When columnists fall out…. ooh it gets so messy

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The Vow: Most Scots don't believe Unionist claims that it is being delivered

Derek Bateman took issue with the First Minister’s hosted Christmas party for Parliamentary journalists last week. On Monday columnist and Sturgeon biographer David Torrance responded with a defence of the “mainstream media”. Here Derek responds to that response. Still with us? Good stuff…

As a general rule, if you’re going to be a journalist, best to learn some of the basic skills first…one would be to read information properly and comprehend it before reporting or commenting. (It’s those old-fashioned principles that just won’t die).

Derek Bateman: he wouldn't have gone anyway, honest
Derek Bateman: old media to new media blogger

My blog on the parliamentary press corps being entertained by the First Minister at Bute House doesn’t argue that all journalists or all papers are Unionist. It doesn’t argue that the First Minister shouldn’t have the reporters for drinks. It does question if officially hosting one aspect of a deeply divided media – undisputed, I think – really reflects the media reality. It does suggest – again indisputably – that she fails to recognise equally the part of the media that works on her side.

The underlying case made in the Herald by David Torrance implies that there is no Unionist media at all, merely a collection of different viewpoints reflecting a free press which selects items based purely on news value. This makes him the lone voice of a lost cause. This is so in conflict with everyone’s experience as to be verging on the extreme.

From academic study to George Monbiot to Alex Massie to the BBC’s own Audience Council to the National Union of Journalists to Paul Mason to Stuart Cosgrove. Indeed, to any sensate being not dependent for a living on the same mainstream media, one of the defining issues of modern Scotland is our failing media – up to including the mighty BBC. (Apologies: Kenny McQuarrie does agree with David…there is no bias.)

Ah, the dignity of a Free Press and the intellectual stimulus it bestows on the nation. Grateful we are for those soothing voices of reason, untroubled by tribalism. Alan Cochrane, Simon Johnson, Alan Roden, Chris Deerin, Euan McColm, Magnus Gardham – a veritable pantheon of journalistic brilliance. There was a fine example of true-to-form free press journalism in the king of papers this week.

Is David the only journalist in Britain who doesn’t understand how the media overwhelmingly works in the interests of establishment interests? Does he know who owns the papers? Has he noticed how the Herald, which pays him, has steadily diluted its journalism in the interests of profit? Perhaps a dose of the New Media would help.

It is surely disingenuous to imply that an individual journalist’s political leanings make any difference to what he or she is obliged to write – or is that a Freudian slip by a someone whose personal politics very much dictate his professional output?

Touching too to read the First Minister expressing appreciation for the work the media do. Everyone I know at the SNP, especially at the media relations end, never stops saying how much the whole party acknowledges the debt they owe to the honest endeavours of the Scottish mainstream.

Party people
Party people

I’m sure Nicola Sturgeon does believe in the role of a free press, whatever that means in a Britain where a handful of tax-dodging billionaires control most of it, but I’m equally sure she understands she can’t win either. By sidelining the media, if that were somehow possible, she merely antagonises them and it’s generally true that she herself gets a good press because even the partisans can’t find enough to taint her with. ‘The SNP leader receives an overwhelmingly good press, but the politics of grievance contrives the opposite to be true.’

The difficulty here of course is that they are inseparable in that constant attacks on the government with little foundation and certainly scant context ARE attacks on Sturgeon because she is the administration. Perhaps that slipped David’s notice. And isn’t it just a trifle laughable to hear the term grievance dispensed by those whose entire daily schtick is based on complaint about everything the SNP does, including win elections?

But overwhelmingly I’m sure she understands that the ham-fisted vitriol and Unionist cheerleading hasn’t changed the mind of a single Scottish voter. No matter how many ‘SNP failure’ think pieces David writes – and I’m anticipating a slew of Tory revival articles before next May – not a tiny fissure has appeared in the voting patterns.

David Torrance, biographer to the stars
David Torrance, biographer to the stars

The truly humiliating fact for the celebrating hacks to swallow is that no one actually cares what they write – insofar as giving up on the Nats is concerned. It’s a living but it’s of limited consequence. Far from inspiring writing, the media gives us instead the whine of the loser. And a bad loser at that…it’s easy to forget who actually won the damned referendum.

The Jackanory journalism that contrives to portray Yes as uncritical and automatically self-proclaimed good guys provides  a misunderstanding by the author of the role of New Media. It isn’t designed to replace mainstream but to challenge and supplement it and it was born out a need for more and better information. If the old press had been doing its job, there would be no New Media. So long as we are  bombarded by one-sided coverage with dubious foundation, there will be a need to contradict and correct. New Media has struggled to get into a broader game of general coverage because of the need to respond to the continuing poor quality of established outlets. Perhaps the greatest myopia of all is wilfully to see only the New Media as partisan and the Old Media as unbiased.  It’s like the Unionist parties pretending to be relevant by telling themselves it is so.

(We bury Ian Bell on Tuesday. That makes it a raw time for anyone who actually knew him for 30 years, drank with him and maybe shared an office. I was mildly piqued that his name was being casually appropriated here in a piece extolling establishment journalism and proximity to power at the expense of critics prepared to challenge vested interest. But I probably misread that part. Otherwise it would be too distasteful.)