Broadcast media and the Press in Scotland were heavily biased (in their reporting to the Scottish public) against the “Yes” campaign. The shameful behaviour has continued unabated in the period since.
I recently read an analysis of the Scottish Press written by Jennifer Rachel Birks BA (Hons). I commend it to you.
Newspaper Campaigns, Publics and Politics
This thesis examines the practice of campaigning journalism, where a newspaper seeks political influence and claims to do so on behalf of its readers or a wider public. It is a production and content study of campaign journalism in the Scottish press, examining the journalists’ orientation to their readers, both in terms of social responsibility toward them in facilitating their citizenship, and in terms of accountability or answerability to them as their quasi-representatives.
The study also analyses the newspapers’ representation of the substance and legitimacy of public opinion to politicians at the Scottish Parliament, in particular the governing Scottish Executive (now Scottish Government), and the framing of politicians’ obligation to respond to public demands as formulated by the newspapers. In short, it seeks to investigate newspapers’ democratic claims to be the voice of ‘the public’
Jennifer Rachel Birks BA (Hons) Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy – Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences Faculty of Law, Business and Social Science – May 2009
Social Responsibility of the Press in Scotland (extracted and altered for presentation purposes only)
The Scottish public “entrust a measure of their sovereignty to journalists”, or at least newspapers claim that sovereignty on their behalf. This increasingly extends beyond dispassionately judging performance of citizens’ elected representatives; there is typically an emphasis on expressing outrage at wrongdoing, mistakes and indiscretions and demanding resignations. It is characterised by the adoption of ‘professional’ norms designed to facilitate the informed democratic engagement of citizens. In publishing only what is objective, accurate, impartial, balanced and fair journalists allow their readers to vote in accordance with their views, values and interests.
Journalists imagine a Scottish public that is often too preoccupied and too distracted to be active citizens. Therefore citizens entrust a measure of their sovereignty to journalists just as people entrust a measure of control over their bodies to doctors. Journalists are professionals who hold citizenship in trust for us, and we rely on their expertise or political analysis when we want information about the state of the country.
The autonomy of journalists from political interference does not mean that they will necessarily be oriented to the public interest, but it is an important condition under which journalists are free to adhere to professional norms. Such norms are governed by the authority of rules and procedures and journalists are expected to represent events, issues and proposals objectively and impartially rather than selectively in loyalty to preferred groups or in exchange for political or economic advantage. However, critics argue that in reality journalism is subject to the rationale, interests and influence of commerce.
Newspaper owners enjoy considerable political influence over journalists and their output via mechanisms of reward and sanction and career progression. These captains of the means of publicity, and national newspapers have endured losses for many years simply for the gain of political prestige and impact. Rupert Murdoch is the most commonly cited contemporary example for his alleged sway over the Blair government.
It is also argued that journalists absorb hegemonically inflected newsroom assumptions to the point where they become invisible, and which can privilege certain social groups, such as the preference of elite sources as the credible “primary definers”. Journalists self-selected into positions at newspapers with whose editorial line they already sympathise, internalise the editorial policy and anticipated preferred angles or even factual distortions from previous editorial revisions, and learnt by example from more senior colleagues.
Newspaper journalists are supposed to be held to their professional principles through codes of practice such as that of the National Union of Journalists and the industry self-regulatory body the Press Complaints Commission. However, unlike the medical and legal professions, there is no force of accountability to the NUJ code since journalists are not formally accredited by the union and therefore cannot be struck off for misconduct. Similarly, the PCC can only request printed apologies, unlike the state regulator Ofcom for the broadcast media, which has legal force.
This demonstrates how, accountability of the press is consistent with its freedom, in terms of a positive (enabling) definition of freedom. But, like the PCC, this is an internal industry form of accountability, whereby journalists regulate one another nominally in the public interest, but without recourse to public engagement on the issue. Whilst the PCC does respond to external complaints, only individuals who have been sources for stories or otherwise represented within the pages of the newspaper are considered valid complainants, whilst the general public is not able to formally complain about being misinformed or misled, so it is questionable to what extent the PCC code really defends the democratic public interest.
Unrestricted freedom of the press is something that should be championed, but only if that includes freedom from state and commercial influence