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Showing posts with label Brian Currie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brian Currie. Show all posts

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Herald hits a new low in political reporting - the Politics Show Leader’s debate

As I begin to write this, I ask myself two questions -

Why do I still buy the Herald?

Does anything the Herald says about Scottish life still matter?

The answer to the first question is residual loyalty to what was once a great Scottish newspaper - one that I have read for over fifty years - and for occasional superb contributions from  Ian Bell, Harry Reid and Iain Macwhirter.

The answer to the second is almost certainly no, given its declining circulation, its almost complete abandonment of basic journalistic standards, especially in news reporting, and the exponentially growing of television and the new media.

But, with the nagging feeling that I am wasting time that could be more productively used elsewhere, I feel that I must comment on today’s page 7 report on yesterday’s Politics Show Scotland leaders debate, chaired by Isabel Fraser.

In yesterday’s blog, I offered clips from this debate and my commentary, which are opinion, from the perspective and allegiance of a committed Scottish nationalist and SNP supporter. But the televised debate itself is a matter of visual and audio record, available to anyone who wishes to view it and draw a conclusion.

The Herald offers two pieces on page 7, one by Robin Dinwoodie, which is presented as news by the Herald’s chief political correspondent, and an opinion piece - Comment by Brian Currie.

The headline for the Dinwoodie piece was typical of the Herald’s style of bias by headline - selective and unrepresentative of the debate - Salmond under attack for fighting anti-secrecy law.

In an objective news report, it might have been Holyrood Party Leader’s in vigorous debate on The Politics Show, but if I adopt the Herald’s style, it also might have been Opposition Party Leader’s under attack for their opposition to minimum pricing for alcohol, or even Iain Gray under attack for blocking minimum pricing, or perhaps Salmond and Scott attack Goldie and Gray’s proposals for minimum sentencing for knife crime.

My preferred headline, adopting the Herald’s modus operandi, might have been Holyrood Opposition Leaders fight like ferrets in a sack while First Minister remains calm and objective.

Dinwoodie devoted the first 450 words or so of a 750 word article to the freedom of information question referred to in the headline, which essentially involved the Government trying to protect the principle of civil servants offering advice in confidence to ministers, something supported and defended by every government of whatever political colour. As the FM pointed out, the actual costs of an LIT, far from being a secret, had been announced to Parliament by John Swinney. In spite of the opposition parties and the Herald’s desperate attempts to make a story out of this, we may be reasonably be certain that the voters won’t give a damn about such arcane points of government.

What they do manifestly care about is the blight of alcohol and violence in their communities and what their government is doing to protect them, the issues that were in fact central to Sunday’s debate, but which Dinwoodie and the Herald glided smoothly over, as well they might, since they showed the poverty and expediency of the opposition to the SNP’s minimum pricing proposal, and the Labour and Tory simplistic and unworkable proposals for minimum sentencing for knife crime.

And then we have Brian Currie’s little opinion piece. His general theme was that much of the debate was an unedifying squabble, and I agree wholeheartedly with that.

But in his third paragraph, he says -

Regrettably, Tavish Scott, Iain Gray and to a slightly lesser extent Alex Salmond and Annabel Goldie continually tried so hard to drown each other out during the BBC Politics show yesterday that many of their exchanges had all the merits of a bar-room rammy.

The inclusion of Alex Salmond in this bad behaviour is, quite simply, untrue, and a blatant distortion of the facts, as anyone watching this programme would testify. He was an oasis of calm and courtesy throughout, and despite being continually interrupted by the others, refrained almost entirely from joining in, although he could not resist a couple of pertinent and amused comments as Goldie and Gray fought like ferrets in a sack. Iain Gray, repeating his lamentable performance on the STV Leaders Debate, continually interrupted the First Minister.

But Currie, forced to comment on the embarrassing and at times chaotic behaviour of the three opposition leaders, - which was there for Scottish viewers to see - felt he had to tar the First Minister with the same brush, because the quiet dignity, courtesy and objectivity of Alex Salmond throughout doesn’t sit well with the caricature of him that the Herald wants to present.

What Scottish viewers saw - and can see again - was a microcosm of what has gone on in Holyrood for four years - an expedient, policy-bereft opposition, ill-informed by their masters in Westminster, engaging in blind, opportunistic opposition to almost anything the SNP government tried to do, only held together by Alex Salmond’s mastery of the politics of minority government and his statesmanlike recognition of where the real interests of the Scottish people lie.

Again, a poor, poor show by the Herald.

But this newspaper matters less and less to the people of Scotland, as demonstrated by its inexorably declining circulation, and the people have found their own channels to the truth, something rarely present in the Scottish print media today.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Political reporting, Herald-style …

The debate on whether to reduce the present eight police forces in Scotland, or at least reduce the number to three or four, an idea driven by the urgent need to reduce costs, raises complex issues of major significance to law and order and the relationship between Government and the police.

It demands the fullest consultation with all interested parties over what would be a very radical measure with wide reaching implications. That is exactly what the Scottish Government is doing, but that is not enough for Labour in Holyrood, ever anxious to make life difficult for the SNP government, especially when it plans to address issues fundamental to Scottish society.

Iain Gray’s attack on the First Minister at yesterday’s FMQs was therefore depressingly predictable, especially with an election looming. This exchange could have been approached in two ways by a responsible Scottish newspaper. The first would have been a quick summary, along the lines of “Labour criticises the SNP Government of delay in reaching a decision on the rationalisation of Scottish police forces. First Minister responds by emphasising the need for in-depth consultation before reaching a decision.”.

The second would have been a balanced report of Ian Gray’s criticisms and the First Minister’s rebuttal, followed by a detailed examination of the issues involved. The Herald did neither, and Brian Currie’s ‘report’, together with Ian Bell’s sketch piece, illustrate all too clearly what has become of objective political reporting in the Herald, a sad thing to contemplate as we enter the Holyrood election run-up.

The headline and the sub-header set the Herald, i.e. the Labour agenda -

Salmond accused of dodging single police force issue

Labour leader Gray asks: When are you going to make a decision?

This kind of header tries to beg the question, in the clear hope that many readers engaged in a superficial scan of topics may never get beyond it, and are left with the idea of a First Minister dodging a crucial issue and avoiding a decision.

But just in case the reader goes further, the Herald hedges its bets, by presenting a virtually verbatim report of Iain Gray’s attack. 56 lines of Gray in a kind of one-sided Hansard. followed by 17 lines of Alex Salmond’s rebuttal, a more than three-to-one skewing of the argument.

In time terms, here is how the exchange went. Iain Gray’s opening questions took 35 secs. Alex Salmond’s response lasted 49 seconds. Iain Gray follow-through lasted 1m 6 seconds. Alex Salmond’s initial response pointed up the contradictions in Gray’s posture by citing Iain Gray’s equivocation on council tax. This lasted 1m 21 seconds. Iain Gray returned to his attack, and this lasted for 53 seconds. Alex Salmond’s reply lasted for 1m 30 seconds. Gray’s response lasted for 49 seconds, and drifted into a general attack on the Government’s record, but since the FM’s response, lasting 1m 13 seconds, addressed that aspect, I’ll leave both of them in.

Totting up, I get Iain Gray’s total contribution as 3m 23 seconds and Alex Salmond’s total response time as 4m 53 seconds: the FM spoke for 59% of the time and Iain Gray for 41%, although I must say, it seemed a helluva lot longer, as verbal turgid tedium always does. Contrast this with Brian Currie’s report, which in lines of text gave Iain Gray almost 77% and the FM 23%.

Taken together with the header and sub-header, this is blatant political bias, not objective reporting. It was not justified by considerations of relevance, of condensation, or the interests of objective political reporting. It was Fox-style, Murdoch-style, Palin style tabloid journalism.

However, the Herald’s idea of balance was partially served by Ian Bell’s piece, which did provide some insight into the reality of the exchange, but in the context of a sketch piece, heavy with humour and some sarcasm, one that could safely be ignored as peripheral and lightweight by its labelling, although in fact it wasn’t, and came closer to the truth.

How many voters watch Politics Scotland and how many read the political ‘report’ in the Herald I don’t know. What I do know is that it is vital for Scottish democracy, in the lead-up to what will be a pivotal election for the future of the people of Scotland, that the political arguments are presented fully and objectively in the news reporting of the media, and that only the opinion pieces reflect the partisanship.

The Herald, and the Scottish media in general breach these fundamental principles with depressing regularity, and the Herald is a serial offender.