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Tuesday 13 November : A Buzz Round the Media with Honey McBee

Schadenfreude all round?  While the Levenson Inquiry was at its height, television news programmes took delight in the discomfiture of the print media. The BBC in particular seemed to enjoy its rival Murdoch Empire journalists squirming on the hook.  Now it’s biter bit. Trampling on private grief, yesterday’s Daily Mail queried whether Lord Patten can remain as chairman of the governing body since he apparently knew more about what was going on than the hapless George Entwistle; Simon Heffer implies Patten’s seeming unwillingness to share the information with the Director general stems from more than casual oversight.

Echoing Heffer’s unspoken thoughts, Boris Johnson in yesterday’s Telegraph said the BBC now has to prove that it acted without malice – “It was, as they say, a story that was too good to check. It wasn’t just that it showed Newsnight taking up the cudgels against paedophiles, after the embarrassment of the axed Savile exposé. It went one better. It pushed all the buttons. It was like a dream come true for any vaguely resentful and Left-of-centre BBC producer. It was a chance to pour unlimited ordure on a man who – in their book – jolly well had it coming. He is rich, he is a toff, he is a Lord, he is a Tory, and – joy of joys – he is an EX-AIDE TO MRS THATCHER. The journalism was so shoddy, so cretinous, so ready to let the wish be father to the thought…”  

In the Sunday Herald, Iain McWhirter was unsparing in his criticism of both Entwistle and Newsnight - the DG said: "I was out". That may be his epitaph” and “you can't take investigative journalism off the peg; you have to check it in house… according to the BBC's own careers website, the corporation employs more than 7000 news journalists. Yet not one of them lifted the phone to Lord McAlpine or checked out the reliability of his accuser.” 

If you've never heard of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, find out more here, as it explains its ethos at the Levenson Inquiry.  The Guardian reported yesterday on the resignation of the Bureau’s editor, Iain Overton.

Lesley Riddoch  remembers in Bella Caledonia how it used to be at the BBC, and agrees with Jeremy Paxman, that the problem is “Lack of confidence, aggravated by under-staffing.”  Bruce Anderson in Conservative Home disagreed that Patten should go, but suggested that Paxo himself might make a good Director General.

Tom Peterkin in Scotland on Sunday ran a good summary of the situation – as it then was, because of course, things have moved on dramatically in 24 hours, and more will undoubtedly happen between us writing and you reading this. Kenneth Roy in a special Saturday edition of the Scottish Review  hinted at the slightly nasty taste this is leaving in the mouth – “we are now living in a culture in which, in the clamour for instant judgements, often driven by an intensely competitive media environment and fuelled by the vilest gossip on the internet, prominent people are assumed to be guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent.”

Does it matter to us here in Scotland if BBC journalism is outsourced or Newsnight goes off air? Well, yes, we think it does.  Newsnight Scotland may often be a short and by its nature, superficial presentation of what affects us, but Scotland is heading for two years of intense political discussion and we will need many forums. Last night's Newsnight Scotland was at great pains to point out that its editorial direction was decided in Scotland, not London. Scotland Tonight is becoming a worthy rival, but that doesn’t mean it should have a clear field.


Dotting the is and crossing the ts.   Last week, the Scottish government sent its preferred wording of the question to be put to us in the referendum for ratification – or not – by the Electoral Commission.  Will it abide by the Commission’s findings if it doesn’t agree with them?  Maybe not.

The Commission has said it will assess the referendum question to see whether voters find it clear, simple and neutral. If it isn't, we'll say what needs to be done…. we'll also ask for advice from accessibility and plain-language specialists, and we'll ask prospective campaigners, politicians, academics and other interested people for their views on the question."  As Robin Dinwoodie reported in Saturday’s Herald “…referendums expert Dr Matt Qvortrup … made the point yesterday that once there has been a two-year debate there will be few Scots who do not know what is at issue, at which point the wording of the questions will make little difference”.  Quite.

Also for those who enjoy having things tidied up, in the Scottish Constitutional Futures Forum Professor Christine Bell, of Edinburgh University debated whether or not the Edinburgh Agreement is a legally binding one. Eminently readable for a lawyer, Prof Bell concludes that it is not – The Edinburgh Agreement could not be signed in a legally binding form because no easy, appropriate legal form exists for this type of agreement in our legal system.” The discussion is hypothetical, she says, but this in itself can be helpful because “it is interesting to consider whether law matters or does not matter in the context of two governments wanting to commit to a common resolution of an issue of immense constitutional significance”


Birlin’ in his grave.   Poor old Adam Smith, to be the subject of an unseemly spat last week between our own First Minister and Dr Eamonn Butler, who runs the think tank dedicated to all things Smithsonian –the Adam Smith Institute. Mr Salmond maintained that if the great economist and philosopher were alive today he would be suing the Institute – which “only reads the Penguin editions” of his work.  Dr Butler sneered back that “…Smith would have regarded a nation, like Scotland today, that was dependent on government for nearly three-quarters of its national income, as being the most dismal tyranny…”  The two were contemporaries at St Andrews – now it’s paperbacks at dawn. What fun.


Tynecastle no more?   First HMRC came for Rangers, now Hearts.  Over a glass or three of the amber nectar last week, we idly speculated whether FM would step in to save his beloved Jambos, and then dismissed the thought. But lo, in Thursday’s Herald, we read that the Scottish government was indeed contemplating saving Hibernian from having to play the local derby all by itself - "The Scottish Government stands ready to assist in any way it can, including making contact with HMRC if necessary … it is in everyone's interests to find a solution which ensures Hearts can continue in business while also meeting their obligations to the tax authorities."  Here’s Tam Cowan in Saturday’s Record – one for the cognoscenti.

Tom English in Scotland on Sunday berates owner Romanov for his silence and absence – and for calling any bail out a ‘waste’ of cash – waste being a word that might have infuriated all those who have in the last few days parted with savings in an effort to stave off the threatened demise of the club. They don’t see it as a waste. They see it as a necessity. They know they’re being emotionally blackmailed by Romanov but their love of the club is more powerful than their resentment for the man who has driven them to this point, so they contribute what they can”. 

And still with the fitba’, Kevin McKenna in the Observer pays tribute to Neil Lennon after the historic win by Celtic (collective price tag £6.5m) over Barcelona (£125m) on Tuesday.  Lennon has grown in the job, says McKenna, and is now being noticed for his potential to become a great manager in the manner of Jock Stein - "What people are seeing now is the real Neil Lennon, a man who is highly intelligent, articulate and gifted”.


That’s the way the money goes…  Yesterday’s Scotsman reported that Scottish Parliament spending on and in the building is going on at an average rate of £1million every year.  Here are just a few of the things the Scotsman says you have paid for - £17,861 on upgrading a boiler; £15,223 on new broadcasting equipment; £3508 on installing an “uninterrupted power supply for the chamber voting system”; £1663 on meeting room improvements, and £3390 on three external display panels designed to guide visually-impaired people to the public entrance.  And then there’s the £2904 on timers for tea points supplying boiling water. Our tip – a kettle will do the job. They can be had for as little as £10 if you shop in the right places.


And finally…

 The woman of the week has to be Nadine Dorries, the thorn in the flesh of the Tory whips and critic of the government.  Oblivious to the storm she has caused in her constituency - Celebrity contestants are not allowed any means of communication - and suspended by her party, the MP is now eating and sleeping with insects.  In mitigation, she will be donating her Parliamentary salary for the month she is away to charity. The voting public is still expected to be tough on her, but none, we feel, as caustic as Local Government and Communities Secretary Pickles (who looks as though a few weeks on insects might be beneficial). Mr Pickles has said he will follow Ms Dorries’ progress every step of the way – and will keep ringing in - “to ensure she stays there for a very long time”.  With friends like this…