I write a lot about the media’s relationship with our supporters.
There is a good reason why I do; the mainstream media has badly let Scottish football down and it is filled to the rafters, these days, with folk who exist only to be controversial.
They don’t care about doing the news.
Much of what they do write is speculative garbage.
Some is much worse.
There is a profoundly anti-Celtic bent in much of this coverage, and this is coupled with a kid gloves approach to events at Ibrox which is astonishing at times.
Yet I’d argue that our relationship with the mainstream media is unhealthy.
It is not good for a free, democratic society to exist with such mistrust between the press and the public. There is fault on both sides. Part of it can be laid at the door of the growing number of folk out there who look for the “facts” they want and are impervious to all evidence to the contrary.
I’ve encountered a number of them in the past few days alone, determined that either Trump is a better man than he seems or that Biden is corrupt in a way that would have killed his career prospects decades ago. The one thing that’s come across in spades is that it’s pointless to argue with them; their minds are made up and you can offer as much evidence to them as you can find … not only will they refuse to accept it, many of them won’t even look at it.
It disquiets me to listen to some of them; people who have formed opinions which are so bizarre they should come with a tinfoil hat. You cannot imagine how they ever got there, because what they appear to believe is so incompatible with reality.
But at least part of it is an enormous distrust of what they read and see from the mainstream media outlets.
In the world they inhabit, it is easy to believe that the press and the “establishment” work hand in hand to cover up all manner of nefarious deeds.
I tried to explain to one of those folk just the other day that the stuff they believe originates on the websites and forums of the extreme right … in short, that the people who promote this stuff are our mortal enemies.
It made not one blind bit of difference.
I found myself having to face the specious argument that “you have your opinion and I have mine” as if this was a debate between two rational points of view.
But as I said to this person, if you were convinced that the grass was blue and I argued to the contrary, this wouldn’t be a “difference of opinion” at all; it would be a debate between someone who’s vision was faulty and someone who’s vision was perfectly clear.
One side would be dealing in fact.
The other would be outside the margins of reality.
Our media does not lie all the time. It doesn’t even lie most of the time.
Granted, you have to know where to look to get your news … we’re not talking here about the fantasy rags of the right like The Express and The Daily Mail, where fear-mongering and the promotion of hate is so commonplace that they have become the written equivalent of Fox News.
But there are world class publications on both sides of the water which, in the main, offer information and analysis which is grounded and truthful.
All publications have an agenda; this is as true in Scotland as it is in America. National titles which I respect, like The Guardian, are clearly no friends of left-wing politics although they claim to be liberal papers … but nor are they foaming at the mouth partisans printing propaganda disguised as real news.
I will defend our media when it needs defending.
We have brilliant writers in Scotland, and a couple of them even within football.
Look at Kevin McKenna, a good friend to this blog and a true Celtic man; his article on Neil Lennon when he got the job was excellent. It didn’t matter that I disagreed with the central thesis; Kevin is a fantastic writer who is a great credit to his profession because he’s honest and engaging and deals with things fairly.
But there are sections of our media who’s conduct has become less and less easy to defend.
Sadly, the BBC is proving itself to be one of them, and in particular here in Scotland.
The sports department now appears to have a shameless partisan slant to it, and not to our benefit.
One of the worst culprits is Tom English, and he’s the reason I’m writing this.
This week, one of the biggest issues we were talking about on the Celtic sites was the way the Scottish Government gave the Ibrox club a pat on the head for the way they dealt with the published details of their player’s breach of health protocols.
This was a wholly legitimate issue, because when Celtic and Aberdeen players had broken regulations the attitude of those in office was entirely different.
Now, I have never argued – and I’m not about to start arguing – that the SNP is an “anti-Celtic party” because that’s arrant nonsense which doesn’t have the slightest basis in fact or reality. I do believe that their party strategists are trying too hard to reach out to the dregs of unionism, where they will find no friends and only cause themselves problems.
But it was entirely correct that Celtic cyberspace focussed on the issue, and it was absolutely right that Neil Lennon mentioned it in his press conference on behalf of the club.
And what was Tom English’s take on this?
That Celtic fans and Aberdeen fans and everyone else in Scotland asking this perfectly obvious question should be “careful what they wish for.”
His rationale was that further examples of players breaking rules might have come with more than just the “yellow card” which the game got for the Aberdeen and Celtic violations.
This is scandalous.
Scottish football fans are expected to accept a blatant double standard because to complain about it might harm the game as whole?
As if the double standard doesn’t create its own problems.
Even more than that, this is typical of English waiving away, as though it were nothing, yet another example of how Ibrox gets an easy time of it.
What English was effectively saying was that the Ibrox operation should be exempt from paying its bill because otherwise all of Scottish football would have to pay it.
Now, let me be clear that I am not suggesting that the Ibrox club be hammered for anything … but neither is English suggesting we shouldn’t have been.
When English and others cowered under the table as Celtic and Aberdeen were pummelled they abrogated their responsibility to speak up for the sport, and challenge those verdicts.
These were individual players who broke the rules; why were clubs made to pay for that?
For matters beyond their control?
This was not deliberate concealment, or the falsifying of test results or anything like that.
The clubs did everything right.
I keep on reading people making excuses for what the government did; English hasn’t even attempted that, which makes his contribution all the more gutless. If the Scottish Government had slammed the actions of the Ibrox players and paused the whole of the game in this country this blog would have been screaming at the ludicrous over-reaction of it.
But the point would have stood; one club got a pat on the head and two others were subjected to the full scorn of naming and shaming and matches postponed. Even if there was some faux justification for the differences in treatment, this is the arena of politics and in that sphere perception is as big a consideration as anything else … and it staggers me that nobody thought that this might be perceived as grossly unfair and contradictory.
There is no reality in which this was not a matter worthy of questions or debate.
A number of the mainstream media realise that and have written about this accordingly. One has bemoaned the way that it has solidified distrust between the Scottish Government and our support, much as this website pointed out the same.
It is a news story.
It is a legitimate area of inquiry.
English’s dismissive and gutless response was shocking.
Be careful what we wish for, when all we wish for is consistency and transparency?
It stinks to high heaven.
What kind of journalist dismisses a genuine issue of public interest in such a fashion?
It reminds me of the ancient Hugh Keevins argument that we shouldn’t go looking for proof of corruption in Scottish football in case we find some … that, in his view, would damage the game irreparably … but the corruption itself wouldn’t?
This is why our relationship with some sections of the media is so bad.
This is why, in the eyes of some of our fans, it’s broken beyond repair.
It’s the media itself which should have been asking these questions and instead for nearly a week only the blogs did.
There are suspicions, furthermore, that this matter isn’t as cut and dry as what has appeared in the media anyway, that other members of the Ibrox squad were involved in this and that this matter is not being made public.
In short, there is a suggestion that the club has lied and that some members of the press have been forwarded evidence to support that … and refuse to run it.
Now this sounds like a conspiracy theory; that doesn’t mean it’s false information.
To dismiss it as nonsense requires that we trust the media to play it straight if such evidence existed; English’s comments undercut that faith, that confidence, because he’s as good as saying that an argument can be made that this kind of thing can damage the sport and thus perhaps we shouldn’t dig too deep or look too closely at it in case it turns out to be true.
The same kind of logic runs through the media’s refusal to confront the truth about the Ibrox accounts.
It ran through their willingness to be play the gullible fools over and over again when that club lied to them about merchandising deals.
It ran through the kid-gloves Dave King received every hour he was there although that man arrived in disgrace and departed the same way.
The argument made in favour of putting the Ibrox NewCo in the top flight, to ignore debt dumping on a grand scale, to endorse the Survival Lie, was similarly framed; it was in the best interests of the game, when in fact it was merely in the best interests of Ibrox.
English’s comments were ridiculous because questions over how Celtic and Aberdeen had been treated were not the only questions being asked of this matter … and it was difficult not to conclude that his hand-waiving was a dismissal of those questions too, and not about their veracity but about whether or not we should even be asking them at all.
Better to let Ibrox lie and cheat and obfuscate and deflect than deal with the consequences of finding that out; that’s the logic here, and don’t mistake it for anything else.
It’s another case of someone in the press corps insisting that we all sit down and shut up lest we end up paying Ibrox’s bill.
That makes it unacceptable, and it is dangerous because it’s why so many of our fans don’t trust the press at all.