that Salmond’s aides had downloaded the letter from a nationalist website, Newsnet Scotland, and had not been officially sent that opinion by Brussels.”

Leaving aside the erroneous claim that “Salmond’s aides had downloaded the letter”, Carrell’s suggestion that only correspondence sent directly to the politicians is worthy and credible, is dangerously close to censorship.

Would Carrell deem it inappropriate for a Government Minister to cite correspondence between a journalist and Brussels to support or defend a stance?  What of UK Government Ministers who have used correspondence not sent directly to them in order to support their own anti-independence claims and agendas?

Are the people of Scotland who are forced to carry out the work that journalists refuse to do, to be ignored?

In Scotland we rely on citizen journalism in order to challenge the pro-Union agenda that is eating away at Scotland’s democracy.  If we rely on the likes of the BBC, Daily Record, the Scotsman and indeed the Guardian to provide us with our political news then we will end up with what we have here – stories suppressed that don’t fit a pro-Union agenda.

Has it even occurred to Mr Carrell that the reason Scots are taking matters into their own hands and acting as journalists is because his own profession are lamentably inept when it comes to seeking information from the EC.

The print and broadcast media in Scotland is so interlinked to Unionism, they are like co-joined twins.  They survive almost as one, sharing the same heartbeat and breathing the same political oxygen.

The Scottish media had a choice to make when Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy made his intervention.  It could act in the interests of journalism and by extension the Scottish public or it could act in the interests of Unionism.  That it opted for Unionism isn’t surprising given it is itself an expression of that Unionism.

Once that decision had been taken, then the Tenreiro response – brought into the media arena by Salmond – had to be undermined and its contents discredited.  The First Minister himself and the Scottish Government have been subject to false accusations from Unionist politicians and media reporters, none of whom will ever face sanction.

We contacted BBC Scotland reporter Niall O’Gallagher correcting his “lifted from the internet” claim and informed him his own colleagues at BBC Scotland had been sent a copy of Mr Tenreiro’s reply seven weeks ago.

On Friday morning we sent the following email to Good Morning Scotland:

On the programme this morning the EU letter read out by the First Minister yesterday was described as having been “downloaded from the internet” by the Scottish Government.  This is not true.
The letter read out by the First Minister was sent to GMS on 8th October.  Can someone explain why its existence was not reported by the programme?
James Naughtie in his review of the newspaper headlines described the letter as having been acquired from a “pro-SNP” website.  This appears to be a reference to Newsnet Scotland.  We have no links to the SNP and would ask that this be pointed out live on air.  Our news site does indeed have a pro-independence editorial line.  We note that the BBC never refers to other news vendors in this manner and would ask why we have been singled out in this way.

The media in Scotland, particularly the BBC, is having great difficulty in coping with citizen journalism.  Sites like Newsnet Scotland and Wings over Scotland in particular are highlighting an ever growing manipulation of news and a reluctance to scrutinise pro-Union claims, some of which are demonstrable lies.

Finally – Cameron and Rajoy

This weekend, one year after another exclusive reported by Newsnet Scotland, reports of an anti-independence deal between David Cameron and Mariano Rajoy emerged.  

An article in the Spanish newspaper El Pais said the two had “agreed the necessity to explain to citizens the consequences secession would have” – it basically said that an independent Scotland or Catalonia would be handed “automatic expulsion from the EU”.

“It is very important the public be told the truth,” said Mr Rajoy.

In November 2012 Newsnet Scotland exposed a secret meeting between officials from Rajoy’s party the Partido Popular, and the Conservative party.  According to the newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya, the Partido Popular officials had planned to meet with Conservative and Labour politicians in order to agree a united front against independence.

We revealed it one year ago and nobody reported it.  That pact between London and Madrid was the reason for Rajoy’s intervention this week.

The Tenreiro communiqué revealed by Newsnet Scotland threw a spanner into what now appears to be carefully planned co-ordinated attacks on the independence movements of Catalonia and Scotland, co-ordinated attacks agreed between the governments of the UK and Spain.

That’s the real story here, and not the anti-independence claptrap that’s being reported.

[Newsnet Scotland has great pleasure in announcing our first ever public discussion on independence.

The event on Monday December 2nd will be held in the European Parliament Office, The Tun, 4 Jackson’s Entry EH8 8PJ Edinburgh, and will start at 6 pm and end at 8 pm.

Hosted by Dr Mark McNaught, the discussion – which will be filmed – follows on from the publication of the Scottish Government’s Independence White Paper.

The event venue seats forty five people and audience participation is actively encouraged. Tickets are free and can be booked by clicking the link below.]