It’s just a game

It is a regrettable fact of life that before commenting on anything in the British media one must first check for accuracy. Standards of journalism are so abysmally low that factual errors are common. This article in the Sunday Herald, for example, refers to Kirsty Blackman MP as “the SNP’s deputy leader”. She is, in fact the SNP Deputy Westminster Leader. That is to say, the Deputy Leader of the SNP Group at Westminster. Considering the article is about the contest for the post of SNP Depute (not ‘deputy’) Leader, this seems like a particularly clumsy mistake.

Having put the record straight on that, what else might be said about an article trumpeting Tommy Sheppard as the favourite in a race which hasn’t yet started? Nominations haven’t even opened. It seems a little premature to be speculating about who might win a race when we don’t even know who the runners are. Tommy Sheppard hasn’t even declared his candidacy yet. He is being pronounced the leader on the basis of absolutely nothing more than the need for a sensational headline.

That’s if Tommy Sheppard really is the favourite. The headline says so. But by the second paragraph we’re being told that “Ian Blackford had been tipped as the favourite”. Confused? The Sunday Herald doesn’t care.

I have to say that I rather resent the media trivialising the issue in this way. But I don’t suppose there’s any more point in complaining about that than there is in objecting to the errors. That’s just the way it is. Everything is reduced to the level of some tacky TV talent contest. For those of us who aspire to a better politics, it’s all a bit depressing.

It’s not only the disregard for accuracy and cheapening of politics that grate on the sensibilities of anybody who takes their politics seriously. I’ve written elsewhere about how the media manufactures truth. The way they generate ‘fakts’ that have no necessary connection to reality, but which fit nicely into the common narrative – the cosy consensus. Such a fakt is the myth of concern within the SNP that there may be a ‘coronation’ of Westminster Group Leader Ian Blackford MP. This myth is now firmly established in the mainstream media regardless of the fact that the party’s procedures make such a ‘coronation’ quite impossible.

I don’t suppose many people will find this sort of thing annoying. And that is part of the problem. As a society, we’ve become inured to the poverty of political journalism. We’ve grown accustomed to the mistakes and the distortions and the dishonesty. For the most part, people just don’t expect any better. They make no great demands of the media. So they get the media they deserve.

I’m one of the oddballs who does take it seriously. I happen to think it matters. It matters because, for the majority of people the mainstream media is their window onto the world of politics. They see the democratic process through the lens of newspapers and radio and TV. I’m going to be hard to convince that there is no correlation between the way politics is portrayed in the print and broadcast media and levels of disengagement from the democratic process.

But maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the way to restore the connection between people and politics is, not to have the media take it all more seriously, but to go even further down the road of mass appeal. How about we dispense with all that tedious stuff about policies and party organisation and have the SNP Depute Leader contest decided in the style of ‘It’s a Knockout’? Mind you, Tommy would probably still be the favourite.


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