As readers will know, the Scottish Sun elected not to serialise “Downfall” by Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, having initially announced its intent to do so.
The Scottish Editor explained the decision in an editorial no longer available on the Sun website. Extracts from it read as follows:-
“THE Scottish Sun has never been afraid of controversy. Throughout the years, we have never shied away from tackling difficult subjects. We have never taken the soft option, the easy route, the quiet life.
We knew he (Phil Mac Giolla Bhain) was a controversial figure, but it was clear from the book he had written that he had a story to tell. And we felt it was a story that needed to be told to you, so that you could make your own minds up. So that you had a chance to read the behind-the-scenes details about the downfall of Rangers. So that you had a chance to see where the blame lay for the collapse of the club.
On Sunday, many Rangers fans contacted the paper. Most were reasonable, and wanted to point out some of the other material that the author carries on his website.
Let’s make one thing absolutely clear. We will never be bullied into not publishing stories simply because they upset some people.
We pride ourselves on having the finest journalists in the country who are totally and unequivocally impartial.
But Phil Mac Giolla Bhain is not one of our journalists and his blog undermines the entire industry.
THAT is why we have decided not to carry the serialisation of the book. Because the author — previously unbeknown to us — is tarred with a sickening sectarian brush.
We believed Phil Mac Giolla Bhain to be a proper and sound journalist. We were wrong.”
So according to the Sun we had the following:-
1 The story of Rangers’ downfall needed to be told.
2 Phil Mac Giolla Bhain was known to be a controversial figure.
3 We did not know about all of the material on Phil’s website.
4 Phil, well known to be a supporter of Celtic, was not “totally and unequivocally impartial”.
5 His blog undermines the entire industry.
6 Phil, unknown to the Sun, was tarred with an unspecified “sickening sectarian brush”.
7 Phil is not a “proper and sound journalist”.
8 The serialisation was not stopped because the story might upset some people.
One wonders in what way they thought Phil was controversial without realising it was connected to the Celtic v Rangers situation.
I don’t propose to go back through the stories serialised by the Sun to point out every one which does not meet those criteria, but I will choose one example.
I am not suggesting that the following story ought not to have been serialised, but the Sun could be looked at as being somewhat inconsistent in its application of its principles.
For example, whilst the story below could, depending on the precise contract, breach the Editors’ Code of Practice as promulgated by the Press Complaints Commission, serialising Phil’s book would not.
Section 16 of the Code reads
i) Payment or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information, which seek to exploit a particular crime or to glorify or glamorise crime in general, must not be made directly or via agents to convicted or confessed criminals or to their associates – who may include family, friends and colleagues.
ii) Editors invoking the public interest to justify payment or offers would need to demonstrate that there was good reason to believe the public interest would be served. If, despite payment, no public interest emerged, then the material should not be published
NOTORIOUS gangster Ian ‘Blink’ McDonald has written a book about his violent life of crime. The former bank robber spent three months penning his autobiography, with the help of his 20-year-old son. It has the working title of Blink: The Early Years and tells how, as a teenager, the ruthless thug slashed and robbed his way up the criminal ladder.
In his book, the Glasgow hardman tells of assaults on cops and prison officers, and beatings he received inside. The 48-year-old said: “It’s a violent and brutal account of my life and prison life. It’s quite graphic and no-holds-barred, from someone who’s actually been there and experienced it.
The book ends with him being jailed for 16 years in 1992 for a botched £6million bank heist, during which a teller was shot in the head. He was released on licence in 2001 but this was revoked in 2003 following a series of rows with nightclub bosses. He was forced to return to Shotts prison and spent another year inside.
He added: “It starts with me stealing pick ‘n’ mix as a five-year-old in Woolies and ends up at the Old Bailey. I really put the boot into police and prison officers. In 30 years of reading crime books, I’ve not seen anything as graphically detailed. I’ve always been a crook but who knows, maybe I’ve found a new career.”
On June 17, 2012 we saw the following published in the Sun. Clearly Mr MacDonald had found his book deal, and a newspaper to serialise his book too!
Day 1 of feared gangland hood’s sensational book
IAN ‘Blink’ MacDonald was one of the most feared enforcers in Glasgow’s violent underworld. In his forthcoming autobiography, Blink — A Journey Through Glasgow Mayhem, he reveals how he fought, robbed and slashed his way to the top.
And he tells how he started notorious reformed gangster Paul Ferris on the road to a career of crime. MacDonald’s plan was to start a new life in Spain, but the armed bank job which was to fund it went wrong and he was jailed for 16 years.
There he rubbed shoulders with some of Britain’s most sinister figures, including Reggie Kray. In Day One of The Scottish Sun’s serialisation, Blink reveals how he helped Ferris develop a taste for crime… in a stolen Glasgow taxi.
According to MacDonald, the teenage Ferris was amazed at the detail which went into planning jobs. He hung on his teacher’s every word.
Blink explained: “I told him, ‘Sit in the car and wait for me. I won’t be long — ten minutes maybe. I was back in nine minutes, a £3,000 tray of rings hidden beneath my coat. Pulling open the car door, I jumped in and told him, ‘Right, drive.’
“He did, and as we made our getaway I opened my coat to show him the haul. ‘F*****g hell,’ said Paul. “We went to a resetter who would usually give me a third or a fourth of the value and left his home with £1,000, of which I gave Paul half. ‘You’re doing the next one,’ I told him. And he did.”
Soon Blink came up with the taxi plan, which reaped rich ill-gotten rewards.
But the cheeky pair were finally rumbled when the Hackney’s owner noticed his diesel gauge was plummeting.
“It was immense fun, particularly when a few people tried flagging me down by putting their arms out.”
Good luck to Mr MacDonald with his book, and I hope he remains a reformed character.
But really? The Sun sees it as in order to serialise the memoirs of a “feared gangland hood” and to talk about “the cheeky pair” who at the time were stealing a taxi and using it to rob shops?
He “reveals how he fought, robbed and slashed his way to the top.” At the same time he was having “immense fun” in his stolen taxi.
I clearly missed the piece where the Sun took him to task for his life of crime.
As I said, I do not object to the Sun serialising Mr MacDonald’s book.
But bearing in mind their apparent reasons for pulling the serialisation of Phil’s book, and removing the interview with him from their website, how is it consistent to serialise Mr MacDonald’s whimsical recollections of fighting, robbing and slashing his way to the top?
If the standards the Sun espouses regarding Phil apply, the how is it justified, as the Sun did in May 2011, to run a series of interviews with Paul Ferris, described in the MacDonald piece as the “notorious reformed gangster”?
I am an ardent supporter of freedom of speech.
One would have thought a newspaper editor would be too. To decide that, in some way, Phil’s blog means his book, being a story “that needed to be told to you (the Sun readership)” should not in fact be told, but Mr MacDonald’s should?
It is also of note that, whilst some of the articles cataloguing the Sun interviews with Mr Ferris state that he was not paid for the interview, there is no such disclaimer, as far as I can see about Mr MacDonald.
I am not suggesting that the Sun editor was anything less than 100% accurate in what he has stated as his reasons for pulling the serialisation of Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s book. However one is forced to wonder about the values the paper espouses.
Posted by Paul McConville