Yesterday The Herald group published yet another defence of their coverage of the Scottish political scene. This is the third such publication from the Herald group in recent weeks and centres around the controversy that is currently engulfing Labour controlled Glasgow council.
The Herald have come under attack for what some perceive as a reluctance to cover Labour’s travails with the same vigour and relish that was evident in their coverage of the SNP’s lunch and letter stories. Indeed it was the papers ‘over-zealous’ coverage of these issues that led to the previous editorials.
The content of this most recent reaction is unimportant; the fact that they have at least acknowledged and responded to these critical observations – many from fellow journalists – is commendable.
The Herald, along with its city counterpart The Daily Record, has been left at the starting gate as far as the Purcell story is concerned. The sight of London based titles The Times and The News of the World galloping off with a story that materialised on their own Glasgow doorstep must have been difficult to take. However, seeing its Edinburgh rival pick up the remaining crumbs would have simply rubbed salt into the self inflicted wounds.
The Scotsman’s eagerness to run big with this story may have much to do with a rumour that only three titles were first alerted to Purcell standing down as Council leader ….. and The Scotsman wasn’t one of them.
Having missed the start completely The Herald now appear to be trying to make up lost ground; today saw them ‘go large’ with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s savage attack on the murky dealings of the Labour controlled council. The Record however appears to have been spooked by the whole Purcell affair and is still stood like a rabbit in the headlights.
So, some of the Scottish press, embarrassed into action by their English counterparts are at least trying to redeem themselves; but what of BBC Scotland?
Bizarre is one of the more diplomatic choices of adjectives one could apply to the state broadcasters reporting of the affair. News bulletins have given no more than a passing nod to the biggest political scandal to hit Scotland for years. Even dedicated political programmes like the flagship Newsnight Scotland and The Politics Show Scotland have all but ignored the unfolding story.
Moreover the host of The Politics Show Scotland – Glenn Campbell – caused outrage this Sunday when in an interview with the First Minister he held up a copy of The Mail on Sunday on which was emblazoned a headline ‘Salmond Crony Quits After Funding Probe’.
The First Minister pointed out that the story was nonsense and one has to wonder quite why a BBC Scotland journalist felt it appropriate to confront the First Minister with an obscure smear story; it will have done nothing to enhance Campbell’s already diminishing reputation.
It isn’t just the lack of coverage on Scottish news and current affairs broadcasts; since the Purcell story first broke we have also witnessed a dramatic and worrying increase in comment censorship on BBC Scotland’s main political blog ‘Blether with Brian’.
What are we to make of all this? Are online commentators who suggest an agenda on the part of the state broadcaster merely paranoid or do they have a point?
Well, cast your mind back to the end of January – it was difficult to listen to a Radio Scotland news bulletin or TV broadcast without the First Minister or Deputy First Minister coming under attack over lunches at Holyrood and then a letter to a judge. For the next few weeks we were treated to much the same replays of Unionist politicians reacting as though the FM and Deputy FM had been involved in crimes against humanity. The BBC’s decision to give significant airtime to the stories and attacks had the effect of conferring on each an undeserved status.
At the end of the frenzy the BBC decided that some kind of analysis of the SNP was now required and so it was that Angus Macleod, Iain MacWhirter, Lorraine Davidson and Professor John Curtice promptly appeared on Newsnight Scotland on 28th January to perform the last rites on the SNP’s general election hopes – for good measure the programme also featured a promo for Jim Murphy.
Less than four weeks later and we were presented with another full length programme on the Nicola Sturgeon’s address to Holyrood over the letter to a judge – this time analysis was provided by Hamish MacDonnell and Magnus Linklater.
Inside four weeks, in two programmes, BBC Scotland had given significant airtime to relatively benign smear stories and a platform to six political pundits, not one of whom was known for having any sympathies for either the SNP or independence.
The Purcell resignation followed by allegations of cocaine use and his subsequent disappearance are of a magnitude many times greater than any of the aforementioned stories. The subsequent revelations detailing connections to gangsters, SCDEA interviews, donations to Labour and contracts to Labour donors take this story into the political stratosphere.
Add in civil war in the Airdrie and East Lothian constituencies, Jim Devine’s forthcoming court case and the lamentable Labour opposition at Holyrood and we have a political party in Scotland needing not just analysis but some serious therapy.
And yet, there is a virtual silence from Pacific Quay.
If Glenn Campbell is to be allowed to hold up newspaper pages then let it at least be something worth looking at (page three for the men and perhaps Gerard Butler for the ladies).
The far more blatant hold up of course is being carried out by the infamous ‘BBC Gang’ who, like Dick Turpin, are extracting £139.50 per year from Scottish licence payers.
The ‘Pravda-esque’ political news output we have to endure is a cruel joke.