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.
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.