Nothing can be the same for Scotland’s media


BELLA CALEDONIA: the call to become the media has been taken up with gusto

  by Paul Holleran, Scottish Organiser, NUJ It has been said by many people in Scotland since the independence referendum that “things will never be the same again”. Nothing could be truer on a number fronts but particularly regarding the future of the Scottish press and media. Over the last five years, I have been involved in a couple of projects related to exploring the relationship between media and the public.

One such venture, working with academics from Edinburgh (School of Law) University, explored the breakdown in public trust. The extensive (but not completed) study showed that there are inherent dangers in such distrust, it is damaging to the concept of democracy if people believe the majority of media outlets and journalists cannot be trusted.

It is a serious threat to pluralism if aspects of media-ownership impinge on public faith in journalism, as increasingly scepticism in the fourth estate reaches new heights.

There are glaringly obvious political identities within the press with the right wing covered by the Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, while the Mirror, Daily Record and Guardian are more liberal leaning but all are deemed to be firmly part of the wider establishment by many people in Scotland particularly after the indyref. A massive proportion of people who voted Yes appear to lay a fair proportion of blame at the door of our press and media for the result which prevented furtherance of independence.

However large dollops of resentment have been targeted at the BBC with ongoing abuse hurled at the corporation management and journalists. The allegations of bias during the indyref grew into large-scale demonstrations at Pacific Quay with plenty of noise including threats made to journalists that they would be sacked under a new Scottish Broadcast Corporation. The NUJ Broadcasting Branch is exploring the option of a “review” of how the BBC covered the referendum including the relationship between BBC Scotland and the “powers that be” in London.

In a recent recorded conversation I had with Derek Bateman, the former BBC presenter suggested the position reflected that of the UK state, with Scotland having to go cap in hand for resources and major decision making to London.

There is no doubt that in a year when crucial discussions take place on the BBC Charter renewal, the status of BBC Scotland will be under major scrutiny. There is every likelihood that broadcasting could become a devolved power following the final outcome of the Smith Commission.

Both the NUJ and STUC have argued that change as have other bodies including the SNP of course. Meanwhile while most of the media remains profitable/successful, overall the mainstream media continues to struggle as further cuts are proposed and implemented including the latest blows to the Scottish press which are becoming annual hardy events.

In Scotland alone we are facing editorial redundancies at BBC, Daily Express, Herald and Evening Times, The Scotsman titles, while down south the scale of cuts is overwhelming our hard-pressed NUJ officials.

It is ironic that while mainstream press and broadcasters are trying to develop their online sector and turn a profit that might off-set the losses caused by falling circulation and advertising, there has been a healthy growth in alternative media reaching out to a large section of the public hungry for news and comment.

The expansion of membership among the Yes supporting political parties has been phenomenal as politics, democracy and representation become everyday issues for a growing number of folk.

The use of social media has exploded as part of this growing awareness leading to demands for accurate, informative journalism. The call to become the media has been taken up with gusto with lots of new online sites delivering stories, corrections, campaigning and rabble rousing and generally holding those in power to account.

Newsnet Scotland and Derek Bateman, Bella Caledonia, Wings Over Scotland, Business for Scotland are now being joined by new ventures from CommonWeal, Scottish News and other internet-based broadcasters. It is essential that trained journalists are involved in as many projects like those named above.

There will be a fully robust debate at the RIC conference in Glasgow this weekend called “Beyond a Corporate Media” and although it clashes with a major forum it promises to raise many important issues which will forge a healthier press and media in this country.

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