Cyber bullies and journalists ‘only doing their jobs’

Bedrooms –  incubators of extremism

Once upon a time journalists were expected to be balanced, fair, factual and accurate in reporting news. People swallowed every syllable, each overcooked adjective, each slight tilt of opinion. Perhaps. Objectivity was the journalists’ watchword. Some understood it. Some didn’t care. And anyway as every historian will tell you there are few facts which are incontrovertible…everything in its context. And there is opinion. And there are the doorkeepers to news – the newspaper proprietors and the head of broadcast news – the tail wagging the dog. pilger on journalists Then came social media and the professional journalist found him or herself faced by a snarling dog biting back – too much canine association so I’ll stop it. Good Morning Scotland 3rd May on BBC Radio Scotland featured a piece about ‘bullying’ of journalists by the status quo’s latest demon, the cyber bully. Cyber bullies are people who talk back, some shout, some swear, at opinions they don’t agree with, presented by other people ( not gods) called journalists. Social media has provided a voice for those previously known as the silent majority The phenomenon of cyber bullying has often been raised on programmes such as GMS, often, as today accompanied by the adjective chilling. A definition of cyber bullying is proving difficult to clarify but the National Union of Journalists is launching a ‘campaign’ along with Strathclyde University ‘to highlight the increasing incidents on online attacks on journalists in Scotland.’ The research is led by former journalist Dr Sallyanne Duncan. ‘Cyber bullying of journalists is a serious and growing problem’ it was claimed, citing two forms: social media and comments made under online articles (by journalists). These often comprise views counter to the journalist’s and may be abusive or offensive which is unacceptable as journalists are only doing their jobs. Journalists, it was claimed by Ms Duncan, are being attacked for their political beliefs – ‘which often journalists are not expressing explicitly because they are attempting (to be) or are impartial in their reporting’ and are subjected to attacks not only on their opinions but ‘bullies’ may make sexual or homophobic remarks. Several references were made to actual threats to life. Now this is already illegal and should be reported to the police. That women are more targeted than men was discovered not to be true. Perhaps it is what is being said and not the gender of the journalist that upsets people? Dr Duncan’s worry is this phenomenon could lead to a ‘degree of self-censorship’ which I assume goes on all the time – she earlier remarked, journalists attempt to be fair-handed in their reporting (therefore must constantly be suppressing their own views). The argument continued that freedom of expression is therefore curtailed…infringing human rights. The accusation being that public opinion is preventing reporters doing their jobs …the freedom to connect (UNESCO) has become limited because journalists are frightened of being abused for their views. My problem with this piece was that Dr Duncan clearly revealed she has already decided what might in objective research be its conclusions. It can only be that she will look for evidence to confirm her belief that journalists should not be expected to ‘toughen up’ but be protected from the great unwashed Scottish public … ‘Try being the one who’s receiving that abuse’ she said in reply to that point. ‘… they (journalists) are just experiencing something that is vile… why should journalists be subject to that kind of abuse when people in other professions are less likely to get it? Does it happen to lawyers, doctors, dentists, accountants?’ – is she seriously asking that question? James Doherty NUJ national executive was also on the programme. The research is being done for the union. He sounded pretty angry about the abuse received by some of the union’s members. Of course there was a time when journalists would write anything they liked, sometimes looking for a response from the public. Letters would be sent and received and sifted through and one or two would be published. Most would not. The public were entitled to their views but not entitled to their views being widely circulated. That privilege has been reserved for journalists. Mr Doherty made reference to ‘angry’ protests outside BBC in Glasgow, as though protests are not, in most cases, angry. I just thought of angry women hurling stones and abuse at politicians, including the prime minister, for denying them what they thought should be their right to vote. I just thought about the hungry and disenfranchised who rose up in the 1820s for an end to their miserable living conditions, dangerous working conditions and for an end to poverty and to the Chartists years later, still fighting for the same, still challenging a hostile press, still angry, still demonstrating. Trade Union member Mr Doherty said it was intolerable that demands were made for journalists to lose their jobs. That this ‘rising sense of entitlement’ emboldened people. And it should not be that casual and idle threats are common parlance nowadays but anger at audacious bias, used as black propaganda, tarted up as even-handed journalism that needs to be criticised and there appears to be confusion over where the dividing line lies between abuse and strong opinion…as there is confusion in some quarters between stretching the truth, omission and downright lies. Isabel Fraser offered up the description ‘chilling’ a few times during the interview in relation to social media which struck me as gratuitous. In much the same vein Mr Doherty referred to social media types who sit in their bedrooms, anonymously madly typing away on their ipads as though bedrooms are by their nature incubators of extremism. This is mainstream media fighting back. It has lost its domination of news and it doesn’t like it. Until now we’ve had a one-way street for journalists; radio, TV and newspapers who have enjoyed the privilege of having their opinions aired across the country but who don’t recognise the advantages this has given them. Ordinary folk have had no such opportunity to express their views. I don’t deny there is horrible abuse out in social media. I’ve been the target of attacks from unionists, many who drape themselves with the Union flag and profess Rangers forever – the sort who don’t get their hate messages reported on mainstream media (objective, balanced and fair-minded) and it is nasty but they are just words and I don’t believe I’m in danger for my life from them anymore than I actually believe the Labour MP Ian Davidson is heading towards my house to bayonet me. The NUJ may wish twitter didn’t exist but it does, and a good thing too. Whatever is said on twitter is nothing compared with the behaviour of professional journalists bunged up in the slammer for their corrupt practices. People are people and people have opinions. As Hunter S. Thompson said, ‘ I don’t quite understand this worship of objectivity in journalism. Now, just flat-out lying is different from being subjective.’ We get flat-out lying from professional journalists. Daily we are subjected to jaw-droppingly biased reporting. How hard is it to distinguish between pro-Labour and pro-Conservative newspapers? They cannot all be presenting objective news stories. It is not difficult to witness BBC, Sky, STV journalists include, omit, spin items they will swear blind are FACTS. Journalists are not demi-gods beyond criticism. They are still privileged as they beaver away, if not in their bedrooms, in their own equivalent of the news sensation incubator, sifting through the FACTS to concoct their own versions of the actualité. If I may indulge in an aside – sport reporters, the majority of whom demonstrate the folly of bunking school between 7 and 16yrs are mainly attracted into their ‘profession’ through their desire to watch fitba for free, every week. An FE lecturer whose job was to broaden the horizons of these myopic young professionals found it an uphill task for there was nothing in their heads but football which goes some way in explaining their uncanny ability to pronounce the most tongue-tying names of footballers and their complete inability to pronounce accurately the names of female Russian tennis players – and so they don’t bother – even to mention the sport when Andy Murray isn’t playing – and anyway they are women – and foreign women – and not even just foreign women but Putin’s foreign women…which is my way of saying that putting professional in front of journalist amounts to nothing worth respecting in itself.

Journalists must be judged on their work not for simply being journalists.  They are open to greater scrutiny than ever and that can be no bad thing. We don’t need threats of violence anymore than we need the pretence of balanced reporting.

As a final aside it hasn’t escaped my notice that BBC presenters are rarely shy about condemning other professions for allegedly shoddy work and suggesting they should be sacked, particularly teachers and nurses come to mind. Yet they scream bloody murder when they are judged as incompetent. That’s the behaviour of the playground bully isn’t it?

10 Comments to “Cyber bullies and journalists ‘only doing their jobs’”

  1. If journalists and the media are happy to promote without scrutiny endless media releases from one particular party, then it’s not surprising that frustration and annoyance prompt people to respond using the avenues available to them.

    Twitter has become notorious for its indiscrete words, but anyone in the public view needs to differentiate between comment (no matter how strong) and downright nastiness. There are people who will post offensive comments, but it’s interesting how the media pick and choose which of these to ‘promote’ whilst forgetting others punted around by high profile people in the political arena. I won’t mention names, but there is a certain lawyer…

  2. I have been ranting (in private ) for years now about how often the media, particularly the BBC run a news piece in the form…
    – Headline
    – expansion by newsreader
    – film of reporter talking to camera
    – newsreader discusses with “our xxxx editor ” ie another journalist.

  3. Thankfully, the punter is also the consumer. The journalist has the freedom and right to publish the opinion, the punter has the freedom and right not to pay for the dis-service. The journalists’ employers will soon dispense of their services if the income (and profit) stream starts to diminish or dry up completely. Boycott is a universally effective tool.

    • Boycott works in a free market eg:Tesco. That’s not the case with the BBC as it is funded by a licence fee which is effectively a Poll Tax you must decide not to pay.

      In the case of the written media you can vote with your bawbee. Circulation of MSM seems to indicate we are becoming disenchanted, especially when offered well-written citizen journalism as an alternative. That ignores the press barons like Messrs. Murdoch, Barclay and associated Milords who own the publications; if you doubt they exert influence over the editorial direction and distort it just buy Private Eye and see.

      As a result, there is this clique of self-regarding journos who probably all went to Uni together fish in the small pond of meejah and rarely speak to ‘ra peepul’. They all have mortgages and career objectives but they should not ask for special treatment

  4. Tried twice unsuccessfully to generate a follow link to for your blog. Please help

  5. I’m gradually embracing Twitter because writing emails to put a viewpoint is, as my 20-year old daughter quothe, ‘so 20th century’. Haven’t quite got it right as my messages seem to end up in the wrong place.

    However irrespective of my fecklessness I recently tried to join in a discussion with an STV journalist by accessing her Twitter feed to make a killer point. Having arrived there I noticed this journo’s feed was full of retweets from other, er, journalists. I tweeted it was ‘unsettling’ that retweeting (verb?) others had replaced original thought. The scribe concerned replied that it was ‘interesting’. My discomfort at this closed circuit approach was magnified by Sunday’s GMS on Radio Scotland followed by Shereen which contained nobody BUT journalists in the discussion of GE2015.

    Not one ‘outsider’ was asked for their contribution. If the last two years of political discourse has done nothing else it has produced an oversupply of opinionated orators some of whom could have been dragooned into Pacific Quay to express a punters’ view. The sense of entitlement of journalists, not to mention laziness, amazes me. There’s even a straight faced trail for Shereen about how her programme is just like ‘talking to a few mates’.

    Quite – nothing about the public then

    • I agree. A small circle of journalists/politicians dominate discussion and opinion. BBC Scotland is particularly bad in this respect. Don’t listen to Shereen but hear her interminable trailers that run most of her programme anyway. Struck me as odd that she is given free rein to get her mates on the show such as Christine Jardine (politician/journalist) and Big Issue guy Paul McNamee who’s never off Radio Scotland.

      These guys have it all carved out – incestuous and elitist but as long as they get away with it they will. It’s so enlightening after all to have one journalist interview another journalist on his/her opinion rather than messily asking anyone actually involved.

      Thanks for readingthe blog.

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