Friday, 12 March 2010

Newsnet Scotland launches new site

The Newsnet Scotland website is currently showing a message informing readers of a breach of security and the site is apparently being moved to a new .net domain. This message is misleading and I would urge regular visitors to Newsnet Scotland to continue to visit the site at the .com address.

All the very best from Online Ed.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Brian's Angry Debate

On Friday 6th March just after the 1:00 PM news Radio Scotland broadcast it's weekly 'Brian's Big Debate' programme, a news and current affairs debate show.  The programme featured Roseanna Cunningham for the SNP, Murdo Fraser for the Conservatives, Alistair Carmichael for the Lib Dems and Michael Connarty for Labour - Magnus Linklater of The Times was also present.

One section of the show featured a question from an audience member that asked:
Has the SNP been unfairly excluded from the forthcoming TV general election debates?

Below is a transcript of what followed when Roseanna Cunningham (RC) tried to answer the question:
BT is the shows host BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor.

RC: "Well yes; and I.."

BT - attempts to interrupt but is prevented as RC continues to answer

RC: "..actually think the vast majority of people in all political parties know that that's the answer, they're not going to admit it because actually this proposal benefits them and it's the way of politicians and politics, eh, never to give away what they think is their own advantage. But the truth of the matter is actually it's democracy that is let down by this decision and I'm sorry that the BBC has got itself into this mess ..."

BT interrupts ... "and SKY" ... he talks over RC ... "and ITV"

RC: "... well no actually we've had many ..."

BT interrupts louder, the tone is of a mocking rebuke... "and SKY" ... "and ITV"...

RC tries to continue: "... We're having ..."

BT simply talks over RC ... "there are three debates"

Some panel members and parts of the audience take this as a cue and start laughing

RC tries to keep the flow of her answer: ... "... We are having very productive discussions with SKY, which is ... which is more than could be said ..."

BT interrupts, talking over RC, this time the tone is confrontational as he abruptly barks: "which resulted in what !! ?"

RC: "Well you'll, you'll be told when the time is right."

Some audience members are clearly enjoying the hectoring of RC and begin laughing again

RC continues: "... Which is more than can be said for the BBC ..."

RC tries to continue but is simply taked over by BT who has decided rather than allow RC to answer his
question that he will answer it himself.
BT: "It resulted in a 90 minute programme going out on SKY exactly the same as the BBC"

RC is now forced to have an argument with the supposedly impartial BT whilst at the same time give her answer to the original question posed by the audience member.

RC tries to continue: "Brian, I realise that you want to pursue the party line on this ... from the BBC"

BT again interrupts: "Well, no, no - I'm just, I'm just pointing out that there are three 90 minute debates and that's all I'm pointing out"

RC tries to continue her answer: "But the truth of the matter is that the BBC didn't even have the courtesy to
discuss this with the SNP in the first place"

RC: "Now we're going to have three debates, one will be on what are effectively domestic issues and most of that will involve devolved areas of responsibility and the debate will have little relevance to Scotland. The other one will be about economy about half of which will be relevant to Scotland but unless they are going to blank out the bits that are not relevant to Scotland ..."

BT angrily interrupts again and completely talks over RC: "The economy bits are on ITV, the domestic ones are on SKY; it's nothing to do with the BBC Roseanna that, that really is wrong" ... he is showing signs of frustration and a little anger.

RC tries to continue: "... or strap line saying that ..."

RC tries to forcibly continue her answer: "We are, we are, we are ..."

BT interrupts again - this time to correct his previous incorrect interruption: "I beg your pardon, the economy one's on the Beeb ..." the rest of BT's statement is unintelligable due to both he and RC trying to speak.

RC continues: "... we are in the question now of democracy and I think everybody knows it but nobody wants to say it because as long as they benefit from that manipulation they'll keep their mouths shut.

BT: "Thanks for that - "
some members of the audience burst into applause, cheering can be heard

BT flippantly: "Enthusiastic applause and even a little cheer there - well done"

Michael Connarty then starts speaking ...

Brian Taylor overstepped the mark by deciding to ditch impartiality and allow his own opinions to overrule his professionalism.  That on at least one occasion he was wrong simply compels his error of judgement. He did not employ devils advocate but rather became a de-facto member of the panel and continually hectored and interrupted Roseanna Cunningham as she tried to answer a question.

It is clear that Brian Taylor thought that the BBC were being singled out by Roseanna Cunningham but it was wholely wrong for Brian Taylor to effectively abuse his position as a BBC employee in order to involve himself in the debate.

Roseanna Cunningham was not allowed to finish sentences and was routinely spoken over by Taylor, this had the effect of diminishing the points that she was trying to make.

Moreover Taylors opinions were at times subjective and he may well have influenced many undecided voters or listeners by his repeated interjections.

You can listen to the show by clicking HERE, the part in question starts at 24 mins 40 secs in.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Murphy’s ‘British nationalisms’ are outdated

In an extraordinary attack on Labour’s Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy the leader of Scotland’s Episcopal Church has called the Labour MP's attempts at trying to introduce religion into the forthcoming general election campaign as “flatfooted” and “regressive”.

The Right Rev David Chillingworth accused Murphy of doing a “grave disservice” to religion by trying to “shrinkwrap” it to suit Labour’s manifesto.

Rev Chillingworth went on to say of Labour: “They are regressive, inviting us to revisit outdated nationalisms, to pursue those whom we deem to be work-shy, to close our borders to the poor of the world on the basis of a ‘firm and fair’ immigration policy.”

The attack follows Mr Murphy’s recent public comments on immigration where he attacked those who were soft on immigration and stated that dawn raids were “unavoidable”. Murphy also suggested that the public ought to inform on those they suspected of being benefit cheats, with rewards being offered in return for such clandestine snooping.

However it was Murphy’s clumsy attempt at harvesting the votes of religious groups that has brought the most serious condemnation. The Rev Chillingsworth’s remarks follow those from Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of Scotland’s Catholics, who accused the Labour party of pursuing “a systematic and unrelenting attack on family values” during its time in power.

The ‘outdated nationalisms’ attack is particularly embarrassing for Murphy who has spent that last few months engaged in a one man campaign against the British National Party, a campaign that some have suggested owes more to the significant Jewish community within Murphy’s constituency than any real threat posed by the BNP.

Indeed some of Murphy’s recent statements on immigrants have been eerily similar to those from the far right. Murphy spoke about the system being abused or "queue-jumping" in the welfare state; he also insisted that there was “the need for new immigrants to accept core British values” and added: “It's in no-one's interest if new immigrants can't speak the world's most popular language when they come to live here.”

One wonders if Mr Murphy’s own family endured similar conditions when they emigrated to South Africa when it was still under the apartheid regime. In that instance the roles may well have been reversed with many of the indigenous non white South Africans having to adhere to and endure such a draconian system.

It remains to be seen what cumulative effect Murphy’s attempts at manipulating immigration and religion for political ends will have on the voting intentions amongst his religiously diverse constituents.

Funny though that the press have appeared reluctant to headline these attacks and to pursue Mr Murphy over his very clear error of judgement (remember those?) with regards to religion.

Oh, and while we're on Mr Murphy this ministerial statement from 23rd February was brought to our attention:
Subject to Parliamentary approval of the necessary Supplementary Estimates, the Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL) provision for the administration of the Scotland Office will be increased by £1,200,000.
Seems that Scots (unlike the Welsh) are to be denied a referendum on their constitutional future because according to Labour it is a waste of money - meanwhile the Scotland Office are happy to spend the equivalent of the cost of a referendum every single year.  This follows on from the revelations in Newsnet Scotland over Jim Murphy's fondness for self promotion.

If you really want a laugh then you simply must take a look at this article from The Daily Record CLICK HERE.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Cooking up a story – but no-one’s swallowing it.

Most of you by now will be aware that Alex Salmond has suspended plans to have lunch in the Holyrood restaurant with guests who had donated funds to the SNP. The donations were made at a fundraising dinner held in a Glasgow restaurant by Scottish Asians for Independence.

Politicians have for decades been dining with donors, supporters and of course lobbyists in canteens and restaurants at both Holyrood and Westminster.

However the fact that Mr Salmond’s lunch guests had been determined through a mock auction at the Glasgow fundraiser led to headlines in The Herald newspaper on Friday along the lines of ‘Holyrood lunches for sale’.

The gist of the article was that this was tantamount to the auctioning of parliamentary resources and might break Holyrood rules because the lunch would take place in the Holyrood restaurant.

The SNP had made no attempt to hide the lunches for the simple fact that they broke no rules – MSP’s are entitled to dine with donors of their party at the Holyrood restaurant. Indeed the SNP later explained that they had held other fundraising events that offered the same opportunity for donors to have lunch with Mr Salmond.

However by Sunday the attack had changed from the Holyrood restaurant venue to a charge of ‘cash for access’. Quite amazingly the SNP were now being accused of selling access to ministers. Quite how having lunch in the Holyrood restaurant with Asian independence supporters who would have donated anyway is selling ministerial access is not explained – access to do what exactly, Alex Salmond doesn’t need to be persuaded of the merits of independence?

Both the Unionist opposition and The Herald appeared unsure on what attack to go with, do they run with ‘restaurant venue’ or is it ‘ministerial access’.... more on The Herald later.

Anyway, back to the new improved charge of ‘cash for access’; Labour’s Iain Gray suggested that The Herald article amounted to:
“extremely serious allegations over the systematic abuse of the First Minister’s office.”

So, a fundraising event with auctions that offer donors time with ministers is a “serious allegation” and having done it more than once is “systematic abuse”.

Iain Gray will surely have checked to make sure that Labour have never indulged in such behaviour themselves - won’t he?

Well Newsnet Scotland decided to have a quick look into Labour and auctions and we find that Mr Gray has just lunched, sorry launched a very large stone in a fragile glass house.

Newsnet Scotland has discovered that Labour have themselves auctioned off time with prominent MP’s in order to raise funds.

Former PM Tony Blair, deputy PM John Prescott, former spin doctor Alistair Campbell and current cabinet minister Nick Brown have all been offered up at auction to the highest bidder.

At a fundraising event in 2008 Labour held an auction where bids were invited for the chance to play tennis with Tony Blair; have John Prescott as your personal waiter or even dine with Alistair Campbell.

At the Labour conference in Brighton in September last year the BBC reported that Labour held a fundraising auction where the highest bidder was offered tea for two with minister Nick Brown.

There’s more questionable fundraising though:
  • This year the chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union has apologised for using WRU e-mail to organise a £1,000-a-plate pre-election fundraising event for Welsh Labour.
  • In 2006 Cherie Blair signed a copy of the Hutton Report into the weapons inspector's David Kelly’s death, which was then auctioned off to raise money for the party.
  • In 2007 a convicted rapist, said to have paid £10,000 for a table, was invited to a star-studded party fund raiser held by Gordon Brown – Brown later directed that no money should be accepted.
  • And of course we have the revelations that East Lothian council have for years been providing the local Labour party free use of council resources for their annual fundraising barbecue.
So, does Iain Gray condone this “systematic abuse” – we will have to wait and see.

However, what of The Herald?

Well, at the time of writing The Herald have produced an incredible nine articles thus far on a lunch that never happened. They have come in for no small amount of criticism over this and even went as far as to publish in their editorial a defence of their running of this story. This was a remarkable acknowledgement of the criticism the newspaper has received recently over their perceived adoption of an anti-SNP stance.

Their editorial contained the following paragraph:
“This is a very serious issue and The Herald will pursue it rigorously until it is resolved satisfactorily. Our doggedness has prompted accusations in Nationalist circles that we are anti-SNP. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are an independent newspaper that scrutinises each party on its record in a disinterested way. A party that is in government comes under the greatest scrutiny because it holds the levers of power and is held to account because voters have put their trust in it to act on their behalf.”

Leaving aside the The Herald’s subjective claim that this is a serious issue they make a very misleading statement regarding accusations of partisan reporting.

It is not, and never has been The Heralds ‘doggedness’ on an issue that has led to very public and growing accusations of a drop in standards. It is what many perceive to be evidence of a manipulation of some news items whilst at the same time the suppressing or failing to provide prominence to other items.

One of the nine articles is penned by Tom Gordon and is headlined:
'going, going, gone ... inside the SNP’s ‘lunchgate’ auction.'

The article uses some quite disgraceful terms to describe the Indian restaurants location, the meal, the FM and deputy FM. Light hearted chat amongst guests is quoted as though inappropriate and jokes are quoted as though serious statements.

Pejorative terms are used in order to paint a less than flattering image of those who attended; in short the article is a clear attempt at cheapening both the event participants and the event itself.

The FM and deputy FM are described as not being there for “the £6.95 curry”, we are told about the SNP candidate Osama Saeed’s “struggling campaign”. The Labour candidate is described as being “Blessed with his father’s charm” and “campaigning full-time for months”.

The event is described as a “tawdry hustling for cash”, we are told that “Salmond was seen handling a cheque for £500.” And that auctioneer Yousaf’s “patter wasn’t subtle” (unlike The Herald campaign eh?).

Quality journalism it is not and one is left thinking about the Herald’s own editorial line that said “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

However, what of claims that The Herald is anti-SNP and that this is in fact a well timed and orchestrated campaign to deflect the public’s gaze from Labour’s expenses woes.

Well, the lunch story might actually be a very good opportunity to demonstrate what people are talking about.

Well before the announcement on Thursday 4th Feb that Scottish Labour MP Jim Devine was one of three Labour politicians to be charged over the expenses scandal, many nationalists had openly predicted that if such charges came to pass, then a story would surface in the Scottish media that would serve to deflect public attention away from this very, very bad news for Labour.

Unlike the David Marshall £500,000 expenses story that the media in Scotland had effectively buried, this story was national. The English press and London media coverage meant that it would have to be reported in Scotland - and prominently at that.

The only way to mitigate the damage to Labour would be for another story to emerge, one that would enable the SNP to be presented in an equally bad light – were these forecasts accurate?

Well, let’s assume [for the sake of argument] that The Herald does not have an agenda – it has one goal only and that is a desire to increase circulation. The Jim Devine story was a present from heaven for such a paper, a Scottish MP charged over expenses meant that the front page was taken care of for days.

Moreover, Devine’s dramatic interview on Channel Four news was not just icing on this metaphorical cake but actually served up another huge story with the allegations that a senior Labour whip had advised Devine to submit the expenses claim in the way he did – who was the whip? and what did senior Labour ministers know? [English media are running with this as I write].

Any Scottish editor should have been rubbing his hands with glee; here was material to run some huge banner headlines for a full week. Remember the circulation surge experienced by The Telegraph when it decided to expose the expenses goings on – well here was the Scottish angle, ripe for harvesting.

A relatively small story about a fundraising auction and lunch in the Holyrood restaurant could have been shelved for at least the weekend, to run it risked diluting the bigger story and losing impact – there was also the danger that the lunch ‘scoop’ impact would be lost.

What The Herald therefore did was bizarre in the extreme and makes almost no business sense whatsoever.

They effectively killed the larger more dynamic Devine story in Scotland by running a lunch story. In doing so, they simultaneously alienated even more potential and former readers who may have actually returned to the paper.

So, what possible explanation can there be for what seems like one of the worst editorial and business decisions ever.

If we rule out what looks like gross editorial ineptitude then the only possible explanation is that the decision was meant to kill the Devine story … and it worked.

It will be interesting to find out what the decision has done to The Herald’s lamentable circulation figures.

The sanctimonious editorial contained the line:
“A party that is in government comes under the greatest scrutiny because it holds the levers of power”

Yes, that is why Newsnet Scotland will be scrutinising just such a party as we approach the general election. The Scottish media’s continued assault on reason will do more to harm democracy than to preserve it.

The Herald was the best daily newspaper in Scotland by a country mile in April 2007 – it’s rapid descent this last couple of years is the saddest aspect of the overall decline in Scottish journalism.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

And the Oscar goes to ... Jim Murphy

In the classic movie ‘On The Waterfront’ Marlon Brando’s character utters the immortal line “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody”

Brando’s character was lamenting the fact that he’d thrown away the chance to pit himself against the best, the chance to prove himself.

Last week (Jan 28th) saw quite the most bizarre Newsnight Scotland I can recall for some time.

The programme featured a studio adorned with a huge image of First Minister Alex Salmond and Secretary of Scotland and Labour MP Jim Murphy. Three studio guests were present: Lorraine Davidson a political journalist who worked as a press officer for the Scottish Labour party in 1999, Professor John Curtice a voting expert and President of the British Polling Council and journalist Iain MacWhirter.

I thought that viewers were about to witness an informed debate on matters constitutional and perhaps an insight into general electoral strategies and how they might impact on support for each party – I was wrong.

What followed was perhaps the most blatant promotional broadcast for an MP one has ever witnessed.

The programme starts off by talking about the post of Secretary of State ...... then pretty much descends into a quite nauseating display of sycophancy and adoration as one after another the guests heap praise on the Labour MP, turning only momentarily to heap scorn on the SNP.

Following Brewers intro is a ‘eulogy’ by Derek Bateman who explains how Murphy has “given opponents and the media the run-around” and very helpfully lists some of Murphy’s and The Scotland offices anti-SNP press releases, devolution dividend, bank bale out etc.

Talking heads appear in quick succession to tell us how clever Murphy is and to explain his election strategy. David Torrance (former parliamentary aide to David Mundell MP) and Angus Macleod of The Times both explain how Murphy is taking on the SNP, both also make references to Murphy’s claim regarding generous spending for Scotland.

Macleod suggests that Murphy has tried to end the conflicts between the SNP and Labour at Westminster then hilariously adds that Murphy has at times tried to “cuddle up to the Scottish government”.

Macleod has obviously been asleep when Murphy has been making his now regular press statements attacking the SNP and independence or when he displayed appallingly ignorant behaviour towards Pete Wishart at the recent Scottish Affairs committee at Westminster.

Anyway, the programme continued with Bateman gushing about Murphy’s instinct for survival and how such a characteristic is a prerequisite for leadership. Bateman explains how Murphy is a target for the Tories at the next election, he also explains to the viewer that one of Murphy’s ‘strengths’ is conciliation and the viewer is presented with some images of Murphy attending a Scottish cabinet meeting where the edit appears to show Murphy speaking, with Salmond and the rest of the cabinet listening intently – some serious music adds a bit of gravitas.

In case we hadn’t yet got the message David Torrance helps us out by saying:
“He’s by far the best post devolution Scottish Secretary, the others pale by comparison”.

“Murphy has made a really good fist of this job, he’s taken on the SNP but not appeared too aggressive.”

“He’s shown that the stand alone post of Scottish Secretary in the cabinet can still I suppose be Scotland’s man in the cabinet and not the other way around”

No evidence is offered to back up, what in our view are, some palpably ridiculous claims. The eulogising and glorification of Jim Murphy is one thing but even the most rabid Labour supporter would surely baulk at suggesting that Jim Murphy is anything other than London Labour’s man in Scotland.

By now the programme is beyond parody as Bateman tells us that Murphy is responsible for the Glenrothes by-election and that he may have wrong footed the SNP. Angus Macleod tells us that Murphy has “given the SNP a problem”. There then follows another unintentionally hilarious comment when Macleod says – with a straight face that:

“They [SNP] were so used to being under constant attack from labour’s Scottish Secretary’s that they now have this guy who’s saying that I accept that you’re in control of Scotland and all I want to do is help you govern Scotland better and the SNP don’t quite know how to handle that.”

The eulogy ends with Murphy striding towards camera and some more serious music lending a bit of gravitas.

Back in the studio professor John Curtice has the decency to look a bit embarrassed about what he has just watched. He does though inform the viewer that the SNP will not pose much of a threat to Labour in the forthcoming General Election.

MacWhirter tells us that Jim Murphy has been impressive and has brought to an end a period of “nationalist triumphalism”. He also ‘reliably’ informs us that the Calman commission was a “significant moment” that Murphy’s attempt at expanding devolution was “handled well” and that he didn’t “muff it”.

MacWhirter has clearly forgetting the anger at Holyrood over Labour's refusal to transfer powers immeduately to the Scottish parliament where there was agreement. He also fails to mention Holyrood voting for an immediate transfer of those powers for which there was support and Murphy and Labour continuing to ignore them.

Lorraine Davidson explains the strategy of ‘ignoring the SNP’ in the general election campaign and again very helpfully explains that this is because an SNP vote is a wasted vote. It’s worked well in the past says Lorraine and would you believe it she tells us that it will work even better in this election, the Labour vote will hold up because Scotland is anti Tory.

The programme continues in this quite astonishing vein – remember that we are compelled to pay for this via the licence fee and we are supposed to be receiving partial, objective reporting – what we are witnessing is unbelievable.

12 minutes into the programme and Brewer eventually asks about the SNP’s tactics. However the comments do not follow the same pattern for Murphy’s promo video.

There is no explanation of the rise of the SNP or what its election strategy might be – none of the praise heaped on Murphy is provided for the any SNP politicians. Instead we are treated to pretty much a Labour inspired stream of ‘reasons’ why the SNP are irrelevant in Westminster elections. They are simply mocked and ridiculed with Lorraine Davidson asserting that the referendum bill isn’t significant as: "it won’t get passed anyway" and adding “who cares”.

The picture painted of the SNP is of a party in turmoil, with no strategy led by Alex Salmond whose utterances are harming the party.

Professor John Curtice then states that on the recent Nuffield report: “They [SNP] didn’t come out particularly well out of the argument”.

The Nuffield report, or rather the misinformation contained within and eagerly snapped up by the Scottish media, has been dealt with by this Newsnet Scotland blog – indeed in the next issue of Newsnet Scotland we will be covering the communications between the Scottish government and the Nuffield prior to the reports publication.

To say though that the SNP did not come out well is to twist the truth upside down. The Nuffield has already been forced to admit that statistics forming the basis of conclusions were wrong. The SNP pointed out that their data was out of date – and that the report itself did not consider quality of care.

Iain MacWhirter then launches into a speech that any Labour politician would have been proud to deliver himself. The Scottish parliament is described as lacking excitement, Scottish politics is the quietest he can remember, SNP plans are in the doldrums, independence is “not going to happen” and “people are not really thinking about tinkering with the constitution right now”.

Let’s stop for a moment and take a look at MacWhirter’s claims. To say that there has been no excitement at Holyrood is again laughable. We have seen Unionists pushing and shoving one another over the Calman report. Iain Gray is being soundly thrashed by Alex Salmond each and every week at Holyrood and Salmond’s popularity remains very high.

The politicisation of the Megrahi release saw Holyrood exposed to the world as never before. The Unionists and the media tried to use it in order to destabilise the SNP government but failed. The European elections saw the SNP trounce Labour for the first time ever – more recently the budget negotiations were underway and the SNP at that time looked well on track to have it passed and see out their term in office, the independence bill is about to be published.

So boring is the Scottish political scene that the media are throwing everything they can at the SNP, we are told that education is falling apart schools are falling down, criminals are escaping and running wild and that the SNP discriminates against Glasgow. Even appalling behaviour on the part of Unionists, when they abused Margo Macdonald’s terminal illness bill, is ignored by many in the Scottish media in favour of contrived stories and Labour press releases.

It’s possible that what MacWhirter recognises these planted stories and what he describes as boring is evidence of a government in control and governing reasonably well in contrast to the shambolic efforts from Gordon Brown.

Also let’s look at the assertion from MacWhirter where he says that people are not interested in changing the constitution and thus the SNP momentum has stalled.

Remember earlier when praising Jim Murphy MacWhirter alluded to the extra powers proposed by Labour and cited it as further evidence that Jim Murphy had got things right.

Yet, MacWhirter completely switches his stance when it come to the SNP. Apparently no-one is interested in more powers and the next stage of independence is not going to happen.

Either more powers is a strategic master stroke or there is no interest in them – it cannot be both Iain.

So, 12 minutes devoted [a more apt word it is difficult to find] to Jim Murphy and telling everyone how clever he is whilst 6 minutes are spent traducing the SNP.

“I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody”
Said Marlon Brando’s character.

Even the punch drunk bum that Brando played realised that you cannot be considered great until you have been tested. We do not know if Jim Murphy is what the BBC has portrayed him to be until Jim has been tested.

The irony is that the institution charged with carrying out this task is the media – however they have systematically refused to scrutinise Jim Murphy since he became Scottish Secretary, no hard TV interviews no headlines when he blunders – nothing.

His false claims over the Dunfermline Building Society are ignored, his diplomatic blunder when he caused outrage when describing Ireland, Iceland and Norway as an ‘arc of insolvency’ was also suppressed.

Murphy and The Scotland office issue press release after press release, many of which are no more than contrived propaganda using highly questionable figures in order to attack Scotland’s fiscal potential and or the SNP.

Loading a BBC programme with Unionist politicians and the like is no substitute for reasoned and informed debate and proves nothing about the relative merits of either Salmond or Murphy - we licence payers deserve better.

Is Murphy a contender, can he be somebody or is he just another British Unionist Mp given an easy ride by a compliant media?

Who can say, but if a political Oscar does indeed go to Jim Murphy then in his acceptance speech he will surely thank the Scottish media and BBC Scotland for all of their support ....

Friday, 22 January 2010

A look back in anger !!

It’s been quite a week for political news coverage in Scotland; Buckfast, Maldives the NHS and Balmoral - all featured this week in the Scottish main stream media.

However, what of balance, factual accuracy, objectivity and informed analysis?

Let’s take a look shall we ....................

Monday 18th Jan: BBC - ‘British Buckfast Corporation’

BBC Scotland brought us the investigative gem called ‘The Buckfast Code’. This particular broadcasting low point featured the infamous North Lanarkshire aperitif in all of its glory and was trailed by the BBC as though they had unearthed the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant.

The story was deemed so important that pretty much the entire Scottish media gave it the VIP treatment with prominent banner headlines suggesting that the brew was the ‘devils potion’ and that imbibing it begat a demonic possession resulting in the possessed ‘ned’ becoming a bottle wielding threat to society..

Of course the problems of anti-social behaviour are all too serious for those unfortunate enough to suffer at the hands of such unruly youths and life must be close to intolerable for many. However why BBC Scotland sought to spend valuable resources on a drink pretty much confined to areas of North Lanarkshire and Ayr was never fully explained.

The story was rather fortuitous for one party though; the Labour party, who had until then been battered by wave after wave of criticism on the sea of the ‘minimum pricing’ debate. Indeed Labour’s English Health Secretary Andy Burnham caused further problems for Labour in Scotland when he endorsed minimum pricing as a means of combating England’s alcohol related health problems.

So, when BBC Scotland decided to highlight this particular alcoholic beverage, Labour MSP Richard Baker wasted no time and quickly grabbed the metaphorical ‘Bucky Bottle’ and used it to launch an attack on a sensible Scottish government policy.

Buckfast was of course the very product that Labour had previously used in order to justify refusing to back minimum pricing for alcohol – they pointed out that its price would not be affected by the policy. So the BBC decision to spend taxpayers money ‘investigating’ the same product was fantastic good fortune and of course purely coincidental.

Minimum pricing of course is not about Buckfast drinking neds, nor any other anti-social louts but is in fact about the health of the nation and has the support of health professionals and the police.

Anyway, the state broadcaster’s ill timed intervention has muddied the waters of this particular debate and instead of informing the Scottish electorate it has in fact merely served to confuse them.

Exclusive Update - 23rd January:
Newsnet Scotland can reveal that due to the UK exposure given to this programme the French have got wind of it and, as their grapes and brandy are essential ingredients, they are angry that 'the Scots' appear to be claiming their products cause violence and anti-social behaviour. There may be repercussions as a result of BBC Scotland's clumsy and perplexing decision to target Buckfast in the way that they did.  Newsnet Scotland will publish more information in due course.

Tuesday 19th - ♫ Press release me - let me go, for I don’t read you anymore ♫

At last month’s Copenhagen summit on climate change the First Minister signed a treaty with Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed. An essentially symbolic gesture that helped highlight the problems faced by the islands as a result of climate change and rising sea levels. It also drew international attention to the ambitious green targets set by the Scottish government, targets that drew plaudits from many international observers.

In a response to a freedom of information request by Labour MSP George Foulkes it was confirmed that the First Minister now hopes to visit the islands as part of his scheduled visit to Delhi where he will attend the Commonwealth games.

The Maldives visit will allow the First Minister to consolidate the treaty and help build relations with the tiny group of islands whilst also using it as a platform in order to highlight Scotland’s growing reputation as the place to be for those seeking to invest in renewable energy; promoting Scotland is something that Alex Salmond is never slow in doing.

Now national leaders and heads of state frequently make visits to foreign countries, indeed there is very often a mutual benefit for both sides and in this case the potential to use the visit in order to promote Scotland’s renewable industry is obvious.

However Tuesday January 19th saw The Scotsman, The Herald and The Daily Record all producing articles attacking Scotland’s First Minister for this apparent heinous crime.

So, how is it that all three of our newspapers can have placed the same bizarre ‘Salmond Under Fire’ interpretation on what is a pretty mundane story that might even offer a small opportunity to benefit Scotland?

The Press Releases:
Press releases are the life blood of the [lazy] political reporter and the scourge of democracy.

These political statements are very often facts that have been doctored and twisted into a grotesque caricature to be circulated amongst the ‘hack dealers’ of the press who then lace the already ‘doctored’ story with their own peculiar ‘ingredients’.

By the time it reaches the ‘client’ [us] the original facts are often distorted to the extent that they are no longer recognisable and the story is reduced to no more than a bile laden vindictive poison pen letter. Well worn terms and clich├ęs are wheeled out as we are told that there is ‘fury’ over something or other and that the subject of the article has ‘suffered a blow’ or is ‘under fire’.

Is that what happened with the Maldives story?

Well the fact that all three newspaper articles contain identical sentences and paragraphs does indeed imply such an occurrence. Descriptive passages of narrative are repeated word for word in all three newspaper articles:

For example all three contained this:
“The First Minister wants to call in at the islands in the Indian Ocean on his way to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.”

... and this:
“Officials stressed that Scottish expertise in renewable energy could be harnessed and promoted across the world through the link.”

... then this
“Last month Mr Salmond signed an agreement with the republic's president”
“on how Scotland can help the low-lying islands cope with rising seas, blamed on climate change.”

... and finally this:
“The travel plan was revealed following written parliamentary questions from Labour backbencher George Foulkes.”

There were more similarities of course but by now I’m sure you now get the drift.

So, the evidence suggests that a straightforward visit by the FM has been manipulated by an unknown source for political purposes and then circulated to Scottish newspapers who very obligingly have printed it in the form of a prominent article whilst adding their own particular brand of pejorative terms and phrases – the visit became a ‘jaunt’ in one newspaper.

This week saw yearly circulation figures released that showed just how perilous a state some Scottish titles are in. One wonders if they have any respect at all for the intellect of their readership given the quality of some of their ‘articles’.

Wednesday 20th – ‘Time’ travel sickness

Imagine picking up a copy of The Scotsman and seeing a headline that proclaimed ‘Banking industry continues to thrive’ or The Herald running with ‘Brown vows no more boom and bust’ or even The Daily Record stating ‘Holyrood 2007 - Labour ahead in poll’.

You would wonder if these papers had taken leave of their senses or if you had wondered through a time warp and arrived in 2006. Of course such headlines would be ridiculous, no one would cite something from three years ago and present it as the situation today.

Well no one that is with the exception of independent charity The Nuffield Trust who did exactly that when they produced a report using out of date data collected around three years ago and came to conclusions on today’s NHS in Scotland.

The ‘report’ was subsequently ‘seized on’ [couldn’t resist that !!] by every Scottish newspaper and trumpeted by the ever ‘impartial’ BBC Scotland.

Reports in Scotland are commonplace, there is nary a week goes by without one or other report making it onto the front pages of our newspapers. Mostly they are put together by well meaning professional organisations, often they are used by political parties in order to justify a policy or political stance, all quite proper and understandable.

However, the manner in which this scathing report was accepted at face value by the whole of the Scottish main stream media suggests that they are totally indifferent to the integrity of the conclusions the report makes and by extension shamefully unaware of its shortcomings.

As we have already stated, this report used data that was some three years out of date – it covered the term when Labour and the Lib Dems formed the Scottish administration. To present a 2006/7 snapshot of the Scottish NHS and presenting the ‘image’ as today’s Scottish NHS is simply incredible.

In a radio broadcast on Radio Scotland that evening a spokeswoman for the trust stated that she would be “very surprised” if the trends identified in 2006/7 had not continued to the present day. That statement alone is jaw dropping in its admission; it suggests that those behind the report have simply assumed that everything is still as it was three years ago. Had they not heard that Labour and the Lib Dem administration in charge when their report data was compiled were no longer the government?

However, it turns out that the Scottish NHS isn’t actually as bad as is being presented. Indeed if one were being honest then the NHS in England has some very serious problems and they are getting worse as the rush to privatisation continues amid the obsession with administrative targets.

Even more damning was the revelation that staffing figures used by the report were flawed. Apparently the staff levels for Scotland includes dentistry, an area which the English figures do not include. Also at First Ministers Questions on Thursday the First Minister revealed that the figures for the Scottish NHS claimed by the report were off by a staggering 27%.

To say this report isn’t worth the paper it is written on is a breathtaking understatement. However don’t just take Newsnet Scotland’s word for this - I recommend reading the following letter sent to The Herald in order to fully appreciate the remarkable failings of this report.

The letter is entitled 'NHS report makes unhealthy points'.
Click Here For Letter ..... then scroll down.

Surely the Scottish main stream media – especially the BBC – would have noticed that the report was based on data that was three years old. They should surely have checked the veracity of the figures with the Scottish government before letting loose with the headlines that we eventually saw – every one of them presenting a three year old snapshot that itself was based on very badly flawed data.

The report writers even think that the Scottish NHS is answerable to the UK Treasury – bewildering ineptitude.

There is one area that has indeed deteriorated this last three years – the Scottish press.

You can also listen to Prof Alyson Black of the Centre for International Health Care, Edinburgh University as she discusses the report by clicking here. Fast forward to 1hr and 17 mins. The recording will be available until 27th January.

Update - 24th January:
The Nuffield Trust has admitted using incorrect data in their report - Click Here. (Thanks to the Newsnet Scotland reader who drew this to our attention.)

They were informed of this by the Scottish government on the 19th January, the day before the report was published.

How odd that when interviewed by Radio 4's Today programme on 20 January, Ms Dixon, the trust's director, felt unable to confide any doubts on the topic.

Thursday 21st – 'Up the garden path'

So to First Ministers Questions and arguably one of the most cringeworthy and disconcerting performances from Labour’s Iain Gray.

Cringeworthy due to the refusal of Gray to move away from the subject when it was clear that the First Minister had demonstrated the issue raised by Gray been handled according to proper procedure.

Disconcerting as it became evident that someone had leaked confidential communications between the Scottish government and Westminster and had possibly compromise the security of the royal family.

The Scottish government called for an inquiry into the leaking of the information.

Rather than give yet another run down of the accusations and claims emanating from Labour in Scotland we have decided this time to simply provide a link to the actual FMQ session itself and thereby allow the reader to witness for themselves what transpired.

After having done so then a quick perusal of the Scottish press will provide the opportunity to determine the accuracy or otherwise of our journalists.

To watch First Ministers Questions then click Here

After watching the exchanges then I urge you to read the following press reports to check for accuracy:

The Herald

The Scotsman

The Press & Journal

The Record

Monday, 4 January 2010

It’s snowing – but is it lying?

It seems that every few years, humanity is warned by doom-and-gloom merchants that a planetary alignment will take place in the near future and cause chaos on Earth.

Of course, it is not astronomers that give these warnings, but instead, zealots (cults, psychics and assorted charlatans) who have very limited knowledge of the night sky or the solar system in general and who may have another agenda entirely.

In Scotland we experienced just such a perfect alignment on 4th January this year when not planets but the four main Scottish news outlets aligned themselves perfectly and predicted chaos, doom and the end of civilisation .............. in Scotland.

The cause of this imminent disaster was an apparent lack of grit with which to treat our roads and pavements.

The four main news outlets were perfectly synchronised and ran with the following headlines:
  • The Herald (Safety fears as drivers warned salt running out)
  • The Scotsman (Scotland 'risks running out of road salt' amid Arctic fortnight)
  • The BBC (Road grit levels 'critically low')
  • The Record (Scotland faces grit panic as cold weather supplies run low)
So, what was it that led to this prediction of disaster for our road networks?

Well, Fife council had apparently been let down by suppliers and had called on the assistance of the Scottish Government in order to acquire emergency stocks of grit and salt. The council had complained that the supplier who delivered less of the rough stuff than the council had expected and they needed help to source an alternative supply.

Bob McLellan, the council's head of transportation, said: "Our supplier has let us down badly and we are now in the position that we are likely to run out of salt altogether.”

Were other councils in the same predicament that Fife found itself in with regards to levels of grit? The answer is no, Fife council were the only local authority to find itself in this position. Indeed the BBC themselves confirmed this in their Scottish web site.

The only other local authority to express any concern was Renfrewshire council who stated that they were prioritising the use of grit. Further reports confirmed that there were plentiful supplies already arranged for delivery and that 18 councils would be receiving delivery either that day or the next.

So, this was not a national problem at all but a local situation that was being addressed by the Scottish Government who had been contacted by Fife local authority.

How can a local situation be so misreported by not just one news outlet but by four of them in pretty much the same manner and at the same time?

How is it that all four of these news outlets managed to place the same emphasis (salt/grit levels running out) on their respective story?

We don’t know of course, it is possible that they simply misread the situation and misinterpreted Fife council’s Bob McLellan when he said:
"Most, if not all Scottish councils, appear to be in a very similar situation and stock levels are at critically low levels in many councils across Scotland."

However that excuse cannot be used by the BBC who by their own admission had contacted all local authorities to find out the situation. The best they could do was report that Renfrewshire council were prioritising their gritting.

Suspicions are raised though when we see Labour MSP’s appear in these articles attacking the Scottish Government: Labour's John Park was reported in The Record as stating that he had already written to transport minister Stewart Stevenson asking him to investigate the problems in Fife.

Park said: "This situation is now critical and I am calling on the Scottish government to step in now to help Fife Council out of this mess."

This was a strange statement, given that the Scottish Government had already stepped in and helped resolve the situation in Fife.

Later Labour MSP Charlie Gordon also uses the story to attack the SNP:
The Labour transport spokesman said: "The Scottish Government appears to be saying this morning that everything is under control but the evidence does not support that with many roads and pavements still covered by snow and ice."

What the Scottish Government had said was that there was no shortage of salt and grit but that there were ‘pinch points’ like Renfrewshire and Fife – altogether different from the picture that our media were trying to portray.

Charlie Gordon seems to be saying that because we have snow and ice on many pavements and roads that things are out of control. Of course no amount of grit or salt will remove snow and ice from all pavements and roads, we need a thaw for that.  However, those local authorities who have allowed pavements and roads to deteriorate to an unacceptable level should be taken to task.

Conflating the original inaccurate allegations of a national shortfall of grit and salt with the policies of individual local authorities looks like a deliberate attempt to mislead the electorate.

That may be what this story was about all along !!

Update: 5th January:
That evenings Newsnight Scotland focused on the situation regarding Scotland's roads and the severe weather. Their reporter Julie Peacock made the following statement:
"John Swinney said that there is enough grit to go around and clear ALL of Scotland's roads"

As far as Newsnet Scotland is aware John Swinney has never made any such claim. What he did say was that there are sufficient supplies of grit in order to satisfy council needs.

A very subtle alteration of the meaning of Mr Swinney's statement by the BBC !!

After the recent apology to SNP Minister Alex Neil one would have thought that the BBC would have been reluctant to yet again misrepresent an SNP minister.

Apparently not .....

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Why do we frighten them ?

It’s been an interesting last couple of weeks:

Alex Salmond visited Copenhagen in order to try to raise awareness of Scotland’s valuable contribution to climate change.

Ireland is reported to have come out of recession in September whilst the UK still languishes in the economic mire.

The Iraq inquiry highlights startling revelations regarding Tony Blair’s thought processes leading up to the House of Commons vote.

Then there’s the collapse of Scottish based airline Fly-Globespan leaving hundreds without a job and thousands more stranded either unable to get home or ruining holiday plans.

However, Newsnet Scotland will focus on the issue that Labour leader Iain Gray decided was the most pressing to the good people of Scotland.

At First Ministers Questions on Thursday Iain Gray brought up the issue of internet blogs – or to be more accurate, those internet blogs administered by people of an independence bent.

For those of you reading this in bewilderment and asking ‘what is a blog?’ then the simplest way to enlighten you is to point out that you are reading one right now. A ‘web log’, blog for short, is much like an online diary where the owner (in this case me) is free to publish opinions, stories or similar so that others may read them.

So, what was it about blogs that so compelled Iain Gray to raise the issue with the First Minister?

Well, over the last few weeks the Scottish media have taken quite an interest in online websites and blogs, especially (exclusively?) those sites that are, shall we say, sympathetic to the idea of independence.

Two such sites have been the focus of media attention after one contained statements describing Labour MP and Secretary of State Jim Murphy a c*nt and the other allegedly defamed a Labour councillor by suggesting that he ‘bullied’ women..

The ‘Jim Murphy’ site has since been closed by its owner who also resigned from his position as a university lecturer; there is no suggestion that this gentleman was doing anything other than publishing his own views.

The second site though has resulted in some quite dramatic headlines appearing throughout the Scottish media. The owner of the site, it turns out, was employed as an assistant in the offices of the SNP’s Mike Russell – who is now the education minister.

An unfortunate revelation and one that resulted in the assistant, one Mark MacLachlan, losing his job. Mike Russell immediately let it be known that he knew nothing of the online exploits of Mr MacLachlan and condemned the alleged defamatory content.

Now, why would the Holyrood Labour leader Iain Gray choose such an issue as the theme of his questions to Alex Salmond?

Well, The Herald journalist Paul Hutcheon decided last week that emails from Mr MacLachlan to the SNP’s Mike Russell (containing allegations and implied threats from Mr MacLachlan) were ‘proof’ that Mike Russell was ‘linked’ to the blog, something that Mike Russell had already strenuously denied.

The Scottish media have since gone into overdrive over this relatively innocuous blog. There seems to be a concerted campaign underway that seeks to suggest that such blogs are controlled by the SNP and are part of a co-ordinated campaign aimed at spreading smears and defaming political opponents.

The Scotsman journalist Tom Peterkin went even further when he stated in an article:
"Salmond had told Gray the blogs were nothing to do with the SNP – a hollow claim following the exposure of MacLachlan."

What evidence has been provided by these journalists to back up their own claims? Well, none actually, both Tom Peterkin and Paul Hutcheon were contacted via email by Newsnet Scotland and asked if they could corroborate their insinuations and claims – neither replied. As far as Newsnet Scotland is aware there exists no evidence whatsoever to suggest that these blogs were anything other than the opinions of the individuals who ran them.

If one relies on the Scottish media then one could be forgiven for thinking that such ‘inappropriate’ web content was the sole preserve of independence supporters. However Labour MP and Secretary of State Jim Murphy recently decided to remove alleged defamatory statements from his own website after threats of legal action.

The difference of course between this revelation and the Mark MacLachlan story is that we can find no mention of it in any Scottish newspaper. At a time when Scottish newspapers are apparently clamouring for such stories, then it is strange that Labour’s most senior politician in Scotland being embroiled in a row over alleged defamatory website content is simply ignored.

The story did though make it into the English newspapers as you can see by clicking here.

Indeed there are very many blogs in existence that attack the SNP and/or Alex Salmond in a manner arguably worse than the Mark MacLachlan blog was alleged to have done.

The following blog is from a Labour councillor in Paisley who expresses, shall we say, forthright views on the SNP and Alex Salmond.

Click Here

Again though, Newsnet Scotland has yet to find any mention of this blog anywhere in the Scottish media; it would be interesting to find out Iain Gray’s opinion on it.

Finally, the internet allows all of us to publish our thoughts and opinions freely. Some like councillor Kelly have their own uncompromising style and the courage to publish under their own name.

Others like Newsnet Scotland have a markedly different style and prefer anonymity. However Iain Gray uttered a comment during First Ministers Questions that was all but ignored by the mainstream media.

Gray said: “I wish to see these anonymous blogs rooted out and got rid of”.

So, Labour leader Iain Gray wishes to see blogs ‘rooted out’ and ‘got rid of’? The implications of this statement do not bare thinking about.

Politicians have been lampooned, ridiculed and generally made fun of since the days of the earliest political pamphlets. The internet has allowed the general public to participate in political debate in a manner hitherto unimagined. Not just in Scotland but throughout the world we can now interact through the keyboard challenging both politicians and journalists alike.

There is a suspicion that both the Scottish media and Scottish Labour’s clear unease with the independence supporting online community has more to do with the sorry state of Scottish journalism and its relationship with Labour than any concerns over name calling or possible defamatory content.

At the time of writing this post The Herald has just published an online article headlined ‘Row over blog deepens with ‘Liar Liar’ post’. A read through the article makes it clear that what row there may be has not deepened at all but that Mr MacLachlan has simply posted a youtube video on his website, the video is an excerpt from an American children’s TV show in which two actors dressed as clowns sing ‘Liar, Liar pants on fire’.

This is what is passing for front page news in a Scottish quality newspaper as we approach 2010 – it’s enough to make you weep.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Holyrood ‘Not A Government’ Claim Glasgow Council

The leader of Labour run Glasgow Council Steven Purcell has been accused of a ‘juvenile’ use of language after a leaked email indicated that council communications should now use the term ‘Scottish Executive’ instead of the widely accepted ‘Scottish Government’.

The internal email, sent on 25 November, informed staff that “all future communications should now refer to the Scottish Executive and not Scottish Government.”

Leader of the SNP opposition James Dornan said: “We receive papers regularly from Executive Directors with Scottish Government being used and just last Wednesday the Executive Director of Finance and all other Council officers and Senior Labour councillors present at the meeting I attended used the term Scottish Government.”

“This is all about Councillor Purcell positioning himself as the last outpost of defiance against the effective and still extremely popular nationalist government.”

Mr Dornan added: “Councillor Purcell has already said Labour in Glasgow is happy to take the food from the mouths of children to pay for a train no one wants. Juvenile use of language such as this is just another example of Glasgow Labour’s growing desperation to be seen as holders of the, wilting, red rose.”

A spokesman for Glasgow Council defended the move saying: “It would be wrong to say that we have a formal policy on this. However we are attempting to have some consistency in how we refer to the Scottish Executive and so we are trying to consistently use the phrase “Scottish Executive” as that’s what they are called in the Scotland Act.

The revelation heaps further pressure on Mr Purcell who is also facing allegations that Labour have been playing politics with teacher numbers in the city – the situation prompted the new Education Minister Mike Russell to contact Mr Purcell in order to arrange an urgent meeting to discuss the issue.

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Sunday, 13 December 2009

BBC broadcasts ‘Megrahi birthday congratulations’ smear

Paul McBride, prominent QC and an advisor to the Conservative party, launched an astonishing tirade including serious allegations against SNP Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill on the BBC’s Politics Show Scotland which was broadcast on Sunday 13th December

McBride’s comments followed a discussion on the release of Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds earlier this year.

McBride was asked his views on the release when he launched a quite astonishing attack that included claims that Megrahi was “still going strong”, that MacAskill “won’t tell us how strong he’s going” and that MacAskill had “never troubled himself to find out”.

However McBride may have overstepped the mark when he appeared to suggest that MacAskill would be happy to see Megrahi live for another year and might even send congratulations on his birthday.

McBride says on the programme:
“He shouldn’t have been released, he’s still alive, he’s well past his three month deadline now, he’s still going strong by all accounts. Although Kenny MacAskill won’t tell us how strong he’s going.”

“Apparently he’s never troubled himself to find out and we’re heading towards the Lockerbie anniversary.”

“And it will be very interesting if in a years time as we head toward the Holyrood election if he [MacAskill] is going to congratulate Mr Megrahi on reaching another milestone on his birthday.....I hope not.”

The broadcasting of such views and accusations are likely to cause embarrassment at BBC Scotland who were recently forced to apologise to the SNP’s Alex Neil following a broadcast by BBC reporter Catriona Renton.

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