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By Jason Michael

We are working towards independence within a hostile media environment.

Much of the pro-independence “alternative media” in Scotland – websites like Wings Over Scotland, IndyRef2, and Inform Scotland – is focussed on critiquing the British media’s representation of Scotland. What they do is often brilliant and insightful, and it makes for fascinating reading. The picture that emerges is that right across the mainstream media there is a system in operation – an agenda – geared towards presenting Scotland and Scottish pro-independence politics in particular in a negative light. Our movement owes them a debt of gratitude, and thanks to their ongoing work we have come a long way. We are less trusting of the establishment media and more willing to question its agenda and motives.

Demonstrations outside the BBC offices in Glasgow are far less regular now than they were a few years ago, not because the BBC has become less biased – if anything the bias has intensified, but because in large part we have come to accept that bias is an essential feature of the state broadcaster’s remit. It is far less common now to read people on social media asking why the BBC isn’t more balanced and fair.

The British Broadcasting Corporation is great at what it does. Our problem was that for so long very many of us didn’t know what its true purpose was. It was never intended to inform us – it is there to form us, and the same can be said for the overwhelming majority of the rest of the Scottish media. When we have news programmes, newspapers, and journalists insinuating that the former leader of the party in government in Holyrood is working for the Kremlin – using almost exactly the same vocabulary, then we can assume some sort of close relationship between the media and the British government and unionist establishment.

Before the weekend Sunday Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter, one of the few writers in the Herald­Sunday Herald world who has gone against the grain, tweeted that he was “Genuinely mystified why the press didn’t make more of [Westminster’s draft amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill in which Scotland’s power to withhold consent was stripped of legal force].” Why would it not trouble us, when most of the country is now rightly deeply suspicious of everything the media says, that a seasoned journalist and former BBC television and radio presenter can say something so seemingly naïve?

His tweet attracted a whole raft of replies and comments – 72 at the time of writing, but the most interesting in my own opinion came from another journalist, Lesley Riddoch: “It is totally baffling,” she wrote. “Beyond conspiracy theories – it’s just a fascinating news story. Is this how biased the MSM has become? Hard to come to another conclusion.”

These people are not fools, but it is impossible to come to another conclusion. People all over Scotland – even many unionists – were roaring and shouting over what Jonathan Mitchell QC correctly described as the London government’s “rapist’s theory of consent.” This wasn’t merely “a fascinating news story,” it was the only news story – the most important news story – in the country, and the media somehow overlooked it.

Macwhirter and Riddoch are far from stupid, and so are their colleagues in the Scottish media. This story was not so much overlooked as it was deliberately and maliciously ignored. Why would suggesting this be a conspiracy theory? It takes infinitely more imagination and – quite frankly – a dullard’s innocence to presume a benign and honest media; almost every journalist in Scotland, somehow failed to see the significance of what had happened.

Nothing of this is the stuff of paranoia. The use of the media as a means of social control is well known. It has been the subject of serious academic research for decades. In 1973 an article, “Mass Media Functions, Knowledge, and Social Control,” by Donohue, Tichenor, and Olien appeared in Journalism Quarterly which made the statement:

The importance of knowledge as a basis for social power has been noted by a number of scholars, but less well appreciated is the fact that control of knowledge is central to development and maintenance of power.

It is no secret that knowledge is power, and neither is the fact that the control of knowledge – who gets to know what and who has the power to decide – is integral to the process of building power and holding on to it. No government, in what is assumed to be a western liberal democracy, that rules by fiat and rides roughshod over a people’s refusal to be dictated to can last long. Governments in the habit of behaving like this – governments like Westminster – can achieve this only by carefully controlling what the people know, and this can be done only with a high degree of control over the media. This is no conspiracy theory. This is power.

We can understand Lesley Riddoch’s apprehension. Given what we have been through and the political climate in which we find ourselves – at home and internationally, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of conspiracist thinking. Forces much bigger than us are at work; we can see the effects of their work but we can’t see the unseen actors or gain any access into their plans. This lends itself to conspiracy theories, but we cannot be too innocent either.

While we may not have rock solid evidence of what happens behind closed doors – or even where those doors are exactly – we can see what is happening. Patterns are emerging, and so much of the media bias and the tactics the media has used have become clear to us. We certainly now know enough to take it for granted that we are working towards independence within a seriously hostile media environment. Not succumbing to anxiety and paranoia is crucial, for sure, but we are now at a place where we must assume the mainstream media is against us and approach everything it says with a well-developed hermeneutic of suspicion.

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Can You Trust The Press?


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