Newspaper forced to withdraw article after levelling false claims against pro-Yes campaigner


  By G.A.Ponsonby
A newspaper is facing the prospect of legal action after publishing false allegations against the editor of a popular pro-independence website.
The Scotsman newspaper has been forced to withdraw an article it published after claims it made against editor of the Wings Over Scotland website were revealed to have been fabricted.

In the offending article, the Scotsman claimed Stuart Campbell had called for visitors to his site to photograph pro-Union campaigners with a view to identifying them.  The newspaper also claimed Mr Campbell had previously blamed Hillsborough victims for the crush that killed them.

The article prompted an angry response from Mr Campbell who described the claims as defamatory and called for the offending piece to be removed from the newspapers online site.

In a communication to the editor of the Scotsman, Mr Campbell wrote: “I expect these untrue lines to be removed from the online version of the newspaper immediately, and an unequivocal apology for this disgraceful – and clearly deliberate, since there’s no possible way of reading our comments or actions to mean the exact opposite of what they said – smear to appear in tomorrow’s print edition.”

He added: “I have never, and would never, say such an appalling thing. I have said, and stand by the view, that OTHER Liverpool fans were partly culpable for the deaths of the 96.  I have always made abundantly and repeatedly plain that the VICTIMS themselves were completely innocent.

“If you can provide a quote from me saying otherwise, please do so. If not, kindly lift your excrement-covered heads out of the sewer for a few brief moments and withdraw and apologise for those remarks too.

“Such gutter journalism is the shame of Scotland’s media. I will be in touch with the Press Complaints Commission.”

Within hours of receiving the complaint, the newspaper had removed the article from its site, however there was no sign of an apology or a correction.

Mr Campbell, whose Wings Over Scotland site is an official registered pro-Yes campaign organisation, revealed that he had instructed his solicitors to send a letter to the newspaper.

The attacks against the pro-independence online site followed several days of coverage from the Scottish media which had highlighted apparent online attacks from independence supporters against high profile pro-Union figures.

Critics of the media presentation have pointed out that online abuse is carried out by a minority from both sides in the independence debate.  This episode will highlight what many feel is an anti-independence agenda being waged by many pro-Union media outlets, which themselves have published abusive and inaccurate reports against pro-independence backers.

Last month attacks were made on Colin and Chris Weir after the lottery winners donated one million pounds to the pro-independence campaign.

This week has witnessed an increase of anti-independence rhetoric from many media outlets, including the BBC, after an email from an advisor to the First Minister was sent to a reporter with the Telegraph.  Campbell Gunn had questioned claims Clare Lally was an ‘ordinary mum’ by pointing out she was a member of Scottish Labour’s Shadow cabinet.

However media commentators and Unionist politicians accused Mr Gunn and the First Minister of orchestrating an online ‘cyber attack’ after Mr Gunn also inaccurately claimed Ms Lally was the daughter-in-law of former Glasgow provost, Pat Lally.

This latest episode involving the Scotsman is not the first to hit the newspaper.  Last year the newspaper’s sister paper provoked outrage after it published an image which showed the Scottish flag with a Nazi swastika replacing the cross of St Andrew.

The newspaper was cleared of breaching the editor’s code of practice by the Press Complaints Commission.

The attack on Wings Over Scotland has echoes similar attempts at smearing pro-independence online outlets. 

In December last year the Daily Record described Newsnet Scotland as a “Crackpot Website” that “regularly engages in paranoid conspiracies and personal attacks.”

Despite the newspaper being unable to provide evidence to support its allegation, it refused to print an apology.

[Newsnet comment – The Scotsman’s attack on a leading pro-Yes supporter was published on the same day the newspaper carried an editorial calling for the First Minister’s advisor, Campbell Gunn, to be sacked.

Mr Gunn’s crime was to have mistakenly believed Clare Lally was the daughter-in-law of former Glasgow Provost Pat Lally.  The claim was of course inaccurate, but was an honest error which in no way can be characterised as a personal and/or abusive attack.

The Scotsman’s appalling article, in which the newspaper made false accusations against Mr Stuart Campbell was considerably more offensive than accusing Mr Campbell of being a relative of a former provost.  The Scotsman used one of the most harrowing episodes in British sport in order to try to smear Mr Campbell, yet there is silence from the same media who only days ago went into a foaming-mouthed frenzy at Campbell Gunn’s email.

There can be little doubt that this was a politically motivated attack by a pro-Union newspaper, however there is little chance that the Scotsman editor will be sacked.

There is now a very clear one rule for No and one for Yes in the media’s reporting of the independence debate.  Attacks by Yes supporters are more often than not carried out by anonymous individuals on twitter and facebook, whose identity and constitutional leanings cannot be confirmed.  However many attacks on pro-Yes campaigners come from respected media outlets and Unionist politicians.

Newsnet Scotland has no links to Wings Over Scotland but we stand alongside Mr Campbell in his quest to clear his name and hold a newspaper to account.

We, all of us, should condemn online abuse and personal attacks.  This should apply more so when the abuse and attacks are being carried out by elected politicians and so-called quality newspapers.]