A Better Media Is Possible
We will be giving more detail of our intentions and the background business model over the next week, as we continue our appeal to you for support. We should reiterate to everyone who is pleading for consolidation and collaboration with other indy media projects that we are busy doing just this. But let’s first mark out a bit more clearly what we think the problem and opportunity is here.
Some people are under the impression that the problem is with a unionist media, and that needs to be replaced by a pro-independence media.
We certainly agree that the issue of a lack of diversity and pluralism in Scottish media is dire. We stated it in our founding statement (see here), quoting Alex Bell who said: “Where is there a newspaper that champions independence as favoured, we are told by pollsters, by a majority of Scots? There is none. Never has been. It never ceases to amaze me that not one newspaper in Scotland supports the policy of independence supported by half of the six parties in Holyrood. That is not only anti-democratic, it is a disgrace to journalism and an affront to free speech.”
Not only is this bad for Scottish politics and Scottish democracy, it doesn’t make any sense commercially, just take the fact that it’s estimated that the Scotsman has lost 80% of its readership in a decade. While some of this is due to mismanagement, and new technologies and the growth of online news outlets, it’s also due to its antagonistic relationship with its readers.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Iain Macwhirter points out that: “…the Irish Independent, a nationalist title, sells more than twice the number of its unionist rival, the Irish Times…Selling 120,000 copies a day, it has over four times the circulation of The Scotsman.” (1)
But ‘the problem’ is not just that all outlets of media are dominated by a unionist outlook, ‘the problem’ is far deeper. So the response needs to be much deeper too. Just creating a pro-indy tv station or paper won’t ‘solve’ the deep systemic problems in how we receive information about what’s going on in our society. That’s not to say that a pro-indy paper or tv or radio station aren’t good ideas, they’re essential, but they’re only part of the picture. We will fail if we become ‘the mainstream media’ replicating their norms and quietism. We will succeed if we retain our norms, values and methods but greatly increase our reach.
If the current paradigm is top-down messaging of people of biased news, the solution CAN’T BE top-down messaging of a differently bias news. That doesn’t make any sense, and only, or purely supposing that the referendum was lost because of the media is a mistake. This isn’t to discount their power, it’s just to say that we need a better strategy than the blame-game.
George Monbiot has written:
Despite the rise of social media, the established media continues to define the scope of representative politics in Britain, to shape political demands and to punish and erase those who resist. It is one chamber of the corrupt heart of Britain, pumping fear, misinformation and hatred around the body politic. (2)
This harsh truth, and a quiet post-indy desperation has led many people to believe that the only answer is to mimic and take over those institutions. Bella believes that this is a mistake. The media we create should be one that we control. It should be based on the same principles as the movement: self-organised, bottom-up, free-thinking, autonomous, fresh.
It’s worth exploring why the problems in media control go way beyond being pro-Union to see why a new approach is needed.
Censorship by Omission
Bad media in Scotland is not, in Scotland, about conspiracy. It’s often about lack of resources, imagination or consciousness. Ben Wray, Robin McAlpine and I ran press conferences for weeks in the run up to the referendum launching speakers, reports, think tank research, pamphlets, and personal stories less than a mile from Glasgow’s main newspapers. None came.
This isn’t just a media that’s biased, it’s a media that’s useless.
Who had the nous to follow a story that didn’t issue direct from a party leaders or a campaign press release?
Very few: Channel 4’s Paul Mason and a handful of foreign journalists.
There’s a deeper culture at work here.
Whether it’s the Mass Misogyny of tabloid culture or the protection of military interests that has fuelled Wikileaks, both are about preserving the status quo. While one is predicated on patterns of male dominance the other is more crudely based on using the law to protect the military-state.
We hear that: “Attorneys for the United States government say that an upcoming court hearing concerning the force-feeding practices used on a Guantanamo Bay detainee should be held almost entirely behind closed doors.” The motion, filed by US attorneys on Friday in District Court for the District of Columbia, asks that the preliminary injunction hearing for Gitmo detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab scheduled for early next month be conducted largely in secret over supposed national security concerns.”
Similar moves have been developed by the British State and British Courts.
The effect is that a whole gender goes missing and the truth about what the military do in our name disappears from view.
So we have layers of problems in our media before we even get to issues of ownership and control.
Pluralism and Diversity
This is about the concentration of power being reflected through a more and more narrow lens.
In 1983, the principal media were owned by fifty corporations. In 2002, this had fallen to nine transnational companies. Rampant deregulation has ended even a semblance of diversity. In February 2004, Rupert Murdoch predicted that, within three years, there would be just three global media corporations and his company would be one of them. (3)
What we have here is just a mirror of that concentration of ownership. In Scotland you have to add in to the mix the ‘succulent lamb journalism’, the phrase coined whilst the Scottish sports media turned a blind eye to the ongoing disintegration of Rangers Football Club as they were spoon-fed juicy gossip, stories, dinners and hospitality by David Murray. In politics as in football. There’s a cosiness and clubbiness to Scottish political life as the elite of media and office mingle.
This lack of diversity isn’t limited to companies and owners, it extends to workplace cultures, managers and editors too. As Professor John Robertson, UWS has stated:
“In 2006, the Sutton Trust which operates on behalf of the BBC, reported on the educational backgrounds of leading UK journalists. The report tells us that though only 7% of the population is educated in fee-paying schools, they produce 54% of top (best paid) journalists in the UK. Only 12% of top journalists went to state schools. A whopping 56% of them went to only Oxford or Cambridge, as did Cameron, Osbourne, Milliband and Balls. 72% of them went to the 13 top (Russell Group) UK universities. The report concludes: ‘Is news coverage preoccupied with the issues and interests of the social elite that journalists represent? Should the profession not better reflect the broader social make-up of the audiences it serves?’”
Further to this, and inextricably linked to it, there’s a ‘dogmatic insistence’ of many mainstream journalists to, as Seamus Milne puts it:
“…events are largely the product of an arbitrary and contingent muddle… chronic refusal by the mainstream media in Britain – and most opposition politicians – to probe or question the hidden agenda and unaccountable, secret power structures at the heart of government…the result is that and entire dimension of politics and the exercise of power is habitually left out of standard reporting and analysis. And by refusing to acknowledge this dimension, it is often impossible to make proper sense of what is actually going on…” (4)
The referendum process was a mass political education.
For thousands of people some basic realities about how the British State, press and political class relate to each other were made clear for the first time.
As the post referendum debate rages it’s worth reflecting on how different sections and ages of the population use the internet. For many there is still a significant issue of digital exclusion. (5) Whether this is to do with poor rural connectivity, lack of digital literacy or the cost of broadband and access, the cumulative result is that it’s estimated that 1.3 million people in Scotland are excluded from a vital component of being citizen today.
This is a significant issue, and in, in our minds, a more fruitful one than re-joining the print media. Even when people of different generations have equal access to the internet, the evidence is they use it in very different ways and with very different expectations. René Barsalo, writing on the P2P Foundation, writes:
Even though we are now finding a growing number of pre-1985 generations familiarizing themselves with the daily use of the internet, most of them are following their existing media habits, which they learned growing up: they send mail, and access their books, newspapers, radio shows and television … but in online formats. However, post-1985 generations perceive networks as extensions of their immediate, present-day environment, which enables real-time access to their friends, their colleagues, and to re-programmable technologies and re-usable, re-mixable knowledge … whenever and wherever they are on the planet. They are exploring in deep ways the possibilities of the digital environment, without assets or territory to protect. Educated to levels never before seen, they rapidly understand the advantages the new set of conditions – interconnectivity and real-time flows of information – offer for new forms of coordinated action. They are demanding a “re-boot”, at least a major digital update of the political and economic systems of our planet. (6)
These realities should shape our media strategy for the future. It would be an act of complete folly to re-create the massive investment in a ring medium just as the entire industry was shifting.
Citizens Media for a Citizens Movement
There’s been some criticism and confusion that ‘citizens media’ means that everyone works for free and the project has no resources or stability and therefore no impact.
That’s not how it works and not how it has to be.
Citizen’s media came to the fore with the pre-blog rise of Indymedia in response to the Seattle anti-WTO protests and subsequent big set piece anti-globalisation demonstrations in which protestors saw their often peaceful and huge public demonstrations being misrepresented as the work of a tiny violent minority. It’s grown to be huge movement as people realised what an obstacle to change the media has become. See a glimpse of the global picture here.
Now a citizen’s media can evolve in Scotland that is highly co-ordinated, collaborative and participatory. If we can create some stronger foundations it can create ongoing revenue streams, raise funds to support its work and through social media have a huge reach.
It’s not about everyone working for free it’s about giving everyone a voice.
The profession of journalism finds itself at a rare moment in history where, for the first time, its stranglehold on the news is threatened by not just new technology and competitors but, potentially, by the audience it serves.
Armed with a deluge of social media tools always-on connections and increasingly powerful 3G, the online audience has the means for the first time to become an active participant in the creation and dissemination of news and information.
The days of Press Barons are gone. We don’t need them. Bring on the Press Peasants.
Vandana Shiva has called this the ‘insurrection of subjugated knowledge’. But whatever you want to call it, it’s clear that you won’t get an independent Scotland without an independent media, and we can create that.
* * * * * * *
Our plans include the following:
1. Strengthening the Editorial Team. We want to maintain a full-time editor post, to manage and oversee the whole project and to produce the site. We want also to create six editorial posts in the following areas: international, community, arts, innovation, social justice and ecology.
2. We will be creating regular Video News Coverage.
3. We will be rolling out Citizens Journalism Training.
4. We will be publishing our quarterly print magazine Closer.
5. We will be engaging with a mass of Volunteers for events and social media management.
6. We will be Collaborating and coordinating with all the new indy media initiatives.
(1) Democracy in the Dark: The Decline of the Scottish Press, Iain Macwhirter, Saltire Pamphlet series No. 5
(3) Tell Me No Lies, John Pilger 2005
(4) The Enemy Within, MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair, Seamus Milne (Verso 1994)
(5) ‘Charity urges action over ‘growing digital divide” [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-25214376]
(6) ‘ Great Information Transitions in the Past and the Present’ [http://p2pfoundation.net/Great_Information_Transitions_in_the_Past_and_the_Present]