By Alasdair Galloway:
A few days ago I sent a letter to the Herald about Blair McDougall’s piece which they ran at the weekend (to be fair at the same time as a piece by Blair Jenkins).
Whether my letter was worth publication or not, it was one of several I have put in over the last couple of weeks which have ended up on the spike. However, in reviewing the most recent letters I have sent, published or not, one thing became clear. Since 16th August, I had sent three letters critical of something or other written by Tom Gordon. None were deemed worthy of publication. Now, my letter about McDougall meets the same fate. Both of course have in common that they have taken Newsquest’s shilling (or in Gordon’s case, rather more than that). The remainder of my letters concerned letters by other contributors including Loneskie (no less than three times – what a man!) and also comments about GERS after the almost Groundhog Day comments when the most recent edition was published.
The only exception was my letter about the semi-Twitter rant by (Lord!) Andrew Dunlop,
Since then, I have had a quick scan through the last seven or eight days of letters and while columnists are mentioned, this is rare and also tends to be positive (“I agree with Kevin McKenna” – some going there!).
Some years ago, I had a long discussion by email with the late Callum McDonald when he was in charge of the Herald Readers Forum (which was a much better thing then rather than the nest of Unionist trolls which makes it about as bad now as the Scotsman – of course there was Unionist opinion in Callum’s day, but we dealt with each other with respect – even OBE most of the time). Our discussion concerned the new forum rules he was thinking about introducing and had sought my opinion on. We agreed on everything with one exception – how to treat the media. I have forgotten how Callum had worded it, and I am being most unfair to say it read “don’t be critical of the journalist or the paper” (though that was what it meant), but my reply to him was that sometimes the story and the journalist (or paper) really couldn’t be separated from the issue, and that legitimate criticism (eg misleading evidence, no evidence, illogical conclusions etc) could involve the author or the paper. Then again, I was happy to admit, a post that said “So and so is a **** and I’m going to organize a war party to come to your office and kill him” was certainly not.
While Callum understood the point his basic argument was that the paper had an employer’s usual health and safety responsibilities, so I think where it ended up was any criticism of personalities had to be justified and subject to approval. I found this then, and find it now, hard to accept. I mean does Tom Gordon strike you as a delicate flower. Nope, me neither.
The Herald almost certainly likes to think of itself as a forum or platform for debate, but if the scribbling of their journalists is ‘off limits’ (unless you are being nice about them), how can that be? Are writers who cannot be criticised any better than propagandists and is their publication any better than propaganda?
Given the behaviour of some newspapers and other media outlets (most notably the BBC) during the last referendum, many may consider that question pretty pointless, as the answer is obviously “YES”. This leads to initiatives such as my friend Iain Lawson’s “Campaign for Honest Journalism”. In some ways this initiative could be seen as more than a bit naïve. How likely is the Herald to print a letter from “Iain Lawson (Campaign for Honest Journalism)”? Indeed, does it not set him up against most of the profession who either consider that they are honest, or aren’t prepared to admit they are not. Put it this way, they haven’t published anything from Iain since.
It might be said that journalism is a job, one like many jobs where you are told what to do. Charles Graham, who used to write vitriolic anti-Harold Wilson pieces in the late 60s for the Scottish Daily Express, was, I was told, a member of the Labour Party. Graham was doing as he was instructed, which takes the focus beyond the paper to the owner, a picture which is even less entrancing.
The question is “what to do?” If I said, what is the point of writing letters to the Herald which don’t get published any more, is that a good use of time? Or do I keep using my time that way and a few that deal with folk like Stephenson get published, but none that critique the paper itself? Or am I a drama Queen (or King) with nothing really to complain about? I went “on strike” earlier this year (just after New Year, I think) and after about 6 weeks got an email from Drew Allan, the Letters Page editor, asking after my good health (I am sure sincerely) as he hadn’t had a Letter for some time, though he was not soliciting one. I forwarded this to a friend who advised that he might not have been soliciting a letter but he certainly wanted one. My reply drew an assurance that all shades of political opinion are welcome on the Letters page – though maybe not if agin the staff or the paper?
Perhaps some review of the Letters page over the last three or four weeks by others without my personal involvement might be telling. The question is, how much do the Herald welcome Letters critical of the paper, its position, and its journalists? Perhaps a retired Prof of Media
Studies eh……. Sorry Media POLITICS could offer a view? Or is it ok to be critical of everyone – all the way from Jill Stephenson, Gerald Edwards and Peter Russell to Gordon Brown – but not anyone on the paper?