The Scottish media and its fear of the internet


  By G.A.Ponsonby
Two BBC Scotland reporters were criticised this weekend, the journalistic impartiality of Chick Young and Derek Bateman was questioned.
Neither of these two ‘attacks’ came from pro-independence campaigners.  The first was from Dundee FC Chief Executive Scot Gardiner who was less than pleased with the behaviour of BBC Scotland football reporter Mr Young.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
Two BBC Scotland reporters were criticised this weekend, the journalistic impartiality of Chick Young and Derek Bateman was questioned.
Neither of these two ‘attacks’ came from pro-independence campaigners.  The first was from Dundee FC Chief Executive Scot Gardiner who was less than pleased with the behaviour of BBC Scotland football reporter Mr Young.

The second was contained in a tweet from Labour peer George Foulkes who attacked the integrity of one of the few BBC Scotland reporters trying to provide decent mature coverage of the independence debate. 

According to Mr Foulkes, BBC Scotland’s Derek Bateman is biased and his Saturday morning show is nothing more than “Nat bias”.

The two examples come as the Scottish media ramps up its campaign against what it claims is online abuse from supporters of independence.  The criticism of online independence supporters followed claims by a pro-Union comedienne that she received death threats after mocking the SNP’s currency options post-independence.

The claims by Susan Calman have featured prominently across BBC Scotland programming and led to headlines from several pro-Union newspapers linking the SNP and independence campaigners to the alleged death threats.

However at no point has anyone produced evidence of these death threats, although there are examples of obnoxious and offensive posts having been made towards Ms Calman.  Indeed even Newsnet Scotland had to delete some posts from our Facebook page after several were deemed unacceptable by our social media controller.

BBC Scotland has gone into overdrive this last few days with several programmes providing a platform to guest commentators who have used it in order to mount attacks on supporters of independence.  There’s no doubt that there exists those who are not able to exercise restraint and discipline when posting messages, but the narrative from BBC Scotland has helped those with an agenda to portray the problem as one exclusive to the pro-independence online community.

The narrative of course serves the pro-Union campaign well.  The traditional Scottish media are overwhelmingly pro-Union and as one would expect, journalists who adopt a pro-Union stance are afforded a higher profile than their pro-independence counterparts.

If the only vehicle outwith the control of the Unionist media, the internet, can be discredited by lumping the small number of loons together with the more eloquent online contributors then the intelligent and legitimate questioning of output from pro-Union media loses credibility and impact.

Unionism has its own problem with online abuse as the death threats aimed at Nicola Sturgeon and other SNP leaders testify to.  Newsnet Scotland has also been on the receiving end of puerile threats and abuse, we deal with it by binning it.

There’s a danger that by allowing this demonisation of one side in the independence debate, that they then become dehumanised.  Currently the pro-Union commentariat are promoting a term first coined by George Foulkes ‘cybernat’.

The term, when used by the media and Unionists, is one of abuse.  Like terms used throughout history the aim is to dehumanise whole swathes of people and thus render them less worthy of respect than ‘normal’ people.  It’s a sad irony that those alleging abuse are adopting abuse in order to de-legitimise their political opponents.

‘Normal’ people are allowed to participate in the great debate, the terms of which are being dictated by those who control the media.  But the ‘cybernats’ are foul, abusive and obnoxious bullies – their views are unworthy. 

The tactic draws in the SNP by accusing the party hierarchy of controlling and coordinating these ‘cybernats’.  It is of course false, but reported as credible nonetheless.

Closing down debate

The ‘cybernat’ is trying to stifle debate, trying to ‘bully’ decent, hard-working reporters into silence.  They attack ‘honest journalists’ who are only reporting the ‘facts’ and ‘threaten’ those who disagree with them.  It’s straight out of Orwell’s 1984, and reminiscent of Animal Farm where all are equal but some more equal then others.

In this Orwellian media world British nationalism is the ‘victim’ and Scottish nationalism the ‘bully’ trying to silence its opponent.  That the only examples of silencing thus far has been the attempts by the No campaign to block a satirical video and the closing down of an Arts site after a legal threat by the No campaign’s biggest donor, is ironic.

Ian Taylor’s legal threat against National Collective, Wings over Scotland and the Herald newspaper was an example of just such an attempt at silencing criticism. 

Mr Taylor’s half million pound donation to Better Together after he held a secret meeting with its head, Labour MP Alistair Darling, has cause the No campaign embarrassment after Taylor’s company, Vitol, was revealed to have paid a war criminal one million dollars.  There were also business links to the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein as well as Libya, Iran and Syria.

Strangely, despite the donation being raised twice in Holyrood and once in the House of Commons, it has featured less in the BBC’s news coverage than the Susan Calman issue.  Indeed in a rather bizarre and very short item on the Taylor donation three weeks ago, Newsnight Scotland managed to turn the story on its head by attacking pro-independence web sites.

The journalist who made the claims complained to Newsnet Scotland (an attack?) that he had not been contacted prior to us publishing an article that crtiicised the item.  We invited Severin Carrell to draft an article containing his own views and we would publish … we are still waiting.


It’s this level of news manipulation and selective punditry that is causing frustration and building resentment amongst pro-independence supporters.  Claims by Unionists that BBC reporters have been ‘attacked’ are not expanded upon – are all BBC reporters criticised or is the criticism more specific?

One name that has been mentioned is BBC Scotland’s business and economy editor Douglas Fraser.  In a Newsnight Scotland item last week it was claimed that Mr Fraser had been the victim of abuse after claiming the Loch Ness Monster did not exist.

If true of course, then one might be compelled to ask just how Mr Fraser knew that this abuse came from someone who supports independence?

We at Newsnet Scotland have criticised Mr Fraser, highlighting his comparison of the SNP with North Korea as well as his peculiar habit of mixing business news with politics.

Our criticism is always evidence based and one example of Mr Fraser’s habit of painting a pessimistic picture of areas of the economy crucial to the independence debate came just over a year ago with a claim that the Scottish government had withheld information relating to a decision by Doosan to postpone planned investment in Scotland’s renewables sector.

Newsnet Scotland questioned the handling of the news by Mr Fraser and other BBC Scotland presenters, who had claimed that the decision had been based on referendum ‘uncertainty’ and that the news had only just been announced.  We revealed that the decision had in fact been reported months earlier by industry magazine reNews and referendum uncertainty played no part in the company’s decision.

Scotland’s renewables sector is thriving and the future looks very encouraging with investment flooding in.  However take a look at Mr Fraser’s item on Reporting Scotland from April last year to see how bleak a picture he painted.

There are scores of examples of such news manipulation from the BBC and it’s this that is breeding resentment from licence payers who are unwilling to remain silent.  Some of course are unable to exercise the required discipline, and being less articulate than one would wish, are prone to vent that frustration in an angry email or online post.

It should also be noted that name calling is not the preserve of online amateurs who take issue with those hard working ‘honest’ journalists.  When at the Herald newspaper, Mr Fraser frequently penned articles thought to be rather less balanced than one might wish to have seen.

Mr Fraser’s response to being regularly taken to task by online posters was to label them “vermin”.  In 2008, when the newspaper was about to announce redundancies, Mr Fraser left and joined the BBC.

However not all BBC Scotland journalists are held in such poor regard.  Mr Fraser’s wife Isabel is one of the best reporters on BBC Scotland and has gained considerable respect from pro-independence supporters.  Along with the aforementioned Derek Bateman, they are two of the most respected journalists at Pacific Quay.

It’s rather telling that the two BBC Scotland reporters singled out for attack by Labour politicians have been Ms Fraser and Mr Bateman.  Following a shocking attack on her integrity by Labour MP Ian Davidson, Ms Fraser has been replaced as presenter of Newsnight Scotland and the Sunday Politics Show and now appears mostly on weekend radio.

Another who can expect to be sent to the Saturday morning salt mine by BBC Scotland chiefs is David Miller, who is fast establishing himeslf a reporter of integrity, questioning both sides in this debate with equal rigour.

There’s been very little mature analysis of the role of the internet and just why independence supporters have embraced it whilst their pro-Union counterparts have a much smaller online footprint.

The reason is obvious, in that Unionism doesn’t require the internet to get its message across.  The BBC and newspapers do not require any persuading to run a story based on pro-Union claims.  The Susan Calman story is a perfect example of the almost subconscious synergy that exists between the print media and broadcasters.

Incredibly, we have yet to see concrete evidence of some of the accusations levelled by Ms Calman against the pro-independence online movement.  Bizarrely, evidence of shocking online messages and threats by Unionists is freely available, including threats made against another Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle on a pro-Union twitter account.

Also issuing sinister online messages threatening the Scottish comedian was far right Unionist group ‘Britain First’ who offered anyone who knew Mr Boyle’s address free membership.  These kind of pro-Union groups are the ones that the Scottish media would rather we were not told about.

Curiously, or should that be predictably, these online threats weren’t picked up by either the BBC or the Scottish press.

The fact is that Unionists fear the internet, it has allowed opponents of the Unionist Status Quo – not always nationalists – to challenge the views of people who hitherto were beyond scrutiny.

It’s rather telling that there appear few, if any, satirical comedic digs that have not had as their target, the SNP, Scotland and independence when broadcast by the BBC or published in main stream media.  Cartoons, magazine covers, satirical shows and broadcasts from Susan Calman have all taken an anti-SNP/independence stance when stepping into the referendum debate.

One of the worst examples still to be acknowledged by BBC Scotland was the shocking denegration of Scotland’s flag by Scotland on Sunday which replaced the St Andrew’s Cross with a nazi swastika.

When they insult us we are told to get a sense of humour, when we question them they complain of being attacked.

The internet is a godsend for the pro-independence movement and all attempts to demonise it and non-Unionist commentators should be resisted.  Without the internet then many key stories may never have seen the light of day.

Truth will out and facts will prevail.  The BBC in Scotland and its favoured political pundits will have to get used to being scrutinised, questioned, challenged …

and satirised.