Back in 2004, I carried out a piece of research, published the next year in the European Journal of Communication (ref below), comparing the coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq in the Herald/Sunday Herald and the Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday. Here’s what I concluded based on the analysis of around 1600 war reports in each:
‘The Herald/Sunday Herald, on balance, produced an anti-war climate which contrasted with that in The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday, where the extensive and unquestioning use of military sources produced a climate at least accepting of the war.’ (479)
I had moved from the East of Scotland to the West in 1984 and at the time switched from the Scotsman to the Herald. I’d been fond of the Scotsman, bought it every day and found it informative and intelligent. Though a bit to the right of my own thinking on many social and economic issues, I knew what I was getting. When I started to read the Herald, I thought it and the Scotsman, quite similar, sitting somewhere in the centre ground of Scottish politics, pro-devolution, maybe a wee bit to the left of the overall UK picture and quite critical of UK foreign policy of the post-imperialist kind. So, the results of my research were a bit of a surprise. I had expected them both to be at least, on balance, sceptical or critical of Blair’s Iraq adventurism. Here’s a bit more from the research:
‘Figures 6 and 7 suggest quite a clear distinction between the two groups of newspapers with The Herald/Sunday Herald consistently presenting a more negative view of the war than The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday. In part this distinction can be attributed to a greater tendency in The Herald/Sunday Herald to present explicitly anti-war arguments and to report political damage to UK politicians and parties, despite lower overall quantity of coverage of the war (Figure 1), but also, this difference results from the tendency in The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday to report more frequently on military achievements and movements. Though The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday gave space to extended and strong critiques of the war agenda, there were relatively fewer of these than in The Herald/ Sunday Herald and, crucially, they were more likely to be balanced or, on particular days, outnumbered by other stories.’ (470)
These two quotes appearing on the same day were, I thought, revealing of the different starting points for analysis of reports coming in:
‘58 Die in new Baghdad Market Blast – Women and Children Killed by Stray Cruise Missile Say Iraqis.’ (The Herald, 29 March)
‘Iraqis Claim 58 Killed in Market by Allied Missile – at Least 58 People Were Said to Have Been Killed.’ (The Scotsman, 29 March) (474)
Jump forward, ten years to March 2014 and read in the Scotsman:
‘BBC portrayed Alex Salmond as ‘figure of fun’’
This report followed my appearance at the Holyrood Education and Culture committee where, amongst other things, I accused the BBC of having demonised Alex Salmond in the run up to the Referendum. The Scotsman report gave virtually no space to my research and allowed the BBC to both wrongly undermine it and, crucially avoid, the central question implied in their headline. The actual data proving my claim is in the reference below.
However, perhaps even more indicative of the Scotsman’s decline into tabloid indecency than their actual report was their practice of not moderating out offensive comments, unlike the Herald, made by readers below the article. The worst have since been moderated out but here are two still deemed acceptable:
‘Doctor Robertson is at least one sandwich short of a picnic.’
‘Does Prof Robertson still do the Woodwork and Arts & Crafts classes at Paisley College of FE?’
So, the suggestion of a mental health problem and rank snobbery were still OK in 2014?
Sometimes, I go back to Scotsman articles online and attempt to engage. The overwhelming and venomous unionist comment soon swamps my comments. Again the contrast with the more intelligent debate in Herald article follow-up is marked.
What has caused this drift to harsh unionism and associated militarism in the Scotsman? See this simple explanation from the Herald in 1996:
‘FORMER Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil has been named editor-in-chief of European Press Holdings, which owns the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and Edinburgh Evening News. The appointment, however, met a mixed reaction from pro-devolution supporters yesterday, given Mr Neil’s well-publicised opposition to the movement. In particular the continued editorial independence of the Scotsman, which has adopted a pro-devolution stance, was being questioned. Canon Kenyon Wright, of the Constitutional Convention, said last night he had real concerns over the appointment: “Obviously there will be considerable apprehension,” he said. “I would have some fear that the paper’s stance might change.”
I don’t need to tell you, I’m sure, that the late Canon, was sadly correct nor do I need to remind you of the dread Mr Neil’s ongoing dark shadow over Scottish and UK politics.