A Rough Guide to a Rough Media
Slightly better news from the OECD, if you can find it in the world’s most beautiful country
On the morning that the Herald did itself credit by running a piece on an OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report which notes positive performance in the Scottish economy, I looked around to see where else in the famously patriotic Scottish traditional media the story was being run. The Scotsman managed to summarize the report, but felt bashful about mentioning the positive bits about Scotland. Johnston Press publications don’t like to talk Scotland up too much, they think it’s in bad taste, so they just left those bits out.
That’s Edinburgh for you.
I looked for the item on the UK BBC news website. It wasn’t on the main news page or even the main business page, which led with the 52,000 drop in the UK unemployment figures (the BBC has to watch out for Tory MPs and the Daily Mail). But with persistence I found it reported in the ‘economy’ subsection, where its headline – ‘Brexit reversal would boost UK, says OECD’ – wouldn’t expose the Corporation too much to Brexiter wrath. Perfectly understandable. But no mention of Scotland in there at all, just that mostly everything outside London and the south-east is kind of awful.
The BBC Scotland news website, true to its determination seldom to appear immodest about positive signs of Scottish life, didn’t mention the OECD report at all. Not even in its Scottish business section was there a glimpse, where you might have imagined it to be worth the smallest mention. But at least the main news page managed to note that Scottish unemployment is up (Scottish unemployment rises by 9000). This is what we might call sticking to the script.
Of course this is the very BBC News website which in early September, when other news websites across the UK were running photospreads on Scotland to celebrate us being voted the most beautiful country in the world by Rough Guide readers, didn’t find space to mention the accolade. At all. It wasn’t on the main BBC UK news website (as distinct, say, from in 2014 when Birmingham won its Rough Guide accolade: Birmingham in Rough Guide ‘top 10 cities in the world’).
But surely on our own north-of-the-border national news website we could have celebrated, just for once?
Even the Standard in London ran a photospread of lovely Scottish photos – as did lots of papers – but we just didn’t like to mention it. (Look what’s happened to Skye, after all. Overrun.) Now, to be fair, in January 2017 the BBC Scotland News website did indeed report an earlier Rough Guides poll in which Scotland second placed behind India in a ‘must see’ list (Scotland is in top ten ‘must see’ countries in 2017). But I guess in September the ‘most beautiful’ accolade was just too overwhelming to mention. Though not everywhere on the BBC, thankfully – I can vouch for the fact that Steve Lamacq mentioned it on Radio 6 Music, my wife heard him, and she’s very reliable about that kind of thing, so good for Steve. I hope he wasn’t disciplined.
Now: let’s first of all just play that OECD business back again (I’ll return to the Rough Guides vote in a minute). The OECD reports – an editorial tweak in the Herald actually says ‘claims’ – that wages and productivity in Scotland outstrip all other UK areas outside south-east England, and that Glasgow and Edinburgh lag only behind London in the economic performance of major UK cities. As a matter of fact (and yes I’ve actually done what any Scottish journalist could do, gone to the OECD site and looked at the report) Scotland sits very consistently behind London and the south-east, but ahead of the rest of the UK, across a number of positive indicators. This is what’s often called ‘news’. It’s especially newsworthy because of the contrast it presents to the dominant ‘Greece without the sun’ version of the Scottish economy which Scottish journalists and editors seem to like so much more.
Imagine, for one moment, that this is Ireland, and the OECD has just produced a report detailing the positive showing of the Irish economy across a range of comparative indicators, as part of a larger report on economic conditions in Europe. But the Irish Times declines to mention that the report discusses Ireland at all, and the RTÉ news website doesn’t even mention that there was a report in the first place. What would we call that? Negligence? Aberrant?
Or: this is Ireland and Rough Guides readers have just voted Ireland the most beautiful country in the world. But we can’t find any mention of it on the RTÉ news website. What’s that? Carelessness?
Since we’re none of us naïve, we well know that one project of the externally owned and controlled Scottish press is to produce bad news about Scottish life in general and the effects of the Scottish Government in particular. And this it does every day, with minor exceptions, though these exceptions are seldom or never found in the Scotsman, Mail, Telegraph, Times or Express.
(Since Johnston Press acquired the i newspaper from Alexander Lebedev in 2016, it’s got in on the act, too. By the way, does anyone have a clue about why Johnston Press persists in its mission to depict Scotland as suffering from chronic structural incapacity? It hasn’t done the company much good. I keep asking people this question, and no-one seems to know, even folk who’ve worked for them. The Mail and the Express at least sell newspapers on that basis.)
It remains difficult to think of another democratic entity in Europe saddled with such a uniformly partisan press, even now at a moment when we’re all conscious of the power of the Spanish media in Catalonia.
But in the UK we can always cheer ourselves up by remembering that most people get most of their news from broadcasting, and that broadcasters are held to standards of impartiality, even on their news websites.
This is important, because we ought to know when a lot of people decide that Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world, not just because of the importance of our tourism industry, but because it matters for the formulation of environmental and economic priorities, and to our sense of identity. Even more importantly, amidst the onslaught of negative news about Scotland produced by much of our media, we need accurate information about the economy in general. This is because, as we know, the economy tends to be the most important element influencing the electorate.
As a matter of fact, you can read the Scottish data in the OECD report negatively (all outside London is dire) or more positively (yes it’s dire but a bit less so in Scotland). But we should at least be made aware by our news media of the existence of a major report, by a greatly respected international think tank, supported by numerous countries, which makes observations about Scotland and its major cities. That’s got to be at least as important as negative news about the unemployment figures.
We can’t continue without more of our readers supporting us.
The money would go towards developing Bella as a platform for writers, filmmakers and artists, something that no-one else is doing in Scotland.