Veteran Scottish journalist Robbie Dinwoodie writes: “…in 42 years in print journalism I have never come across a worse failure of a newspaper to back a writer than that of The Herald and Graham Spiers” and asks: “Who’s next in line for the bully boys?”
It seems we didn’t have long to wait for an answer.
Next in line is Angela Haggerty, editor of Common Space and Sunday Herald columnist, unceremoniously ditched by the Herald editor Magnus Llewellin after pressure from the Rangers board. The reason? She was told that “representatives of the Rangers board” threatened legal action after she expressed solidarity with Graham Spiers on Twitter, who himself was under attack for writing a column about Rangers. See Graham’s statement about the affair here.
This is nothing less than disgraceful intimidation by Rangers FC aimed at silencing critical voices. It has no place in a Scottish democracy and should be condemned by all regardless of affiliation or club support. Haggerty writes: “The irony of this happening less than a week after my column about intimidation at the hands of Rangers fans is just beyond belief and I’m feeling quite upset about the whole thing tonight. I’ve been sacked simply for expressing support for a fellow journalist. They’ve just reinforced the mob mentality.”
Haggerty told us: “I’m deeply saddened and disappointed by this decision. This is a very dark day for freedom of the press in Scotland. This dangerously reinforces the behaviour of all of those who have targeted me since 2012 with racist and misogynistic abuse, as well as more sinister threats and harassment. At times I genuinely fear for my safety in this environment. The only positive that can come from this is for all of us to respond with an even louder message: we will not be intimidated, we will not be silenced and these campaigns of harassment have no place in Scotland. It has gone on for far too long.”
Robbie Dinwoodie explaining the Graham Spiers case writes: “Yesterday this apology was carried by the newspaper’s website: “In a recent column for heraldscotland, Graham Spiers said an un-named Rangers director had praised the song The Billy Boys. “He also questioned the willingness of Rangers directors to tackle offensive behaviour, and The Herald and Graham Spiers accept this was inaccurate.” But Spiers, himself a Rangers supporter who was once given police advice on threats from the club’s fanatics, did not and does not accept this. “My opinion – as expressed in my column – was based on a truthful account of my meeting with a Rangers director,” he insisted yesterday in a statement saying “the pressure brought upon the newspaper became severe.”
Let’s be clear, what’s at stake here is not the sensibility of one writer, or one football club, the principle of free speech is under threat by the total weakness and culpability of the Herald newspaper editor. He should be protecting and supporting his writing staff not capitulating to threats.
The club’s track record on bans and intimidation is well-known. The BBC’s Chris McLaughlin was last year banned for including in his match report of a Rangers – Hibs match mentions of three arrests for sectarian singing.
This ban has recently been just been re-instated with the BBC issuing the following statement: “BBC Scotland said: “We are disappointed that Rangers took the decision to ban our reporter Chris McLaughlin from Ibrox. We believe it is unjustifiable and we stand by the integrity and the quality of our journalism. We will continue to report on Rangers both on and off the pitch and will feature match action where appropriate but, until this issue is resolved, we will not be sending journalists to Ibrox or attending Rangers’ press conferences.”
At least in this instance a media outlet had the good sense to support their journalist. In Haggerty and Spiers case they have just capitulated. It will be interesting to see what the SPFL, the NUJ, Scottish PEN and the wider Scottish football community’s response is to this. Bella Caledonia can only offer complete solidarity to both writers. Angela Haggerty’s Sunday Herald column will be appearing in these pages instead of in print on Sunday. We hope you will read it here.