Alternative Media Futures?

jamesdoleman_wkiwYx2“If the public knew the truth about the way certain sections of the media operate, they would be absolutely horrified.” – Alastair Campbell

We probably know more now than we ever have.

We know now that the Mirror group were routinely using phone hacking, not just the News of the World, and god knows who else. We know now that Andy Coulson knew about the Milly Dowler voicemails.  We know that press regulation has been an abject failure. We know ‘our own’ media is in terminal decline and stumble about in eternal self-hatred. We know that the BBC in Scotland is chronically under-funded, under-resourced and the wider broadcast output is riven with bias.

But don’t believe what we say.

Paul Mason, BBC Newsnight’s former economics editor (now at Channel 4 News) said of the state broadcaster during the referendum: “Not since Iraq have I seen BBC News working at propaganda strength like this. So glad I’m out of there.” On Twitter, he also posted a link to a YouTube video claiming that the BBC had been “completely biased and unbalanced in their reporting of the referendum”, adding the comment: “Media students, journos, (coughs loudly) this is well worth watching.”

But don’t believe what we say.

Nick Davies, writing in Flat Earth News (Vintage 2009) writes: “There are still good, brave, honest people working in this industry. I’m talking about the fact that almost all journalists across the whole developed world now irk within a kind of professional cage which distorts their work and crushes their spirit. I’m talking about the fact that finally I was forced to admit that i work in a corrupted profession.”

scotsman-klan-albaWe know that sections of the press are fatally undermined by vested and commercial interests. We know that sections of the media are infested with a culture of mass misogyny. That’s why we brought Margie Orford and Caroline Criado-Perez to Edinburgh last year and why we have a 50:50 policy for our editor board.

Award-winning investigative journalist Glen Greenwald has described the problem: “It’s British media culture that is corrosive, shallow, herd-like and gross.”

George Monbiot wrote last year (‘How the media shafted the people of Scotland’):

“In the coverage of the referendum we see most of the pathologies of the corporate media. Here, for instance, you will find the unfounded generalisations with which less enlightened souls are characterised. In the Spectator, Simon Heffer maintains that: “addicted to welfare … Scots embraced the something for nothing society”, objecting to the poll tax “because many of them felt that paying taxes ought to be the responsibility of someone else”. Here is the condescension with which the dominant classes have always treated those they regard as inferior: their serfs, the poor, the Irish, Africans, anyone with whom they disagree. “What spoilt, selfish, childlike fools those Scots are … They simply don’t have a clue how lucky they are,” sneered Melanie Reid in the Times. Here is the chronic inability to distinguish between a cause and a person: the referendum is widely portrayed as a vote about Alex Salmond, who is then monstered beyond recognition (a Telegraph editorial compared him to Robert Mugabe).”

Can we make a difference? Not on our own. That’s why we’ve already convened a coordination meeting of all of the all the alternative media in Scotland. Collaboration and coordination is key.

Attack blogs are useful – but we want to create something different, something for the next phase of the movement. Something that explores ideas and creates a critical space for thinking and dynamism.

We’ve been doing this for free for eight years and now we need to create a stronger platform to go forward. If we can’t achieve our target it will seem that though people say they want a changed media, they are not willing to support it.

Can we do it? Are we any good at it?

Andrew Marr has written (‘Why I’m Torn Over Scotland’, New Statesman) : “The Scottish referendum is the first big story I’ve covered where you haven’t got a clue what’s going on if you don’t turn to online media. On the Yes side, the best site by far is Bella Caledonia, brimming with creativity, political punch and argument.”

Iain Macwhirter has written (Disunited Kingdom p. 89) : “At its best the internet material is very good, and some of the best politics writing is to be found on Bella Caledonia”.

Kevin McKenna has written: “The writing on Bella Caledonia …itself is of a very high quality and daily challenges and surpasses that which appears in the country’s paid-for titles” adding: “In Scotland, newspaper sales have collapsed and the numbers of job losses in journalism have been unprecedented in the last decade or so. However, Scotland still produces many talented writers and blogs such as Wings Over Scotland and Bella Caledonia represent the long-term future of the industry.”

We’ve been named in the Top 10 Political Blogs in the UK (based on social sharing, topic-related content and post frequency), and the List had us as No 2 in their Top Scottish Websites.

Blaming the media isn’t constructive on its own, creating a better one is. So let’s do it. As Alastair McIntosh has said:

“Scotland requires a free media. One that is rooted in the Scottish people, in our democratic intellect – democratically accountable – and not subaltern to the forces of our internal and inner colonisation where money and fear trump justice and hope”

We have had a tremendous response to our appeal, but we are still a long way to reaching our target. We need your help to carry on. Please support us, please give whatever you can. Go here to support us.

If you prefer to give a monthly standing order, or pay by Bank Transfer or Paypal all our details are here.

If you prefer to avoid internet payments you can send us a cheque made payable to ‘Bella Caledonia’ here:
Bella Caledonia, Creative Exchange, 29 Constitution Street, Leith EH6 7BS




Comments (16)

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  1. Buck Tarbrush says:

    In what way is Bella democratically accountable ?
    Was Bella balanced in it’s reporting of the referendum ?
    This site is important but it is absolutely not the answer to all the many failings of existing media organisations that it is being portrayed as here. Unless I’m mis-reading and you’re proposing something new altogether ?

    1. Bella can’t be the answer to all the media failings, just one part of the new emerging change. We are accountable in that 1) we are offering regular spaces, meetings, where our subscribers/supporters are given the chance to shape the project and offer feedback and 2) we have championed new writers and new writing. We have done this for eight years.

      Bella was not balanced in the reporting of the referendum. We are unashamedly pro-indy. The idea of neutrality is a myth. We aim to be a form for ideas with a clear open stance.

  2. Anton says:

    Buck Tarbrush makes some good points. It’s all very well to complain about bias in other media outlets, but Bella itself is hardly dispassionate, is it? It’s straightforwardly biased in favour of independence.

    I don’t have a problem with that. Bella wears its heart on its sleeve. But then so does (for example) the Telegraph. I don’t have a problem with that either.

    I’m not quite sure of Bella’s complaint here.

    1. Robert A. Harman says:

      The difference between Bella Caledonia and the mainstream media is that Bella reports while most of the rest make shit up because they don’t know and really don’t care what goes on in Scotlandshire.

    2. Buck Tarbrush says:

      My issue is that Bella is essentially a counter argument to a media mostly biased in one direction. That is absolutely fine. However, the language used in this article and other ‘new media’ claims suggest that this type of site is a solution to an out of control media where opinion and fact are treated as one and the same. I support independent journalism of many kinds. But you can’t claim the solution to biased media is more biased media. As I’ve said before, Bella and her sisters are important and necessary but they are not the fix to media led and mostly owned by the establishment. I will support Bella and believe in it’s integrity, I just think care needs to be taken to ensure that spin doesn’t get out of control.

      1. All media has an agenda. Our complaint is (as detailed in the article and in coverage over the past eight years) that media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy individuals who have an agenda that is clear. So it’s about diversification so that many voices get heard not one single voice of the powerful who back the vested interests of the land. This state of affairs has been accelerated and brought into sharp focus by the wave of corruption exposed via the Leveson inquiry and the government;’s subsequent failure to do anything about it.

  3. john young says:

    The difference being Bella does not lie at least as far as I have read.

    1. Jones says:

      I don’t have a problem with pro indy media (opposite should be welcomed if quality), I just have a problem with unaccountablity and a lack of editorial plurality.

      1. Go here for a full list of our 23 person editorial board and our hundreds of contributors:

        I have outlined that our readers and supporters will be able to shape the direction of the project with regular meetings and online questionnaires.

        We are open and responsive to feedback.

        1. Jones says:

          But financially it will a company registered with a single shareholder who is paid 30 000? Ownership and financial influence is key to editorial decision. See Murdoch, Conrad Black, Maxwell, etc.

  4. bringiton says:

    The problem facing those of us who support Scottish independence is an overwhelmingly London centric media who would never under any circumstances take our side against that of the English establishment in Westminster and unfortunately have access to far too many Scottish households.
    As a real alternative to London propaganda we absolutely need outlets such as Bella to educate and enthuse alternative views and more importantly counter misinformation with facts.

  5. Brian boru says:

    The answer lies in who owns in the media. There you see the agenda. Telegraph, sun, mail etc? Non Dom millionaires. What agenda would you expect them to have? bella should have a progressive agenda. There is neither need nor sense in balancing this with reactionary rubbish just so it can be called “balanced”. The criteria should be truth. Also there are more than enough on the reactionary side so a little bias for progressive politics does no harm. See Howard Zinn.

  6. bringiton says:

    Unfortunately,there is going to have to be some sort of consolidation in the Indy market if for no other reason than the next referendum is probably some way off.
    Many of us supported a multiplicity of organisations leading up to the referendum but now have to decide which ones we will continue to fund.
    Bella will be one for me but that will be at the expense of some others and people are going to have to come together and decide what funding models will work,who their target audience is and what sort of content to provide.
    There is no doubt,especially amongst younger people,that there is a need for an alternative to the London based media narrative and we owe it to them to provide
    this information.
    We need to keep the momentum behind the Indy movement so let’s hope agreements can be reached.

  7. John Page says:

    It really is quite simple……stop watching television and use the money saved on the fee to contribute to Bella or whoever.

    You escape the candy floss for the mind, as well as the BBC propaganda and you support an alternative voice for Scotland.

    John Page

  8. Jon Buchanan says:

    Just a wee thought or two:

    Completely agree with John Page and haven’t had a TV for years, have actually been deciding just recently how to divvy up what I have to spare and what my priorities are in terms of what I want to support in terms of a new media. Of course, things have been so skewed from a London-centric, proprietorially controlled, neoliberal press for so long there has to a redressal from the opposite end of the spectrum for a while. A continuum will hopefully establish itself where there is perhaps more of a spectrum of opinion acting as the failsafe, the voice of conscience shining a wee light on all the shadows our society casts, not just the big dark, how we wish they were post-colonial, ones we find ourselves wrestling with day to day still

    I know we’ve just had an election and there are still some big fights to fight but I miss a lot of the more culturally led articles Bella was so good at. I haven’t seen too many since the new layout, I for one hope there are more in the pipeline, even have a few articles myself I’d submit!

    A last wee rumination occurred reading the article, having already contributed and intending to contribute to the fundraiser again (I’ve spent a fair bit of the referendum campaign and GE2015 fighting against a fairly recently diagnosed, debilitating health condition and Bella, Wings, the Wee Ginger Dug and the Peat Worrier were pretty much my guides through it all, if I’ve got it and any of them needed it to carry on, I’d gladly give it!), I got to thinking how I’m sometimes a little underwhelmed by the level of some of the journalism in the National(not the columnists, the articles), though I still subscribe to the online version and buy a hard copy if I’m out and about; yet I find the level of writing on Bella always hits the spot and the investigative journalism of the Rev over on Wings puts pretty much all of the MSM to shame, point being? Would it not benefit both camps, the National and Bella and a few choice others to perhaps collaborate to put together a quality weekend supplement with choice articles from the week on the sites? Get a bit of cash for the causes, up the quality of the National, add a weekend readership, broaden the appeal? Just a wee thought, I’d still buy it, even if I’d read most of the articles through the week, they’d become collectors items too!

    1. Hi Jon, better collaboration and coordination is a key part of our plan if we get the backing we need. We’re already hosting the first alt media gathering. Moving to print is costly and requires a distribution network. Always open to ideas but at the moment we don’t see how this is feasible. Thanks.

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