Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Referendum coverage an insult to Scots' intelligence

With just a couple of days left till polling day I suppose any hopes of sourcing a measure of balanced coverage of the Great Debate have completely disappeared. Quite frankly the contribution made by the print press has been disgraceful and woeful; they should hang their combined heads in shame.

I'm old enough to recall previous campaigns asking us if we wanted Scottish devolution and European Union membership when the papers concentrated for the most part on straight, factual reporting without pushing the views of their proprietors down our throats at every opportunity.

In those days there was a clear division between the news pages and the Opinion column where the leader writer put forward his or her views sedately and without rancour. The readers were then left to make up their own minds.

But nowadays fact, opinion and pure fiction can be found in the same paragraph of an article purporting to be news. Little wonder newspaper sales are collapsing as their once loyal readership cry "Enough!" and stop buying the title they'd been taking for a generation.

The influence of the press also seems to be diminishing fast. Even though the vast majority of titles have offered strong support for Better Together, the Yes camp appears to have closed a 20 per cent gap to create a neck-and-neck contest. So much for the host of ridiculous scare stories and half truths that have filled many a column from day one of the current campaign.

How many potential No voters have switched allegiance after reading some of the bilge washed up in the pages of the Scottish Daily Mail, for instance? They've resorted to every trick in the book from world markets crashing at the very thought of Scottish Independence to allegations of bullying by fanatical nationalists, or cybernats as the Mail has dubbed them.

The truth of the matter is the pound fell by just under a cent against the dollar on one particular day last week, and both the value of sterling and the stock market recovered fully within 24 hours. And there has been no mention of the No campaigners who have vowed to make life hell for Yes supporters once the referendum is done and dusted.

The Mail, which once branded Gordon Brown the worst Prime Minister in the entire history of the United Kingdom, and blamed Alistair Darling for the economic crash of 2008, recently afforded both of these gentlemen hero status for their roles as the 'big beasts' of Better Together. How cynical and opportunistic is that? Even 'Red' Ed Miliband, another of the Mail's hate figures, suddenly became lovable as he urged voters to stick with the Union.

On the other side of the fence the Sunday Herald - the first title to declare for Yes - has been equally blinkered in its presentation of the case for separation. The disadvantages of splitting from the rest of the nation have been set aside and virtually ignored in an all-embracing rush to persuade readers to plump for independence.

So where does an undecided voter turn for a straight down the middle presentation of the pros and cons? Well even the BBC is tainted with allegations of bias, and closer to home the coverage of referendum issues in some of our local Borders weeklies has hardly been even handed.

Maybe half their readership has been alienated in the process, something weekly papers should avoid at all costs with circulation in a continuous downward spiral.

According to the pundits social media has been the main player in disseminating information in 2014. But when you read some of the nasty stuff on Facebook and Twitter those outlets can hardly be trusted either.

I'm sure like me many of you have felt insulted by some of the crass articles written by so-called journalists who have been programmed to deliver a certain message, mainly it seems for the benefit of the No lobby. It's as though we are all wee bairns, incapable of making our minds up by carrying out our own research before deciding which way to cast our X on the ballot paper.

Whichever way you vote on Thursday here's hoping you get the result you desire. But before casting your vote remember this: don't believe everything you read in the papers!

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