The Clumpany isn’t often short of something to say, even if it is inane ramblings [yep, you’d noticed…]. However, yesterday’s developments in the Spiers/ Sevco/ Herald story – which suddenly expanded to include Angela Haggerty – gave me a bad case of ‘Clumper’s block’.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have any views on the matter. I most certainly did! It was just that I had so many thoughts and feelings about the jaw-dropping and frankly bat-sh*t crazy turn of events that I was too annoyed, too despairing, and too joyful (all at the same time) to know how to begin articulating it.
I was annoyed, because in sacking Angela Haggerty (who I don’t know) the Herald Group seemed to be trampling over three fundamental things that help to make our society a decent place in which to live.
Firstly, the Herald appeared to show little regard for free speech – and let’s face it, as far as my non-legal mind can tell, the remarks which got Angela into ‘trouble’ weren’t offensive or defamatory. I also struggle to see how they actually undermined the Herald Group, which really ought to be big enough to deal with one person tweeting an opinion.
The message from the Herald seemed to be that – for whatever reason – they weren’t prepared to tolerate the content of a couple of pretty mild Tweets. Yes. Two Tweets. One wonders how the current Herald hierarchy will feel in years to come about their actions in response to them. Utterly ashamed? And possibly extremely embarrassed, especially if Angela goes on to bigger and better things.
Secondly, as others far more knowledgable than me have explained at length, the Herald Group seems to have thrown the concept of ‘standing by their journalists’ out of the window. And I suspect it hit the floor about half a second before their credibility with many readers did…
How on earth are journalists supposed to go about their business and make a real contribution to our understanding of the world if their employer doesn’t stand behind them during difficult times? And for the avoidance of doubt, ‘standing behind them’ ISN’T the same as addressing wrongdoing when it occurs. I am not advocating a ‘free pass’ for them.
Journalists shouldn’t receive special treatment from either their employers or the authorities, but they should be backed if things get tough in the course of doing their job to the best of ability. Even if that involves the media organisation standing up in court to defend its output. Because if journalists aren’t supported in this way, they may as well sit at a desk recycling press releases. Which benefits no one other than ‘vested interests’. And – as we know – they already have the upper hand in so much of what happens in our world.
And thirdly in my list of ‘annoying things’, the Herald appeared to throw the concept of solidarity under a bus. The original title of this blog was “Haggerty and Spiers’ Victorian Adventure” [which I ditched as it sounded like a ginger beer-laced Enid Blyton book…]. But the reason I nearly chose that title was because the treatment of Angela Haggerty reminded me of the early Victorian era, when the demonstration of solidarity – in particular the taking of collective action in the workplace – could result in you getting the sack. This was an era where sticking up for each other could be fatal to your employment, and it pains me to say that Angela’s experience in getting the elbow from the Sunday Herald for expressing solidarity with Spiers didn’t seem all that dissimilar. [NB I am most certainly not suggesting any employment laws have been broken, but I am suggesting that in the 21st Century it is surprising to see someone getting into trouble for expressing support for a colleague].
You wonder what effect the Herald’s actions will have on other journalists minded to support their colleagues over some problematic aspect of their job. Hopefully none. Especially as the NUJ was so quick off the mark to express grave concerns about the episode.
But back to my wider observations…
My second feeling about the whole situation was of utter despair. I have previously written about the way that some Sevco fans seem to believe that their ‘club’ and culture is under actual siege. This results in journalists who criticise Sevco – or simply draw attention to its shortcomings – being liable to abuse and demands for their sacking.
The departures of Spiers and Haggerty seem to be a particularly distasteful episode in a lengthy journalistic comi-tragedy that includes Jim Spence, Mark Daly, Chris McLaughlin, and Phil Mac Giolla Bhain.
And in my opinion, the failure of the Herald to stand by its two columnists (even if it meant facing legal action) will encourage folk who want to ‘go after’ journalist who don’t see the world in the required way.
And it stinks.
I am inclined to suggest that at a stroke, the Herald has made the professional life of many of Scotland’s journalists significant more difficult. Is that really what they wanted? I suspect not. But that may still be the outcome.
I also despaired because deep down I couldn’t believe we live in a country where this kind of episode is still possible. In the normal course of events, if you read about journalists in a dictatorship or corrupt society being sacked for speaking ‘out of turn’, you would roll your eyes and be grateful that you didn’t live there. But this is Scotland in 2016. Read those numbers again: 2 0 1 6. We are prosperous, we have democracy and free speech, and yet journalists are being given the push over comments made in relation to a football ‘club’. Or more accurately: one departed over remarks relating to a football ‘club’, and the other departed for expressing sympathy over the furore those remarks caused!
Is it just my imagination, or does this episode seem to be indicative of something really dysfunctional in our society? Which ought to be the concern of government, football authorities and newspaper editors, as well as you and me?
Surely, enough is enough?
However, all is not doom and gloom. As mentioned above, my final emotion in response to this week’s events is one of joy. Because although the events have been pretty outrageous, a large number of people could see them for what they were. They were angry, and they were determined to have a better society and media where this sort of thing does not and cannot happen again. And that’s a wonderful and powerful thing.
Over the past few days many people in Scotland have become a little more questioning. They have further crystallised their thoughts about how they would like their country and favourite sport to be. They realised that – more than ever – they are tired of much of the media’s apparent fixation with a second-tier ‘club’, and the siege mentality on display from a minority of its supporters. A mentality which results in a continually ugly atmosphere around our wonderful national game. They also reflected that if decent committed folk like Graham Spiers and Angela Haggerty are effectively being stripped of their columns for standing by both a story and each other, then something really needs to change.
And when lots of ordinary folk decide that they have had enough, things can and usually do begin to change.
The Herald may have trashed its reputation over the past week, and it remains to be seen whether this is the beginning of the end for them. But for the rest of us, this is only the beginning.
Times have changed, and so must the dark pantomime of perpetual grievance that blights our national game and parts of our society.