Wednesday, 30 March 2016

To report or not to report?

Yesterday I had an interesting debate with someone on Twitter regarding the story published in The National about the latest scandal engulfing Natalie McGarry.  In essence the story is that the SNP's Glasgow Regional Association (GRA) is unable to properly account for £4,127.62 of its funds.  Ms McGarry's involvement is that she was convener of the GRA from 2011 until last year and, as such, was the main signatory on the association's bank account.  The money appears in the accounts under 'Other payments', but there are no receipts to account for the spending.  Ms McGarry is reported to be being unco-operative regarding the matter.

Essentially there were two grounds for arguing that the article should not have been published in The National:
1. That the story was unsubstantiated gossip
2. That by publishing the story The National was undermining the independence movement

On the subject of unsubstantiated gossip, the main argument was that no-one is named as a source in the article.  This is true.  However, the article is very specific in some of its details, such as the amount of missing money and how it is presented in the accounts, not to mention the fact that the GRA is mentioned specifically, which would make it very easy to verify the story.  Judging by the information given, the meeting at which the matter was discussed seems to have become quite heated, so it would be understandable if people did not want to be named, but were happy to speak off-the-record.  Finally one would imagine that The National would have run the story past their lawyers in order to ensure that they would not be liable to a charge of defamation by Ms McGarry.  All these things would suggest that there is some basis for the story and that there is therefore a legitimate public interest in it.

As for the second point, that The National is undermining the independence movement by publishing the story, this is very much a slippery slope.  This is essentially demanding that The National, as a pro-independence newspaper, should censor its content, on the basis that the Unionist media will be undermining the independence movement anyway, so The National should refrain from adding fuel to the fire.  But where do you draw the line?  Are members of the pro-independence movement to be given what is, in essence, a free pass from any wrongdoing on their part being reported to their supporters by pro-independence media?  The Unionist media would have a field day with that one, using it as proof of their narrative of the SNP as a one-party state which controls the media in Scotland.  And why should independence supporters be shielded from any less-than-stellar behaviour by pro-independence 'superstars'?  Is support for independence so weak that any hint that leading figures in the movement are less than perfect will lead to mass desertion?  I don't think so.

On balance I think The National were right to publish the story.  The independence movement has a right to know how their public figures are behaving, good or bad.  What we don't need is a pro-independence media which is a mirror image of the Unionist media, colluding with the Establishment to cover up bad news and scandal.  The independence movement wants to see a better, fairer Scotland, and that includes allowing the pro-independence media to hold political figures to account where warranted.

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