We’ve just watched three hours of the Education and Culture Committee at Holyrood discussing the report on media bias by Professor John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland, which featured the good professor himself and senior BBC Scotland executives including Ken McQuarrie and John Boothman.
The contrast between Prof. Robertson’s absolute frankness and candour – openly discussing his political views and his mild autism – and the BBC men’s evasion and obfuscation was quite something to behold. We’ll have some analysis this week.
One finding of Prof. Robertson’s report was that the anti-independence media (or for short, “the media”) had a strong tendency to personalise the Yes debate in the form of Alex Salmond, and a piece in today’s Scotsman provides us with a handy illustration.
“Alex Salmond ran up £100K bill at Edinburgh Castle”, blares the headline, suggesting a serious blowout at the giftshop on Edinburgh Rock and pencils with a wee tartan tammy on the top. But of course, that turns out not to be the story. What the paper means by “Alex Salmond” is “the Scottish Government”, and rather than all having been splurged on a big knees-up, as readers might be expected to infer, the bill in fact took two years and 13 separate events to accumulate, averaging just £7,308 a time.
Frankly, readers, that’s such a tiddly price to throw a shindig for large numbers of dignitaries, artists, businessfolk, sportsmen and normal people – food and drink included – in what is by pretty much any measure Scotland’s most glamorous and historic venue that we’re now thinking of putting on a wee hootenanny there ourselves for Wings readers with some of our fundraiser money.
(It’s less than the cost of the average wedding reception in a wee municipal function room, for example, which comes in at £9,774 including catering, booze, entertainment and flowers – all of which are included in the Scotsman’s various itemisations.)
Nevertheless, so desperate is the Scotsman to turn this quite startlingly modest level of expenditure for a government holding a party in a castle into some sort of scandal that it throws in the First Minister’s name a staggering ELEVEN times in just 567 words of text, or one every 52 words.
(52 words, incidentally, is the length of the sentence you just read. The phrase “Scottish Government” is used just three times, excluding the twice that it appears in a quote FROM the Scottish Government. And one of the three uses is to identify the source of that quote, so in reality there are only two in the main body text.)
We’d hesitate to suggest that the article represented a new depth to which the once-proud journal had sunk. After all, it still hosts regular columns by Brian Wilson and Michael Kelly. But on the day of the Holyrood hearing about Professor Robertson’s report on the standards of the Scottish media, we commend it at least on its impeccable sense of ironic timing.