The Herald Sacks Angela Haggerty As Journalistic Freedom Hangs By A Thread

Angela Haggerty 1 SAToday, as the bulk of Scotland’s journalists keep a low profile and say nothing in support of Graham Spiers, a second columnist at the Herald has been carpeted after pressure from Sevco.

This time it’s Angela Haggerty, and this time the paper didn’t stop with embarrassing her.

In fact, they sacked her.

To call this a crisis for the profession is an understatement. Its entire reason for being is hanging by a thread. No-one working within its ranks is safe today if they collectively allow this to happen, without comment, without criticism, standing idly by as they currently do.

One organisation – and it’s a skint West of Scotland football club; we’re not talking about a multi-billion pound transnational corporate behemoth with unlimited funds and a legal department that would make Coca Cola’s CEO piss his pants – has decided it will not tolerate any negative press, at all, and it is now set on threatening any media outlet which doesn’t play ball.

And most of Scotland’s press has fallen shamefully silent.

I have never had less respect for them than I do today. I have never felt this much contempt for those who work within its ranks.

They are cowards almost to a man.

The rare exceptions are hung out to dry and made twist in the wind for the amusement of a mob.

There’s no excuse for it.

If their business is really all about money – and commercial considerations appear to be high on the list of factors in what The Herald has done – then they’re essentially putting a price tag on their integrity.

And in this case, that appears to be around £40,000.

So an entire generation of real journalists, of writers of conviction, decades of breaking big stories and a proud history of bringing truth to power, it’s all been flogged off and betrayed, for less than the half the price of a one bedroom flat in the drug addict part of town.

What price a free press in Scotland, eah?

In England, Peter Oborne resigned last year from The Telegraph, after he said their entire coverage of the banking industry and the politics surrounding it had been slanted by the advertising fees paid by organisations like HSBC, who were under investigation for multiple counts of fraud, money laundering and other offences … none of which his paper wanted to write about.

This is where we are now in Scotland, it seems, only a smaller scale.

A much smaller one.

An embarrassingly small one.

There’s no such thing as a free press; now you, too, can buy it for the price of a family car.

For some at these papers, the stench must be overwhelming.

Oborne wasn’t a man working alone, as Graham Spiers isn’t. Yet Angela was the first mainstream journalist working in the media here in Scotland to stand up for him, and based on what’s just happened to her certain people will be calculating that she’s going to be the last.

She better not be.

Everyone who can hold a pen should be behind her.

You know, when the Charlie Hebdo attacks murdered so many of that publication’s journalists in Paris, it brought forth a wave of support for journalist freedom that filled me with enormous pride.

I now realise how phony that all was, because it’s easy to express support for the dead when you’re not personally in the gun-sights. It’s easy to take a stand, or to look like you’re taking a stand, when you’re not being put under pressure. What we saw wasn’t courage; it was calculation. An entire industry lathered itself up in self congratulation for its “courage”, and all the while it buried child abuse allegations, government scandals, allowed criminals to escape justice and corrupt corporations to escape scrutiny … out of fear.

Fear of less than a bullet.

Fear of losing a few quid.

Here in Scotland journalists fold the hand because they get some abuse on Twitter. Editors refuse to let plainly true stories run because the Blue KKK might organise a dozen or so unemployed yobs to protest outside on a Monday morning. And God knows how much gets buried because advertisers issue veiled threats about pulling their copy.

Can you imagine these people ever doing anything so serious as to warrant the attention of real fanatics, and not just the Saturday afternoon variety?

No, me neither.

A collection of cowards, that’s what we have instead of a press.

The only people with guts in all this are the Bampots, of whom Angela is a shining example.

She’ll continue to write the truth, no matter what it costs her, because she gets it. She understands. She takes the job seriously and she knows that, in the end, she herself is a cog in a big wheel and her voice is important, and maintaining it through this kind of shit is what will keep the nature of what she does going long after those who sold it out are dead and gone.

Those of us in the blogosphere don’t do it for huge rewards.

I work for limited advertising and donations, and entirely without regrets.

The bills get paid (most of the time) but I’m not driving a sports car.

I have a media degree and could have pursued a career in the press, but I never wanted it.

On a day like today I’m glad of that.

Because I couldn’t do as Graham Spiers may have to.

I couldn’t go into the offices of an organisation that just shafted me.

I couldn’t call myself a journalist and have my livelihood dependent on the whims of the advertising department.

And that’s not a criticism of Graham. I’ve read his work, and I know he has balls. I also understand where he is right now. The guy probably has a mortgage to pay and a wife and kids to support; he’s not in a position where he can spit the dummy out of the pram and walk away.

Which is exactly the point.

No newspaper worthy of the name should ever put one of its writers in such a diabolical, heart-wrenching position.

It makes me sick. It makes me physically sick.

Graham knows now what his lifetime of work has been worth, and what it means to the bean counters. That has to hurt like a bastard and to say I feel enormous sympathy with him, and with Angela, and with every other writer out there who’s facing similar pressure … well words don’t do justice to how absolutely scunnered I am for them all.

Here on the blogosphere, we operate entirely without those concerns.

But we also work entirely without a safety net.

The media is fond of telling their readers that there are no restrictions on what we are allowed to write – as if the libel laws and contempt of court laws don’t exist on the internet. In truth, our every article is a walk along the tightrope. Our every utterance has to be weighed against the possible consequences, and I’m not just talking about legal ones.

We know what’s out there.

We know those people exist.

Some of us deal with their abuse on a day to day basis.

But we’re big boys and girls, and we can take it.

We have to, because on days like today it looks as if no-one else will.

But I could be wrong.

Maybe every journalist in Scotland is furious about this. Maybe they’re organising industrial action in support of their colleagues even now. Maybe they get that to walk away from Graham and Angela is to paint a target on their backs. Maybe they get what an enormous moment this is. Maybe.

And then again, maybe some of them just don’t care.

Hell, the money is good, it’s steady, and you get to see your name in print.

What’s not to like?

Like career politicians, with not one iota of political conviction, maybe that’s what really matters to them.

And if that’s the case, hey, fair play to they.

But they ought to stop pretending to be journalists.

This is the third article in a row I’ve written on this site, on this subject, and that is depressing and infuriating in equal measure.

Yet it’s important to keep on doing it.

It’s important to keep on speaking the truth, even when it does come at a cost.

Even when it does have consequences.

Because the cost and the consequences of silence are even greater still.

(I’m a full time writer and the support of my readers is what keeps me goingr. If you like what I do, and are able, and want to support the work the site does, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate a small sum every year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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Spiers “Apology” Heralds In Dark Days For Scottish Journalism

hqdefaultThere’s a moment during the film Nuremberg, starring Alec Baldwin, Brian Cox, Christopher Plummer and a host of other top stars, when Hermann Goering is relaxing in his cell awaiting the next phase of his trial, when he is visited by a young American soldier named Tex.

Goering, played to perfection by Cox, greets him warmly, as the two have formed an unusual bond during the course of his imprisonment. The kid is impressionable, and Goering knows this.

Goering starts to tell him stories of the Reich, and of the Fuhrer.

At one point he starts to hum a tune, and then he begins to sing the song, whilst tapping his feet and waving his arms. It sets the mood he’s trying to evoke quite brilliantly.

Tex is now completely caught up in the Nazi leader’s memories of watching thousands of men march in front of the Glorious Leader. When Goering suggests the remnants of the despotic regime should be freed, and that both sides should “unite to fight the Communists” Tex agrees with him wholeheartedly.

I’ve always wondered if Tex went away humming the song.

If he did, he would quickly have found himself in trouble with the brass.

It’s a catchy enough tune, and one that predates the Nazi Party’s usage of it. In fact, it’s an ancient German folk song, but it’s one I strongly suspect isn’t heard anymore. The modern incarnation has closed off all avenues of revival.

We now know it as the Horst Wessel Lied.

I would never describe it as “a great song.”

Because it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong, the lyrics contain nothing explicit about bigotry or hate; it’s about a shoot-out with Communists where Wessel, a Nazi Youth member, was killed – other songs dealt with the racist stuff – but it was the Nazi Party’s anthem and if you played it at parties you’d run out of friends quickly and if you sang it walking down the street you’d get a sore face shortly thereafter.

This isn’t about musical appreciation.

I have eclectic tastes and listen to everything from country rock to classical.

I am big on lyrics, above all else, and whilst I think, for example, the Spitting Image song I’ve Never Met A Nice South African is one of the best (and most hilarious) that biting, satirical show ever turned out I would not play it, far less sing it, in a public forum because it would be staggeringly offensive in a modern context.

It is hard to think of any setting – outside a dingy back street boozer in Glasgow or the Six Counties, or, of course, at Ibrox – in which there wouldn’t be people who found The Billy Boys not only to be offensive but bigoted with it.

Yet a director at Sevco, a current director, apparently described it as “a great song” whilst talking to a journalist.

There is no context in which that is anything other than a shocking statement.

That journalist, Graham Spiers, a guy this site has criticised as well as praised, rightly decided that this was a news story.

On 30 December, he told the tale in a piece he wrote.

In fact, I would go much further than just to say it was newsworthy. It ought to have been the headline above the piece.

It was a massively important news story; current, informing public debate, challenging officialdom, suggesting that a football club that perceives itself as a tremendously powerful social institution had, on its board, someone who had sympathies with people engaged in criminality and sectarianism.

The enormity of that cannot be overstated, especially as the debate over the issue has blossomed since the piece was run.

Now football’s governing bodies, the police and non-governmental organisations such as Nil By Mouth are pressing for Strict Liability rules to be implemented inside Scottish grounds.

We also know that the SFA is also seeking public funds for facial recognition software to be installed in stadiums.

Current rules, which the SFA believes are not robust enough, mean that clubs have to demonstrate that they’re “taking all possible measures” to keep discriminatory chanting out of their stands.

The Ibrox club is currently under investigation by the football authorities, with a decision due based on that criteria.

In other words, the importance of that story has only grown since publication.

This is what good journalists do, and good newspapers are supposed to stand by them when they do it.

Here in Scotland, of course, that doesn’t always happen.

A number of journalists have, in the past few years, been targeted for daring to deliver the news and in some cases their employers have not done enough to lend them support in the face of it.

Jim Spence was just one case in point, but there are others.

With respect to Jim, I think what has happened to Graham Spiers, in this case, is of a far worse, and much more sinister, nature. He has been well and truly hung out to dry by The Herald, and he knows it. Whilst his independent statement is coached in conciliatory language, for the most part, his anger is plain and his disillusionment is clear.

They could not make him apologise or retract the story, although it’s clear they tried to make him do both. When he stood by his piece their one and only question – if they even had to ask – should have been “Is this true?” When he answered in the affirmative that should have been that.

They should have stood by their man, and resisted the “pressure.”

Instead they apologised for him, and “clarified” things in his name.

It is beyond scandalous, gutless and embarrassing for everyone at the paper who isn’t up in arms over the way the top brass have behaved.

Frankly, I’ll never trust a word I read in The Herald or any of its sister papers again. Because if they can be spooked into retracting a news story on the basis of pressure from a second tier football club or a rabid pack of its followers then nothing they say can be relied on when it comes to challenging those who have real power and influence.

Their credibility as a journalistic vehicle is shot, pure and simple.

As far as I’m concerned they have joined the tabloids in pandering and sucking up, in framing “the news” so as not to offend certain people, people who, these days, are offended by everything anyway.

It is cowardly, and corrupt, almost beyond comprehension.

I am amazed he’s not already tendered his resignation, because his statement makes it pretty clear just how pissed off he is.

I hope he’s taking the matter to the NUJ and making it clear that he’s not going to stand for it.

In addition, he might want to take a look at the Rangers Supporters Trust website and their article on the Herald’s craven crawling, because there are things in that statement that are unmistakably libellous, such as the assertion that he has “made a career out of fanning the flames of sectarianism” and numerous examples where it calls him a liar.

I’ve written about the way that organisation behaves before; if I were a Sevco fan reading some of their press releases I would be cringing with embarrassment and shame and this one is as base ignorant and deliberately provocative as any I’ve had the misfortune to read, and it crosses a line in the sand that it should not be allowed to get away with.

These people, the conduct of their club and those who run it, and the assortment of idiots, cretins and vile bigots who swarm around in the vortex, never cease to amaze me with the level of their bile and intolerance.

These things are probably to be expected in those with 15th century attitudes still fighting the wars of their grandfather’s forefather’s ancestors (and without really understanding them), but the level of bullying and intimidation they get away with is what really takes the breath away.

I’m not even remotely afraid of these people, and it stuns me that senior editors on national newspapers are.

On the days when my inbox fills with invective and my Twitter feed oozes with their slime, in the moments when my Facebook page is crawling with trolls, all ending their posts with some kind of reference to child abuse or closing off with their standard statement of racial and religious “supremacy”, I don’t despair or get spooked.

I am emboldened.

Because I know I’m doing it right.

Chris McLaughlin was “doing it right” when he reported the outbreak of sectarian singing at the Hibs game.

For this he was banned by the club itself.

Jim Spence was “doing it right” when he called out the Survival Myth for the aberrant fantasy most rational people know it to be.

For that, he was harassed and bullied and his employers threatened until they offered a ridiculous apology simply because he stated the facts.

Angela Haggerty was “doing it right” when she called time on the way she’s been treated by these appalling bastards and their sickening level of hate.

She no longer lives in Scotland, and has been forced to seek redress in the law courts because of what she’s endured.

Other journalists have suffered similar persecution for behaving in a way that’s consonant with the job description, and what the Herald has done to Graham Spiers for “doing it right” is dangerous, and an affront, to every single one of them and every single person in Scotland, whether at a mainstream publication, a local paper, or simply blogging online and who is dedicated to telling the truth.

The last article I published on this site was on this very thing; about the way certain Sevco fan sites and organisations are forming an “orchestra of hate” against anyone who dares to offer any criticism, however justified, about their club.

I asked at the end if these people were “winning.”

That question is more pertinent than ever.

Does the Herald’s editor even have the first clue what he’s done here? What the significance of this decision actually is, beyond the impact it has on his own shitty circulation figures? Beyond even sport?

Does he even care?

This is a sad, dreadful, tragic day for “journalism” in this country, and I mourn it like a death because myself and others care deeply about this profession and the important role it plays in our world.

The Herald has pissed all over that.

They have betrayed one of their own, but the betrayal is felt by more than just Graham Spiers himself. It is felt by every one of us.

It makes “doing it right” more important than ever.

Today, “I Am Graham Spiers.”

We all are.

(This site depends on your support. If you like what I do, and are able, you can make a donation at the link. Many thanks in advance.)

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The Day After Tomorrow

JS35335867There are people in Scottish football who exist solely to leech off the game.

There are others who pour everything they have into it, whether that’s money or time or attention or support, because they love it.

The people on one side recognise those on the other.

We know who they are, and what they are about, and they know us too.

Scotland is a small country, and as both sides operate largely in the light – whether that’s bloggers or football administrators or players and officials, whatever – there isn’t a lot of spare room in which to keep secrets.

One of the recurring themes I come back to over and over again here is that none of the things people think of as being buried and forgotten here in our game will stay that way.

Folk are digging, folk are investigating, and wheels are in motion.

Indeed, some of these issues are now in the province of the justice system, and I fancy that in the fullness of time we’re going to learn things that no-one involved thought would ever become public knowledge.

The question is; what happens then?

That one should haunt us, all of us who care … and it should also haunt those who don’t, those leeches, those who prey on the game from the side-lines, and I believe that when the time for demanding action comes they will be with us in that.

We don’t like each other.

But we’re united in our common knowledge of one thing; what’s good for the game here is good for us all.

Without it, they’re nothing.

Without it, we have nothing.

They need it as much as we do, and they’re not any keener on seeing it die.

Scottish football is an odd little place, sometimes quite a nasty one. There are a lot of people in it who take a very narrow view of what’s on the horizon, thinking only in terms of how it affects them and their own club. One area where this is evident is in the constant sniggering the fans of some sides do about the failures of others in European competition.

Celtic plays in the Europa League on Thursday, and I know there are fans across the country who will be rooting for Fenerbahce.

This is so bone-headed stupid that it makes me want to hit something.

We’re not the EPL, with four Champions League clubs. We have one, and that club has to play an arduous series of games every year, just to get to the Groups. Our Europa League teams face a similarly daunting task.

With that in mind, it makes zero sense for any one of us to wish our Scottish sides ill when they step out on continental pitches. Every European reversal sees the co-efficient tank and that makes the job even harder the next time around.

Deep down, most fans know this and do understand why it’s daft to be so gleeful when they see Scottish sides crash and burn on the big stage, and that’s just one example of how myopic the thinking around here can be.

It’s not the only one, and at the heart of this matter and others is a simple, difficult, truth.

If we’re going to change Scottish football, fans need to be united.

No-one wants to see things continue as they are and only one set of supporters in this country, that I am aware of, ever wanted to see the whole national sport torched and they were being force-fed endless guff and the Victim Myth by the media.

Even with that, I would question whether they really understood what they were wishing for.

After all, who really wants to be King of the Ashes?

Had they got what they claimed to want they would have inherited a wasteland.

It reminds me, in many ways, of a cartoon I once saw; two guys huddled round a fire. Behind them, the rubble of a nuclear war and one of them is asking the other “Do you think we really could have won?”

The most important work being done among the fans of Scottish football’s clubs is being done by one website, The Scottish Football Monitor, with the objective of bringing supporters together under one campaigning banner.

There’s no money in this, no glory in it, and some will tell you no realistic prospect of victory either, but the real problem is that their stated intention of reforming Scottish football will only come off if the fans can work together and pressure their clubs with certain key objectives in mind. Tribal baggage has to be set aside, and a certain amount of responsibility faced up to and taken on board.

The last few years have been a self evident shambles, but we know the history enough now to know it was a shambles long before that.

No club gets out of this with clean hands; all have, to one degree or another, allowed us to get to this sorry point. All have put self-interest first, whether that was financially, or for influence or simply because their directors couldn’t be bothered getting involved in the politics of the national sport.

All have failed us, the supporters … and we’ve failed each other in turn.

Some supporters have failed themselves, and still won’t learn that.

We know that Sevco fans have blamed everyone for the ills of their club, ignoring the fact that numerous websites were warning them well in advance of what was coming down. They ignored us, preferring to wallow in their own delusions of grandeur, and they’re still doing it today. That hasn’t served them well, and nor has the media’s indulgence.

For real reform to happen the supporters of that club have to accept that lax regulations cost them, and they have to accept what that means.

Had those regulations been robust, Whyte would never have been allowed to run the OldCo and Green would have been subjected to the proper scrutiny when he was putting together his deal to purchase the assets.

The Sevco fans now accept that this would have been for the best … but if someone had tried to stop Whyte or Green at the time those same fans would have brought the house down. They know it and we know it.

They were almost united, save for a few of the smarter fan groups, in welcoming Dave King’s fit and proper person result, which was, and is, a travesty and his appointment ought to have been resisted every bit as much as that of Whyte and Green.

More than any other supporters, they have to start accepting that the good of the game comes first, that it’s not to be subservient to their will, that it works to their benefit in the long term.

The media has to get a grip too, because they’re just as bad.

People like Graham Speirs were opposed to the King decision, but shrugged in the aftermath of it, as if it didn’t matter. Of course it matters, and this washing of the hands that he and others did was deplorable in people who are supposed to scrutinise these affairs.

There isn’t a single person in the media, not even those of a Sevconian persuasion, who isn’t wholly aware that allowing a guy like King to sit on a board of directors makes a mockery of what the regulations are supposed to do, and weakens the whole framework. There is no excuse for it, and simply saying, as many of them have, that the club “needs” King isn’t good enough.

Even if it were true – and I would dispute it, absolutely – the rules can’t simply be bent with that objective in mind.

This nonsense has gone on too long.

The media which covers the game here should be leading the clamour for changes, and I do think that when the Sevco legal cases begin to resolve and the totality of our failures in governance are laid bare that they will have to join us in promoting real, meaningful change.

Fighting for that change is now the most important thing supporters who care about the sport can do.

I’m not pretending I have the answers here, and nor do the guys at the Scottish Football Monitor, but they are looking for them and I’d like to help them with that, and I’d like us all to try and do the same, because that’s important if we’re to avoid Scottish football turning into the wasteland it would have been in the summer of 2012 if it’s leaders had gotten their way.

In the most recent article on the Scottish Football Monitor site, the founder of that blog bemoaned the fact that three years on from that crazy summer the SFA has yet to firm up the regulations on club licensing to assure we never have a repeat of it.

That’s crazy, and it’s scandalous, and it leaves the door wide open for future abuse.

We never move on, because the people who run our sport never learn.

You know, I once wondered if what Scottish football really needed was some form of “truth and reconciliation”.

Once upon a time, I’d have supported a move towards something like that, with all the parties involved getting together and talking openly about the things that have happened, acknowledging past mistakes, even biases, and letting us start again on a clean slate.

Perhaps I’m part of the problem, because I no longer do.

Heads have to roll. It’s as simple as that.

That is essential if we’re to know the game here in Scotland is clean and ready to move forward.

Allowing the likes of Doncaster and Regan to continue profiting from it, to allow them to run it as if they are not discredited, is simply not on. The elasticity of our current regulations is inexcusable considering the events of the last three years and no sing-song around the campfire will make that better. So yes, heads have to roll, and with the potential consequences for everyone involved in the Sevco case mounting up, I trust that they will.

The question is, what happens the following day?

The Scottish Football Monitor guys are trying very hard to answer that question.

As per usual, this site would like to pledge them our full support.

Our magazine All In The Game should be relaunching later this year …. you can download issues 1-3 here.

(This site depends on the support of its readers. If you want to help keep it running, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)