Freedom from the press

mediaThere is a curious contradiction in Carolyn Leckie’s argument. On the one hand, she appears to recognise that the British mainstream media is inherently biased in favour of the British establishment of which it is a part. On the other, she urges us to “get across our arguments in a clear, friendly factual, positive way” using the same mainstream media. Either she doesn’t understand that fundamental aim of Scotland’s independence cause is to break the British state, or she doesn’t understand that the fundamental purpose of the British media is the preservation very structures of power, privilege and patronage which the independence movement opposes.

In one breath Carolyn seems to be saying that we should just accept the fact that the British media is not inclined to give the independence movement a fair hearing and an honest representation. In the next, she seems to be hoping that they will do just that if only we’re nice to them and present our case in a manner so devoid of assertiveness and passion that even a delicate creature such as Sunday Herald editor Neil Mackay won’t feel he’s being pressured – or attacked.

If Carolyn Leckie is saying that “attacking” the British media is futile, then I would probably agree with her. It is pointless to expect that the independence cause will be treated by the British establishment as anything other than the threat that it is. But this misses the point. It’s not about whether we should attack the media, but whether the media should be exempt from attack.

And for ‘attack’ here we should read ‘criticism’. Terms such as ‘attack’ and ‘hatred’ are labels which the media attach to criticism in order to divert from and avoid answering that criticism. To whatever extent it my be fair to characterise some of the criticism of the media as aggressive, that doesn’t alter the fact that much – perhaps most – of that criticism is perfectly reasonable and justifiable. By focusing exclusively on the aggression, journalists distract attention from the reasonable and justifiable points and, not at all incidentally, present themselves as victims.

It’s a question of accountability. Journalists such as Neil Mackay insist that they are a special category and should only be accountable to a professional code which, unfortunately, all too many journalist seem all too willing to disregard or flout. Others, myself included, maintain that journalists merely provide a service and produce a product and that, like anyone else who offers a service or product, they are ultimately answerable to the consumer.

With something that looks worryingly akin to complacency, Carolyn points out that,

The state-controlled media did not stop apartheid being overthrown in South Africa. Nor did Pravda prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While this is true at a woefully superficial level, it fails to acknowledge that the media were an important part of the apparatus by which these oppressive regimes were maintained for decades. It fails to recognise that breaking the media’s grip on people’s minds was an important – perhaps crucial – part of the process which ended apartheid and brought down the Soviet Union. Would anything have changed, or changed so soon or so quickly, if the version of reality promulgated by establishment media was not challenged?

The pious wee lecture with which Carolyn Leckie ends her piece is irritatingly familiar. A small but growing part of my “righteous anger” is reserved for those who suggest I’m not entitled to my righteous anger. I reserve the right to be significantly irked by the insinuation that it is those challenging the media who fear debate and dialogue when it is others – not least some journalists – who are seeking to shut down debate and discourage dialogue.

The clue is in the words, Carolyn. Righteous anger! There are things that should provoke us to anger. There are things to which we should strenuously object. There are things which must be protested loudly and opposed vigorously. And each of us must do so in the manner which we deem appropriate. Each of us should express our anger as we see fit, limited only by what is legally permissible . Only the causes of righteous anger benefit from our response to it being constrained by an etiquette authored by the objects of our righteous anger.

Challenging and criticising the media is essential to a healthy democracy and a necessary part of any political struggle. Journalists do not get to declare themselves an elite immune from public scrutiny. Notwithstanding the spluttering outrage of some journalists at the very idea, the media will be answerable to the consumers of its messages.

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One thought on “Freedom from the press

  1. The best form of defence is attack. In the next (current?) indyref campaign we need to be even more assertive, trying to love bomb the media and opposition with positive messages of hope is not going to work (would be repeating the same mistake as 2014, I’d say).

    The bias and slant of the media needs to be called out at every opportunity. Every negative argument made by the Unionists needs to be deconstructed and countered. The Union must not be treated as an acceptable Status Quo that we can just stick with because change will be disruptive – every discussion should ask the questions ‘What does the Union offer as an alternative?’, ‘What are the benefits to Scotland of remaining in the Union?’ etc.

    The Unionists are going to have to fight even dirtier this time round, they have nothing to offer in terms of promises (they’ve reneged on all the ones from 2014) and most of their scare stories have been shown to be false too. We need to be prepared to fight back harder this time round.


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