Sunday, 28 September 2014

A new media

One of the major bones of contention throughout the referendum campaign was the bias against Yes from the media, both print and broadcast.  This entailed both the promotion of stories from the No side pretty much uncritically, while attacking stories from the Yes side and also by not covering positive stories from the Yes side but ensuring the No stories were reported prominently.  Some of the issues were exposed by Professor John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland.

There are 37 newspapers available to the Scottish public, 36 of which espoused the No side.  The one exception was, of course, the Sunday Herald, whose sales figures more than doubled following their support for the Yes campaign.  This is not to say that the Sunday Herald acted as an uncritical cheerleader for Yes.  They printed interviews with representatives of the No side, as well as analysis of the issues raised by the prospect of independence.  Clearly there was a gap in the market for this type of coverage.

The difficulty faced by the media supporting No was that Internet access is now widely available, something that was not the case in previous referendums in Scotland.  This meant that scare stories could be quickly debunked using information that was readily available on the Internet.  This was not something that the traditional media was used to.  I think that one of the reasons that sites like Wings over Scotland were so reviled by them is that they persistently embarrassed the BBC and newspapers by exposing the flaws in their stories using carefully researched and linked data.

So, if all the information was out there, why did we get a No vote?  One telling point here is the data showing how the various age groups voted.  It is quite striking to note that the young and middle-aged, the ones who are familiar with the Internet and social media, generally voted Yes, while the elderly, who are more likely to rely on traditional media, tended to vote No.

Where do we go from here?

The Sunday Herald  appears to be continuing its pro-independence stance.  However, it only appears weekly, which leaves a huge gap in the market.  A gap which is now being addressed by several initiatives such as The Scottish Independent, an offering from Derek Bateman and Newsnet Scotland, the Caledonian MercuryFreedom TVReferendum TV and an initiative from the guys behind Dateline Scotland and Wings over Scotland.  The size of the gap in the market is, I think, demonstrated by the fact that this last is being crowd funded and has raised more than three times the money they were looking for in two days.  Most of the offerings are not solely independence-oriented, but are more about providing a Scottish perspective on the news that is not biased against independence.

There are naysayers, of course, who point to the difficulties in starting up a new newspaper - see this thread on Guardian CiF for an example.  However, just because something is difficult and may not succeed is no reason not to try it.  Even if only one or two of the above initiatives succeed, it can only be an improvement on the current situation.

I firmly believe that Scotland will see independence in my lifetime (and I'm in my fifties now).  To succeed in the next referendum we need to be able to provide a strong voice in contrast to the establishment media, and not just online.  A diversity of opinion can only be a good thing for democracy.  Let's make sure that next time, people have access to both sides of the argument.

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