in Scotland’s Indymedia?
Professor John Robertson: 31st August 2015
(Reblogged from Prof Robertson's homesite)
Newsnet.scot, Wings over Scotland and Bella Caledonia along with several smaller online news agencies did much to help get the Yes vote up from 30% to 45% in only one year. They deserve a lot of credit. Much of my writing on the issue was published by Newsnet.scot including the report in January 2014 - Fairness in the first Year? – causing quite a stushie at the time. I owe them a lot and it was an honour to appear alongside high-quality journalism from Ponsonby, Bateman and the editor himself.
However, over the last year or so, I’ve begun to notice that, as in the mainstream media, there are signs of the kind of filtering that Chomsky has observed, in areas of the Indymedia. To clarify, I mean the aforementioned three ‘big blogs’, The National and the Sunday Herald newspapers. I exclude Medialens, Kiltr and Michael Greenwell from any critique of the kind coming below.
First, to make clear where I’m coming from here, the Yes campaign is primarily about independence for Scotland but it is not just about that. I think thousands agree with me on this. In train are other related and very important issues such as greater democracy, greater equality, greater fairness for children, women, ethnic and other minorities and positive change across a wide range of social and environmental factors. Overall, the Yes movement is a cluster of leftist and emancipatory drives toward the kind of Scotland we want and independence is only the logical first step to achieving these things.
So, for example, research I’ve done into media coverage of fracking and of workers’ rights is not peripheral to the Yes campaign but at the heart of it for many in the movement. In December 2014, Newsnet.scot did use my report on the media silence regarding Fracking, at that time but would not publish my later criticism of BBC Scotland’s documentary on Fracking. In May 2015, Newsnet.scot would not publish my piece on the differences between mainstream media and social media discourse on the planned Rail-workers strike. Medialens did cover this. I copied these reports to Wings, Bella, the National and the Herald but none picked them up. I thought these were important stories. I know the reasons could be many and often kind of innocent. However, after Chomsky, I see nothing innocent but only evidence of social pressures. To criticise Fracking and to support trades unions can be seen to be anti-business and perhaps off-message in media agency, selling on the basis of the narrower definition of the Yes movement – attacks on Westminster and the unionist parties. The Indymedia attract advertising and, no doubt, readers who are for independence yet, on who lie to the right of the arguments against Fracking and in favour of trades unions. Now, of course, I don’t know for certain that my explanation applies to all of these news agencies, in each case, but exceptions matter little when there is an overall tendency damaging to environmentalism and to workers’ rights. That’s how propaganda works in liberal, market-oriented ‘democracies’. Corporate media allow alternative voices on occasions to create the illusion of freedom and to manufacture consent smoothly.
Marxists know this as ‘repressive tolerance’. A further explanation which also reinforces the application of the Propaganda Model to Scottish Indymedia is that of the peer-group behavioural patterns amongst journalists. There are relationships of friendship or family, shared education and shared work-experience amongst Scotland’s quite small circle of professional political journalists. While, Newsnet.scot, Bella and especially Wings over Scotland have offered quite strong criticism of the Scottish mainstream TV and Newspaper output, there is a reluctance amongst the National and Herald journalists to accept that their colleagues in the mainstream are guilty of deliberate or even unconscious bias against independence. The editor of both these newspapers has not and will not publish any of my findings because he feels I have failed to prove that bias. We had a wee email exchange on this, many months ago and before Alex Salmond had pointed clearly to it and before eminent journalists like Paul Mason and George Monbiot had described the BBC News as operating in ‘full propaganda mode’ in the run-up to the Referendum. Much as I admire Bateman of Newsnet.scot, he seems unwilling to accept the truth of Chomsky’s thinking about journalists, nearly all of them, including maybe himself.
Regarding Wings over Scotland and Bella Caledonia, they reported my early research but for some time now haven’t done so. I don’t think they’re subject to the same critique as the National, the Herald (and some of Newsnet.scot behaviour) so I’m not sure why this is. For all their qualities, they are both becoming a bit like one-man-blogs which are dominated by pieces written by the editor. Newsnet.scot, by contrast, often feature excellent pieces by independent writers.
Finally, I recently wrote a short piece wondering if the ridiculous delay in publishing my book on the referendum coverage might, maybe, perhaps, possibly, be due to interference by the security state. There was no appetite to publish it in the Indymedia even though I presented it in light, comedic, terms and just as an out-there idea worthy of talking about. Here it is:
[Text of this pdf is posted below - FMF]
MI5, the Professor and the Scottish Referendum: Did they lean on my publisher to suppress my book?
I know, that sounds crazy…..or does it? Am I paranoid? Not really. Ask my wife or any of my colleagues. They’d say I’m the opposite – regularly exploited without noticing, by manipulative psychopaths, or students as I like to call them.
The first draft of my book (see below for free download) was submitted to Welsh Academic Press in late December 2014. It’s still not in print. Some of my Yes Campaign affiliates say – ‘they’ve been got at!’
I’m not sure. I tend to favour the cock-up over the conspiracy theory. Maybe the editor’s mid-life crisis coincided with my book? When he (called in August 2014 to suggest I write the book, he sounded really keen. He said he’d been in Scotland supporting the Yes campaign. I never saw him, did you? I signed a no advance contract and got to work. My video, ‘The Bigger the Lie’ was to exceed 100 000 views by Christmas, so I thought there would be a market for the book -
I submitted a full draft in late December 2014. Then we began two months of modifications, by me, in response to requests from the editor, followed then by long periods of silence. Critically, I thought, there was no sign of advance marketing, even on the WAP website. There’s still nothing now. In the period from January to March, I made some changes as requested. Then there was silence. I sent a stroppy reminder and was rewarded with an assurance that he hadn’t forgotten me but had been too busy in his role as a School governor and tourist. Since then, I’ve sent two further short emails asking for progress, no reply.
Here’s a possibility – the draft ‘needed a lot of work.’ It was kind of crap. Now I’m not vain about my writing style. I’ve said before, I’m a bean counter with a touch of Asperger’s
charm who has to write stuff.
So the WAP editor thinks the book is crap, can’t bear to hurt my feelings and hopes I’ll just lose interest? One day, just after I hand in notice of my retirement, I thought ‘Dash it all chaps why don’t I just give it away for nought and join Paul Mason’s post-capitalist sharing society?’ So, I did. Hardly anybody has downloaded it so far. Maybe Open Democracy can increase the number. I don’t know if it was suppressed but it was definitely delayed well beyond the peak of audience interest. Here’s the blurb for the book:
‘Professor John Robertson, of University of the West of Scotland, provides a detailed account of the role the Scottish and UK media played in the Scottish Referendum Campaign. The book is based on his own research, which triggered a heated dispute with BBC Scotland, a summons to the Scottish Parliament and a storm of debate in social media. It also presents research by other academics and gives explanations for the findings from prominent theorists such as Noam Chomsky. Originally contracted to Welsh Academic Press in September 2014, the book is now released into the public domain after several infuriating delays and barriers of an inexplicable nature. This account of media bias in the coverage of the Scottish Referendum campaign goes beyond more journalistic impressions, from practitioners within the industry, to explain why it was so. It does this by revealing the true nature of influences on our media which are the result of unequal access to education and the interlocking of the resultant elites in finance, in ownership, in commercial directorships, in media directorships, in senior post-holders in journalism, in university leadership including professors, and, uniquely in Scotland, in the elites leading the Scottish and UK Labour parties.’A pdf of the book can be downloaded HERE. It is 170 pages long so take care with printing. I understand pdf format is Kindle-friendly.
Did MI5 get at my publisher to slow things down? I know it may just be a cock-up. Am I important enough to suppress – NO says Mrs Professor. Either way, pass it round. Change errors and typos yourself.
Professor John Robertson, Ayr, August 26th 2015