Feeding the beast

While very much in sympathy with Derek Bateman’s views on the media in Scotland, I must confess to being less concerned about the fact of a package of pre-written stories provided to newspapers by political parties than I am about the character of those stories. To my mind, in the age of rolling news and near-instant updating, it is only sensible that the press offices should seek to keep the voracious beast fed.

No news is NOT good news. No news is just no news. It’s ‘dead air’, and whatever the newspaper equivalent may be. (A David Torrance column?) The sausage-machine never stops running. So those whose job it is to influence the flavour of the sausages are obliged to ensure the supply of their ingredients is not interrupted by events and occasions that are relics of a time when news was fed to us in periodic chunks rather than as a constant stream.

What concerns me is, not the stock buffering of inputs to this news stream, but the nature and purpose of those inputs. It may well be that ‘they’re all at it’. But that doesn’t mean we should assume that they are all doing it for the same reasons. Or that the inputs being provided are of an undifferentiated type. There are stories. And there are stories.

I’m quite untroubled by articles written in advance about things that are pretty much entirely predictable. Events that are on Nicola Sturgeon’s calendar for the festive season, for example, can probably be written up beforehand with no harm done. All the relevant facts are known. The speeches are written. The quotable bits are highlighted. It’s just sausage-filler.

But stories that are intended to significantly influence the news agenda may be a different matter. A Tory FoI request that’s been held back for several months just so as to fill gaps on the conveyor-belt of grinding anti-SNP negativity is, at the very least, dubious. The unveiling of a new Jeremy Corbyn slogan timed to best suit British Labour’s interests smacks of a troubling degree of collusion between the party and the media.

I’m sure others can think of further examples that illustrate the point. It’s not just about the ‘Christmas Boxes’. It’s about what’s in them.

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About Peter A Bell

Thinker. Listener. Talker. Reader. Writer. None of my attitudes are immutable. None of my conclusions are final. None of my opinions are humble.
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