Wednesday 2 May 2012

Analysis my arse!

Oops! That's not Salmond with Murdoch!
One might have hoped that the Murdoch circus would have moved on by now. Not the main event, of course. That still has a while to run. We haven't had the crowd-pleasing throwing of a minister to the lions yet. No! I refer to the side-show being staged specially for viewers in Scotland. The one that's featured in the latest, local election special, smear campaign against Alex Salmond.

These things usually have quite a short run. Partly because the public rapidly lose interest, having seen it all before. Mainly because the promoters, invariably the deceivingly named "Scottish" Labour, discover that their production is going to cost them dearly as the glare of the spotlight inevitably falls on them. (Remember Anas Sarwar, deputy to Ed Miliband's Scottish deputy, and the fuss about the referendum consultation?) This one is being dragged out because it gets an occasional publicity boost from the goings-on under the Westminster big top and because it is contractually obliged to pad out Labour's otherwise rather underwhelming council elections road-show.

But it's not easy keep the show going. Certainly too much for the dilapidated and effectively leaderless political talent-void that is the British Labour Party's operation in Scotland. Fortunately for them, they can always rely on an assist from the mainstream media. This takes the form of an incessant barrage of print, broadcast and online material that mindlessly repeats a mantra of more or less carefully selected key words and phrases intended to create in the public mind the impression of a raging inferno of political scandal where there is, in reality, neither smoke nor fire.

All the usual suspects are at it. Typically they will manage to rehash the same stuff up to half a dozen times a day in the effort to keep the pot boiling. Titbits of long-standing public knowledge are presented as "revelations". The most banal observations are sensationalised. Utterances are quoted out of context. Juxtapositions of people and events are painfully contrived. The routine is all too familiar and the purpose transparently obvious.

One of the ways the churn is maintained is to take essentially the same material that has been presented as "news" and give it a quick make-over so as to be able to present it as "analysis". There's an illustrative example of this in, not unexpectedly, today's (Wednesday 2 May) online edition of The Scotsman - Anaylsis: SNP put in uncomfortable accord with the Tories.

Let me make it clear at this juncture that I am not picking on the author of this piece, David Torrance. I could have chosen any one of scores of articles that exemplify the mainstream media's ongoing smear campaign against Alex Salmond. Severin Carrell recently managed to cram four or five such pieces into a single day's online Guardian. And even in today's Scotsman there is no shortage of items that had me shaking my head in despair that our self-proclaimed "national newspaper" could have sunk so low. Including at least two meejafarts which seek to tart up the well-known fact of Salmond's intended phone call to UK culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, as if it was the revelatory product of intense investigative journalism. I lighted upon the item in question principally because it purported to offer analysis by someone who is supposedly knowledgeable about such matters.

Had I been foolish enough to actually expect analysis and/or the insights that might come from expert knowledge then I would have been sorely disappointed. For a start, the piece doesn't even run to 300 words. This article is already twice as long. I immediately ask myself how it might be possible to squeeze any meaningful analysis of an issue into so few words. The answer, of course, is that there is no analysis worthy of the name.

The game is given away with the very first one-sentence paragraph.
The crux of the culture committee’s report is that Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”.
Simply not true. This refers to only a tiny part of the report published by the UK Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport select committee. A single phrase branding Rupert Murdoch unfit to run an international company which split the committee. A phrase insisted upon by Labour MP, Tom Watson, who by the the vagaries of fate just happens to have a book out at the moment which, quite coincidentally I'm sure, comes to very much the same conclusion about Murdoch.

So, it is clear from the outset that this is far from be an impartial analysis. and the remainder of the remarkably short article merely confirms this. In particular, the final paragraph which takes quotes from Alex Salmond which, in context, were perfectly accurate if mundane observations about Murdoch and the phone hacking scandal and declares them to be evidence of Salmond trying to "talk up" the former and "play down" the latter.
Since the First Minister rarely misses an opportunity to talk up Murdoch (“one of the most substantial figures in journalism”) and play down News International’s role in the phone hacking scandal (“questions… relate to the industry, not one newspaper or company”), he’s unlikely to turn his back on the media tycoon just because a Commons committee has condemned him. After all, future Scottish “jobs and investment” are at stake.
This is not analytical. This is polemical.

Analysis starts with questions, not assumptions. Such assumptions as the analysis might make must be founded on the answers to those questions.  Because the intention is not to analyse but to propagandise, commentators such as Torrance pointedly ignore the questions that would be fundamental to a proper enquiry but which would be a severe a hindrance to a propaganda exercise. Questions about the justification for Tom Watson's apparently self-serving tirade against Murdoch. And in the Scottish context, questions such as whether and to what extent there is any basis to the accusations being levelled against Alex Salmond by his political enemies in the anti-independence parties. Or the even more fundamental questions about what exactly Salmond is being accused of.

The frankly ludicrous proposition that "Scottish" Labour is putting to an increasingly impatient public is that Alex Salmond's unsurprising and wholly proper appreciation of and concern for the employment and economic implications for Scotland of News International's bid for BSkyB somehow implies a ringing endorsement of the entire Murdoch empire and hearty approval of that organisation's every deed - past and present; proven or merely alleged.

Why is this patently foolish notion not being challenged by the media?

Perhaps the most relevant question of all, and one that we should all be asking of the mainstream media in Scotland, is why certain questions are not being asked. Why is the analysis offered by those whose role is to challenge and inform so shallow, narrow and partial?

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