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Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

peteroborneLast night, something monumental happened in London, as the widely respected journalist Peter Oborne resigned from The Daily Telegraph, aiming an astonishing, public, but wholly accurate broadside at the paper’s proprietors and their advertising department.

He accused his former bosses of a “fraud against the readers.”

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the softly-softly treatment the paper gave to the revelations about HSBC.

Oborne stated, in an article he posted online, that the bosses at the Telegraph had made a conscious decision to play down the story, because the bank is one of their biggest advertisers. This, said Oborne, was an abrogation of the paper’s responsibility to report the news, and to hold powerful people to account.

I thank God for such courage and conviction amongst our written media.

When they were lauding the staff of Charlie Hebdo, a lot of the coverage stuck in my throat because I knew a lot of those articles were written by people with no balls at all, who would go easy on their friends and those they thought could get them good stories, whose newspapers were in bed with party leaders or big business interests, and who tailored the news accordingly.

Let’s face it, we all know it’s gone on. The media has covered up everything from bank fraud to child abuse over the last few years.

Government depends on the silence, and connivance, of our media. There has never been a time when the people who were supposed to “educate and inform” us have been more cynically determined to do neither, pushing upon us lies and smears and spin that we would laugh at in a totalitarian dictatorship.

Examples are not hard to come by.

Many of them continue to sit on information about the paedophiles working out of the Hall of Westminster.

Editors and senior correspondents continue to push their favourite sons and daughters up the greasy pole, which is why, in Scotland, the Labour “A team” is comprised of a Blairite joker who seems unable to tell the truth – about anything – a deputy who isn’t even interested in politics, and a shadow health minister who thinks that after she, and the others, are caught distorting reality that she can bluff and bluster on national radio on the back of her reputation as a “bright young thing.”

A bad media creates these people because it allows them to get away with anything they want.

Murphy, Dugdale and Marra only do this kind of crap in the first place because they know full well that most of our journalistic class is weak and cowardly or just corrupt.

This is how The Vow – a piece of sheer forgery, a fraud on Scotland that’s so blatant no-one will even put his name to it – can have a decisive influence in a close referendum.

This is how one national newspaper can get away with reshaping a saltire into a Nazi flag and sticking it on the front page without a melt-down.

There must have been journalists inside that newspaper who were furious at that cover, but not a single one of them broke cover to express their anger.

Cowards, in a profession where courage is everything and without it you’re nothing.

Then there is the way the BBC and the written press by and large decided to forego any semblance of neutrality during the referendum campaign, and pushed a constant diet of rubbish down our throats until many of us were choking on it.

It has led to an explosion of interest in New Media, websites like Bella, like Wee Ginger Dug, like Wings Over Scotland, like this one and a hundred others. It led to the publication of The National, sparked the plans over on Newsnet Scotland and even led to the creation of our own wee in-house project Enjoy The Silence?, which has been downloaded almost 700 times since it was launched last week … which is not a bad wee number for a political magazine in its first issue.

But the fact is, none of us would have to do these things if there were more people in the business like Peter Oborne, journalists who remember what it’s supposed to be all about, who know what they got into the gig for, who are determined to make the profession great again, rather than allow themselves and their papers to become mouthpieces for those in power.

The first duty of the media is to stand up against that power, to scrutinise it, to hold it to account.

When was the last time you saw the press in the UK do that?

Oh, some are going to say they do it all the time. Look at our friends at The Daily Record, who like nothing better than taking a swing at the Scottish Government. Look at The Guardian, which picks holes in everything the Westminster Government does.

But look closer. The Daily Record didn’t give the same scrutiny to Labour when they were in power, because the paper is blatantly and unashamedly partisan. Labour never gets any form of scrutiny in The Record, which is why Glasgow City Council is run by a cabal headed up by Gordon Matheson, who would not have survived the scandals he has otherwise, to preside over one of the most appalling local authorities in the whole of the UK.

The Guardian, whilst pretending to be liberal, is actually as bad as the Record in one sense and much worse in another, because it has spent the last couple of years extolling the “virtues” of welfare reform, public sector pay freezes and military intervention abroad. There might not be a more dishonest newspaper in the country than that one, which, but for a few exceptions is about as centre right as any of the other London based titles.

Today they are attacking Cameron for his lack of transparency in his tax affairs, but this same newspaper wrote canonisation pieces on Slippery Jim, with one hack even making a joke about his expenses fiddling.

There are a handful of journalists out there who do take this stuff seriously.

Seamus Milne is one of them, and his Guardian columns are always a pleasure because of that. Polly Toynbee often rails against the dishonesty of a political discourse which demonises the worst off and Owen Jones writings are nearly always (with his referendum pieces being the sad exception) sharp and to the point, attacking hypocrisy wherever he finds it.

For a lot of the others – those who allow their papers to lie to the public, who actually publish those lies under their own names, or those who distort the truth and inflate (or ignore) the facts – and you all know who you are, and there are more of you in the media than most people would like to admit, I have little to say except that you are the reason I don’t buy newspapers.

You are the reason I do not trust much of what I read and hear. You are killing a once honourable profession.

Peter Oborne, a man I’ve disagreed with in nearly every word he’s written in the past 10 years – but I read anyway, because he doesn’t gild the lily – stands above all of you today as a real journalist, and a credit to everything you dishonour.

I wish him well, and I will continue to read every word he writes whether I like it or not.

Because he has earned my trust. Many of you never will.

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3 comments to “Tell Me Sweet Little Lies”
  1. Well said, James, I agree entirely.

    I copied this quote from his article when I shared on Facebook yesterday.

    “A free press is essential to a healthy democracy. There is a purpose to journalism, and it is not just to entertain. It is not to pander to political power, big corporations and rich men. Newspapers have what amounts in the end to a constitutional duty to tell their readers the truth.”
    Peter Oborne

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