Christopher Silver’s ‘Demanding Democracy – The Case for a Scottish Media’ challenges the reader to ponder questions about Scotland’s broadcasting that far exceed the merely political or partisan. It is at first, an authoritative foray into the societal, cultural and economic origins of Scotland’s media both official and unofficial – print and otherwise. In all we are given a history of how writing with purpose and the service of information sharing came to be in Scotland.
Beyond these encyclopaedic notes, that give an insight into the depth of research undertaken, Silver asks two fundamental questions. Firstly, what is wrong with the Scottish media or perhaps journalism in general and secondly – how do we construct a viable alternative? Wrapped up with these questions are the underlying structures of the British state as well as its interactions with the Scottish nation, itself denied its constitution as one.
A most acute observation made in the book is the almost eternal bind experienced by the Scottish professional, the pro union media as a whole and by extension the collective consciousness of Scotland. If the media is not just, as often presented a mere portal by which information is disseminated; but is the expression of the “imaginative soul of a nation” – then the Scottish media is in itself an analogy for the trapped spiritual potential of a nation without a clear state or status.
Building off the insights of established narrators Nairn, Hutchinson and Donaldson, Silver cites the peculiar nature of Scottish institutions ensconced within the political reality of union. Given wide berth in some cases and yet unwilling to press the boundaries of political consensus, Scotland’s media was made up of men happy with the political and psychological constraints placed upon them.
This is provided to us as a perhaps generous explanation why given 45 per cent of the country would end up supporting Scottish independence, Scotland’s main titles would stay largely resolute, unreformed and unmoved. We also learn how this institutional gratitude for a vague autonomy was exercised within a context of empire and success not lacking in severity.
In any case what sets this work apart from a whole reel of texts disseminated before and after the independence referendum, was the focus on solutions to a series of problems that have laid untackled for the best part of 50 years. The current debate around media both broadcast, online and print is one framed only in terms of constitutional leanings or accusations of bias. Silver attempts to penetrate the debate and take it to deeper concerns around the nature of quality, ownerships, centralisation, investigation, national purpose and plurality.
“A new Scottish media must also be built on the premise that the quality with which it is realised, like the nation itself, has to be rebuilt, re-imagined, re-presented, on a day to day basis.”
Surprisingly enough the work stops short of a predictable call for all out war on “yoon press barons” but instead features a mature peace offering. Instead of shying away from a democratic wave they feared for institutional or economic reasons, the institutions of media should have put themselves to reforming and welcoming the critique. Far more subtle than a political manifesto Silver advocates transforming the way we communicate ideas and events in Scotland not only as a good in itself but a way of resurrecting a new public spirit.
The poor coverage during the referendum by the mainstream media, so often castigated, was not an organised attempt to rob Scotland as portrayed but a symptom of a deeper gross institutional neglect. A neglect which has left Scotland’s titles in a perpetual cycle of self harming decline and with it dragged down the nation’s consciousness and collective conversation.
This leaves us at the most haunting phrase from the book – the ominous warning to all if the new democratic impetus post referendum is not heeded in the structures of press coverage…”To accept this is to accept….Scotland’s public life as a half life”.