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Showing posts with label The Sun. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Sun. Show all posts

Friday, 5 August 2011

Labour hypocrisy unabated - put up or shut up, Johann Lamont

RANT

Put up or shut up, Johann Lamont. You have full disclosure from the SNP - and there was nothing to hide.

Let Labour do the same, both for the McConnell administration and at Westminster level. Nae chance - but then perhaps Labour and the wee Baron of Glenscorrodale do have something to hide ...

ANALYSIS

The contrasting treatment of this minor story by the Scotsman and the Herald are instructive, especially when compared with Newsnight Scotland’s coverage of the matter.

The Scotsman has no doubt that this is the big story, leads with it on page one, while virtually relegating the real big story, the Eurozone crisis, to the business section, with only a single column on page one pointing to this. It devotes all of pages 4 and 5 to it.

In stark contrast, the Herald leads with the £50m global meltdown, and has an objective headline below it, Salmond reveals News International Meetings.

Newsnight Scotland’s Isabel Fraser interviewed Johann Lamont and Stewart Hosie on this last night, and, as always, asked all the right questions of both. The programme started with an objective and fairly detailed summary of the meetings and correspondence between the First Minister and News Corp executives, setting the scene.

Isabel Fraser opened by asking Johann Lamont what Labour meant by accusing the First Minister of Scotland of “highly questionable behaviour”.

Johan Lamont said that it was “remarkable” that 40% of all Alex Salmond’s media contacts in the last four years were with News International, and he met with them on more occasions than other media groups, but she then retreated into admissions that all – or most – politicians had courted Murdoch, and came out of it badly. She touchingly thought that “a line had been drawn under it” by Ed Miliband, and piously hoped that Alex Salmond “would recognise that he had an inappropriately close relationship” with News International.

Isabel Fraser then administered the Vulcan death grip.

“So what you are saying in effect is that Alex Salmond’s behaviour was as craven and as sycophantic as Tony Blair’s, Gordon Brown’s, Ed Miliband's, Ed Balls' – the list goes on and on from the Labour Side”.

Johann was not exactly tickled pink (Labour’s favourite colour these days?) by this, and gave the muted reply that nobody came out of this well. She then, however, grabbed the spade again and began digging furiously. Other First Ministers – Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish, Jack McConnell – did not behave in this way. The way she took the bait reminded me of spinning for mackerel, or as Americans say, shooting fish in a barrel. The line was snapped taut instantly by Isabel Fraser, who reeled in calmly.

She detailed Jack McConnell’s meeting with News International executives or journalists – three as Finance Minister, one as Education Minister and ten as First Minister. “Are you saying that is inaccurate?”

No, replied Johann, but it was not 40% of all media contact in his time, nor was he offering opportunities to go to the Ryder Cup at taxpayers’ expense.

Isabel Fraser picked up on this in her first question to Stewart Hosie. Some of the offers made would have been paid from the public purse, but were they actually about developing a personal relationship between the First Minister and Rupert Murdoch or James Murdoch?

Stewart Hosie chose to focus initially on the level of disclosure by the Government – not just one year of meetings between the FM and News International but four years of the contacts between the entire Government and all parts of the media.

Like for like year, Alex Salmond met nine time compared to Ed Miliband’s fifteen times and David Cameron’s twenty seven times.

The entire Scottish Government met with News International in four years on less than half the occasions that Labour met with them in a single year in opposition.

Labour were up to their necks in hypocrisy. At a time when the Scottish government had been incredibly transparent, we still don’t know a single thing, other than the information that Isobel Fraser had just read out about Jack McConnell, nor about the meetings held by Labour in 2007, 2008 and 2009 when the Operation Motorman Report was sitting on Gordon Brown’s desk.

(Operation Motorman was a 2003 investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office into allegations of offences under the Data Protection Act by the British press.)

Isobel Fraser returned to her question – could Stewart Hosie clarify what his thoughts were on whether or not it was appropriate for the First Minister to offer hospitality to Rupert Murdoch at the taxpayers’ expense?

The Ryder Cup wouldn’t have been at the taxpayers’ expense, replied Stewart Hosie. Looking at all of the correspondence between the FM and News International – all of it – it was about jobs, economic development, inward investment, and it was about promoting Scotland abroad. One would have thought that the general public would expect their First Minister to be seeking media outlets to promote Scotland.

Isabel Fraser:Johann Lamont – will now Labour publish all correspondence, and all details of the last four years between Labour Ministers, Labour Prime Ministers and Labour advisers?”

Johann Lamont:Well, I certainly think that Ed Miliband has made it clear that he recognised that there was an inap … it was … we have … we’re in the wrong place, I think in relationship – all of us, across the board, in relation to News International.”

Isabel Fraser: Will you publish the sort of information that allows the public to make an assessment of the nature of that relationship in the way the SNP has done today?”

Johann Lamont: Well, I understand that the SNP gave the information, which was under Freedom of Information Act – clearly, under if under Freedom of Information request, the same information would be provided. I don’t think that there’s …”

Isabel Fraser: Well, why wait for that? If you’re acting in good faith, why actually wait for that – why wait for that trigger? Why not just say ‘We want to put a line underneath this …’ – just get it all out there.”

Johann Lamont: “I don’t want to sound defensive about something that’s not within my remit.” (simultaneous cross talk) “It feels very much to me at this time, in order to build trust – rebuild trust - with people you do have to be transparent. There will be a bit of to and fro’ing amongst the parties on this question – who has been open and who has not. But at the heart of this, for too long, people – given our experience in ‘92, when the party realised what happens when you’re up against something like News International – and people realise you have to have a relationship with newspapers – we understand that – but there was a recognition then that it’s gone to far. I now think Alex Salmond should recognise that there was a mixing together of two things – a bit about jobs, but an awful lot about Alex Salmond on the world stage.”

Isabel Fraser: (to Stewart Hosie) “Do you now think that Alex Salmond has to recognise that the relationship was inappropriate?”

Stewart Hosie: I think the transparency the Scottish Government showed today in publishing all of this material is first class – that’s the best disinfectant for any allegations. I think it’s time Labour came off their high horse and publish the same over the last four years.”



SUMMARY

In just under nine minutes, Isobel Fraser and Newsnight Scotland got to the heart of this matter, in contrast to the Scotsman, which succeeded only in demonstrating why politicians get paranoid about the press, and why its circulation and influence are inexorably - and probably terminally - declining.

To those Scottish nationalist critics who think the BBC is the Great Satan, I ask where they think objective coverage of this story, and a forensic questioning of the party spokespersons would have come from, if not from the BBC?

But we are left with the fact that television journalism, powerful though it is, can be ephemeral in a way that print journalism is not.

Why is it left to a rank amateur like me – a blogger with a political agenda, but trying to be objective – to try to capture the essence of this vital analysis by Isabel Fraser and the Newsnight team in print when we have professional print journalists and supposedly ‘quality’ newspapers to do a proper, balanced analysis and ask the right questions?

(I know the answer – it’s the bloody Union, stupid – and the referendum.)

POSTSCRIPT

If I may join the assembled masses of commentators offering advice to the Scottish Labour Party, may I suggest that Johann Lamont does her homework before she comes on television, and that she strives for a delivery style that owes less to Lord Prescott’s fractured syntax and more to better models from her party, however hard to find they are these days?

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Shereen Show - sports writers give their views on the Megrahi Release

cynicalHighlander, a correspondent (see comments on my last blog on Portillo) called my attention to a radio show that I had not come across before - Shereen on BBC Radio Scotland - and its treatment of the Megrahi release issue yesterday, Sunday  13th February.

(I don’t listen to radio politics as much as I should, and I remind myself that Scottish radio has almost certainly a much bigger influence on the political thinking of the Scottish voter than I give it credit for, especially because of a highly significant media audience, those who listen in the car, an audience of which I am no longer a part.)

My first reaction was delight that Shereen Nanjiani, a broadcaster who I always liked in her long career stint (from 1987) as news anchor on STV and the first Asian/Scottish presenter in Scotland, was back. I hadn’t realised that she had re-invented herself as a radio talk show host in 2006. (I met her fleetingly in 1990 in the foyer when I was running a negotiating skills course for STV in Glasgow in 1990, but she most certainly won’t remember me.)

Unfortunately, this show in Sunday 13th was a deeply disappointing introduction to Shereen for me.

Shereen is no media airhead female selected for eye-candy reasons: she graduated from Glasgow University with an MA in Philosophy, and her long news anchor experience has left her with a wide experience of the Scottish political scene and beyond.

Her guests on Sunday’s show included three people who had something to say about the Megrahi release affair, reactivated by the Wikileaks disclosures about the UK and Libya and David Cameron’s bandwagon-jumping to discredit the Labour Party nationally. They were a peculiar mix -

Sarah Oates is Professor of Political Communications at Glasgow University, a graduate of Yale and Emory (Atlanta) universities, specialising in the study of media and democracy - a highly relevant heavyweight by any standards, and well-equipped to offer a considered view on the complex web of geo-politics that the Megrahi Affair is embedded in. But she didn’t …

Bill Leckie is a Scottish sport journalist and broadcaster who writes for The Sun. As a non-sporting person, my only knowledge of him, apart from this programme, is that he seems to excite the ire of Celtic in the Wild West of Scotland over allegations of bigotry in the game and beyond, and a sturdy response that he made to Kelvin MacKenzie’s attack on Scotland from an English nationalist standpoint. This rather contrived little spat had the feel of a gimmick to sell newspapers to me, however, I rejoice in Kelvin MacKenzie, who is exactly the kind of strident English nationalist who brings Scottish independence that bit closer every time he opens his mouth. And I fully support his wish to see an independent England again without all this British rubbish.

Bill Leckie, in his juxtaposed reply to Kelvin, Sun staff argue for UK break-up expresses the following admirable sentiments -

So here's the bottom line. We either make a fresh start as a proper, united land or admit it's over, air-kiss and go our own separate ways. There's nothing to be gained in us continually moaning that England treats us like the poo on their shoe. There's no point in the English giving themselves coronaries because we get free eye tests and bus passes.  Now that Scotland has a nationalist government, it's time we let the voters decide our destiny once and for all.

One might hope from that quote that Bill Leckie might have something useful and objective to say about the Megrahi affair. One would have been wrong …

The third guest in the discussion was Tom English, an Irishman working in Scotland as a sports journalist for Scotland on Sunday, and Scottish Sports Feature writer of the Year. (Tom English is doubtless bored rigid by jokey reference to his surname, and might well adopt the tactic of Lee Bum Suk - the Foreign Minister of Korea until his death in the  Rangoon bombing in 1983, and a distinguished UN diplomat, who used to introduce himself at conference by saying “My name is Lee Bum Suk. Please laugh now, then we can move on to serious business.”)

Exactly what a sports journalist’s views were supposed to contribute to the Megrahi discussion I am not certain, but there he was anyway.

What did we actually get from this odd mix?

Shereen Nanjiani gave a brief introduction, then played Cameron’s comment on the UK Labour Government’s involvement “facilitation of an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish Government”, itself a simplistic distortion of what actually happened without regard to the critical time frame. This was followed by an emotional quote from Stephanie Bernstein, an American relative of a Lockerbie victim, understandably hostile to the UK government’s position.

Shereen could  have quoted Dr. Jim Swire as a balancing view, but she didn’t. Instead, she followed with an Alex Salmond broadcast quote, in which the First Minister made the critical time distinction - that Megrahi was actually released a year later - a distinction that, however, doesn’t fit well with the shabby consensus between Cameron, the unionist press and the Labour Party, that the Scottish government was somehow complicit in the UK government’s double dealing and hypocrisy. Shereen could have had a representative of the Scottish government on her panel of guests - but she didn’t …

I suppose that up to that point, some kind of balance was maintained by Shereen and the programme’s production team. But then the discussion and the motley guests -

Prof. Sarah Oates, an American, jumped straight in with both feet.  “I mean, the more and more you hear about this story, the less and less likely it seems that this was a just a disinterested release due to humanitarian concerns.

The more and more I play that remark, Prof. Oates, the less and less likely it seems to me that this was a disinterested assessment of a complex political situation from an American academic, but more a superficial assessment - an opinion rather than a considered academic analysis, and one that has been formed without looking closely enough at the timescales, the documents, the complex nature of devolved government, the Scottish legal system and the fraught relationship between the Scottish Nationalist Government and the Unionist Labour Government of the UK at that time. But I could be wrong, Professor Oates …

Bill Leckie, sport journalist in the tabloid Sun newspaper, jewel of the News International, part of the Murdoch empire that includes the appalling Fox News in America, illegal buggers of everyone’s phone from Princes to commoners, currently the subject of multiple criminal investigations by the Metropolitan Police, has an opinion too, despite his apparent sympathies for Scottish nationalist aspirations in his Kelvin MacKenzie rebuttal.

A “bugbear”  of his, Bill Leckie confidently asserts, is that he never has believed that it was about compassionate release - “I have written from day one that I didn’t think it was anything to do with compassionate release - I’ve always thought it was business.”

This carefully formed opinion was obviously the product of deep journalistic research and reflection while on the terracing, fending off the outrageous attacks of Celtic supporters over chanting from the fans, and engaging in contrived spats with Kelvin MacKenzie.

Leckie then goes on to a quite contemptible attack on Kenny MacAskill’s integrity in his speech in August 2009 explaining and defending his decision to release Megrahi. Leckie then predictably repeats the distorted interpretation of the Justice Minister’s remark about a ‘higher power’ as suggesting that Megrahi would be judged by the Almighty, rather than what it patently was, a qualifying statement that his life span would be determined by a higher power, not by the medical forecast.

Tom English was then invited by Shereen to offer an opinion, from his deep sports expertise, on whether this was a compassionate release or not. Drawing on deep reserves of sporting journalistic experience and analysis, he reveals that he used to believe it, but no longer does, because “this week has absolutely changed my opinion.” He now believes that political expedience and not compassion drove the Scottish governments distinction.

He then goes on to accuse Alex Salmond of hypocrisy, quoting Sir Augustine Thomas "Gus" O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary for the lying, expedient Brown Labour government and now for the appalling ConLib coalition, that “the SNP were open to negotiations in the release of Megrahi.” He parrots the UK line that the Scottish Government was linking the issue of the Megrahi release to legislation on prisoner compensation on slopping out.

In so doing, Tom English unwittingly repeats and gives credence to a British Government lie - a blatant distortion and conflation of events, timescales and facts which a sports journalist, however distinguished in his field, has clearly not examined in any detail.

A Southern Irishman, even a sports journalist, should have a least some passing acquaintance with British government lies in the bloody history of his native land. The only excuse I can offer for Tom English is that, in his well-founded distaste for the UK and BP machinations over Libya and Megrahi, he has swallowed whole and entire the desperate attempts of a failing UK political culture to embroil the Scottish Government in their shameful realpolitik and deep hypocrisy.

In so doing, he and the other guests casually, and without a shred of evidence, or even apparently any real consideration of the evidence that exists, have impugned the integrity of two leading members of the Government of Scotland - the First Minister, Alex Salmond and the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill.

Shereen Nanjiani and her producer have failed to provide a balanced debate on a critical issue to the future of Scotland - and the UK - when a Holyrood election is imminent.

In so doing, they have also done a disservice to the Lockerbie dead and to their living, grieving relatives, who want above all, closure and justice based on the rule of law and objective facts, not on the glib and superficial opinions of sports journalists.


Friday, 21 January 2011

A tale of two newspapers - The Herald and the Scottish Sun: The Margaret Jaconelli Case

Margaret Jaconelli appeared at the Sheriff Court, Glasgow yesterday in pursuit of her case for fair compensation for her wholly-owned tenement flat in Ardenlea Street, Dalmarnock.

The purpose of the hearing was to consider the eviction order Glasgow City Council is attempting to enforce against her, and to hear Margaret’s claim that GCC had not followed due process of law in previous hearings. She was unrepresented because her solicitor had withdrawn from the case, and she therefore secured a new hearing date of 16th February to permit her to find and brief a new solicitor.

In court were two newspaper reporters, Gerry Braiden of the Herald and Paul Drury, a freelance reporter acting for the Scottish Sun newspaper. Paul Drury has been in contact with Margaret by telephone and had direct contact and dialogue with her in the court. Gerry Braiden has had no contact with Margaret since the Herald’s and Evening Times’ previous hostile and pejorative coverage of her case, and made no attempt to speak to her, before or after the court proceedings or by telephone.

The Herald and the Scottish Sun today both ran significant stories about the case, but from very different perspectives - see links below

The 'story' in today's 'Herald'

The story in today's Scottish 'Sun'

The Sun focused on the massive profits made by Grantly Developments on two plots of land bought for a total of £45k in 1988/89 very close to Margaret Jaconelli’s home in Ardenlea Street, and the analysis made by a Glasgow University lecturer, published author and expert on urban regeneration and development, Dr. Libby Porter of the the two valuations made by Glasgow City Council of two plots of land under the compulsory purchase legislation.

The Sun used these calculations to run under the headline

£3.6m - THAT’LL BE JUST GRAN

Expert’s price tag on £30k pad

Exclusive by Paul Drury

The Herald, in contrast, with no recent contact with Margaret Jaconelli and no contact with Dr. Libby Porter, chose to run under the headline

 

Four-week eviction delay for woman on Games site

Grandmother secures reprieve after being dropped by solicitor

Gerry Braiden

 

The headline and sub-header are not too bad, but the story that follows is mainly pejorative in tone and content, consistent with the Herald and Gerry Braiden’s previous coverage of the MJ case.

But there are disturbing aspects in this story relating to the facts presented by Gerry Braiden. He refers to the meeting between Margaret Jaconelli and her solicitor, Mr. Carmichael with the Glasgow City Council District Valuer, Mr. Davidson. No other person was present. No offer of any kind was made to Margaret Jaconelli and her solicitor at that meeting.

But Gerry Braiden says (last para column two) in his report today -

“The Herald understands that at the meeting, Mrs. Jaconelli was offered around £90,000, which included money for the flat, upheaval and compensation. Mrs. Jaconelli is understood to have have rejected this, and although she is no longer demanding £360,000 for the two-bedroom tenement property, she is now believed to be holding out for a figure of about £250,000”

Every word of this is either untrue or a distortion of the facts, and certain very disturbing questions are raised about the Herald’s sources of information, their accuracy and their motivation.

1. No offer of any kind was made at the meeting on Tuesday 18th of January by the Glasgow City Council District Valuer.

2. A verbal offer was made at a later point in time verbally to Margaret Jaconelli’s solicitor, of £90,000, which he relayed verbally to Margaret Jaconelli by telephone, and no terms and conditions were specified in these verbal exchanges.

3. Margaret Jaconelli neither accepted nor rejected the verbal offer - her position was - and is - that she will give full consideration to any offer made to her in writing with all terms and conditions detailed in the offer.

4. Margaret Jaconelli has never ‘demanded’ £360,000 for her flat. Such a figure was quoted as an example of how various interpretations of value could be posited if the huge settlements made with various developers - The Grantly figures - were applied to MJ’s property, assuming some form of proportionality were applied to the relative sizes of the plots of land involved. (The Sun’s £3.6m illustrates the most extreme comparison.)

5. In the discussions with the District Valuer, MJ and her solicitor stated what her aspirations were - to achieve an agreed settlement that permitted her to buy a similar two-bedroomed, red sandstone flat in an area of her choice and have all her legal, conveyancing and moving costs met, plus some recognition of the excessive heating costs she has sustained over many years as as result of being forced to live in a tenement block where every other tenant or owner had left, and have some compensation for the disruption to her life caused by GCC.

Some discussion and speculation ensued as to what this figure might be, but no specific demand was made. The District Valuer made a reference to two-bedroom flat being on the market for around £63k. Since this represented the bottom of the market, MJ and her solicitor rejected such a figure.

The disturbing questions raised by Gerry Braiden and the Herald’s article are these -

From whom did Gerry Braiden and the Herald learn of an offer of £90,000 being made which was known only to MJ and her solicitor? On the face of it, it can only have been from a source within Glasgow City Council, since neither Braiden nor the Herald spoke to MJ or her solicitor?

Why was the offer misrepresented as being made at the meeting with the District Valuer, when no offer was made at that meeting?

Why did the Herald report there being highly specific terms and conditions to the offer, when no such terms and conditions have been specified, either verbally or in writing by GCC?

Why did Gerry Braiden inaccurately report that MJ had rejected such an offer, without interviewing her or her solicitor, when her clear position is that she will give full consideration to any offer properly made in writing with all terms and conditions detailed?

The $64,000 question - or perhaps the £3.5 million question is - Why has the Herald consistently presented a highly pejorative and one-sided view of Margaret Jaconelli’s case, one that at every stage has been selective in the facts presented, effectively only giving a platform to Glasgow City Council’s version of events, and leaving an impression of the vulnerable, ordinary - but extraordinary - Glasgow grandmother as a greedy, obstructive woman making unreasonable claims?

Nothing could be further from the truth, as anyone who has spoken to Margaret Jaconelli will testify. I came across Margaret’s case by accident, and have only known her since she contacted me following my first blog on the subject. We have never met, yet I will now stay with her to the end of her persecution by powerful forces in Glasgow, and until she reaches what she regards as an equitable settlement.

Why did Chris Leslie, a  Glasgow photographer and filmmaker, engage with Margaret’s case, champion her cause, and make a very moving film of her plight for YouTube?

Why did Dr. Libby Porter, a respected academic and expert on urban regenerations projects and planning law at Glasgow University’s Department of Urban Studies become interested in the facts of this strange and disturbing case?

The answer is that Margaret Jaconelli is an extraordinary woman, resilient and determined to put her life together in the face of an onslaught from powerful forces in Glasgow society. She supports the development, supports and welcomes the Commonwealth Games, and is perfectly willing to move - but only if basic principles of justice and equity prevail, and she receives a settlement that enables her and her husband to resume their lives as hard-working Scots, typical of the very best in the Glasgow and specifically the Glasgow East end character.

And during Margaret’s long fight, where the hell have the Labour Party been? Where has Anas Sarwar,MP been? Where has Frank McAveety, MSP been? The thing that used to be the People’s Party has been conspicuous by its absence and its silence, as a City council controlled by their party attempts to destroy Margaret Jaconelli.

And what of my own party, the Scottish National Party?

They have been aware of the case, they have expressed interest and concern, and Councillor Billy McAllister - that rare beast, a Glasgow Councillor with a deep concern for equity and justice, always willing to confront corruption in the city -  has been working hard behind the scenes for justice for Margaret.

But, SNP, you have not yet done enough or said enough publicly! Now is the time to show where you stand, clearly and unequivocally. A helluva lots of Glasgow voters will have your stance in mind when they go to the polls in May, in about 100 days or so.