Journalism is a profession that prides itself on shaking foundations, rattling cages, tugging coattails, pestering and challenging and demanding answers from the Powers That Be. More than that, they are the keepers of time: they are the chroniclers of history, reporting what happens when it happens, for the benefit not just of the present, but future generations. Just think of that enormous privilege – and responsibility – to know that you are expected to report for the rest of human history.
I’ve been reading G.A. Ponsonby’s London Calling: How The BBC Stole The Referendum, which is absolutely essential reading not just from a referendum context, but to show what has come before – long before the referendum was even a possibility: tearing up a party manifesto live on air (has even Fox News done anything like that?), suppressing news that damages their favoured party, all the way to the invention of scandals.
It didn’t have to be this way. The media in Scotland could have seen the growing support for independence and acknowledged that there must be something to it. They could even have adopted some semblance of balance by toning down the Gordon Brown worship. In a wild, crazy world, maybe even a few more newspapers – 30-45% of them, to reflect the pro-independence population over the campaign years – would actively back a Yes vote. They would be the chroniclers of a new age in Scotland’s history, nearly half of Scots wouldn’t be so disenfranchised with a media that seemed out to destroy them – and future generations would look back at them.
Look at India’s struggle for independence. Hindi and Urdu journals like Payam-e-Azadi and Samachar Sudha Varshan supported Indian independence from the British Empire since the 1850s. Of course, the Empire responded in its usual subtle way with the Vernacular Press Act – a Gagging Act. But it would take more than that to shut them up, and soon libraries of pro-independence publications were printed, many run or edited by leaders of the movement: Bande Mataram, Harijan, Hindustan Ghadar, Kesari, Mahratta, Malayala Manorama, Mathrubhumi, Navajivan, Rast Guftar, Swadesamitran, the English-language The Hindu and Young India, and many more.
What will future generations think when they see our nation’s newspaper headlines during the storied road to the referendum? They’ll see nearly all of them against independence, even as support was regularly equal to opposition in 2015; nearly all of them anti-SNP even as the party eclipsed the other Unionist parties combined; and nearly all of them complicit with the three Unionist parties’ web of deceit and terrorising in a time when public contempt for those parties is at an all-time low. With independence now looking more likely than ever despite the peals of the disbelieving 30% who would never vote for it, certain elements of the Scottish media are looking less like the voice of the people, and more like the tool of an old order on the brink of collapse.
But nothing is set in stone. There is always time. There is always hope for redemption. We know there are pro-independence journalists, broadcasters, writers, crew, and tea runners. We even know there are those who are not pro-independence, but not as Forever British as the more vocal columnists. Most of them have converted to citizen journalism, activism, even political office. But how many more are waiting in the wings?
Ever since the referendum, certain commentators have lamented about the “majority” being “pushed around” by a “loud minority.” This is obviously in reference to the official result. But the truth is that they are a minority. Most of the very proud, outspoken columnists, writers and editors are not just No, they are Never. It isn’t just that Yes voters are massively under-represented – the Nevers are greatly overrepresented. The Mail, Express, Scotsman, Times, Telegraph and sister publications are not just opposed to Scottish independence in the current political and economic climate: they treat it as nothing less than an existential threat. Just as voting No was falsely offered as a vote for Home Rule, those who voted No are falsely identified as those who would never vote for independence. People don’t like being misrepresented about as much as they don’t like being lied to.
So I reserve hope beyond hope for a Damascene conversion for some newspaper, somewhere in Scotland, without any actual expectations of change. Perhaps someone will start questioning why they’re framing the question as “why does nothing stick to the SNP?” instead of “why don’t the people believe anything we say?” Maybe they will start looking at the bigger picture as the UK continues lurching to the financial abyss. It could be some small thing we’d never expect. I’ll never forgive the media for the role they played in the referendum campaign – but unlike some voters, I never say never.
Like I said. There is always time.