Chris Graham is a Rangers fan. Since the descent into administration he has had the mantle of “reasonable Rangers fan” thrust upon him and as such has popped up several times on STV to talk about the latest development in his team’s remarkable saga.
He and I have exchanged light-hearted banter, dating back to October 2011 when he classed me along with RTC and Phil Mac Giolla Bhain as “barmy bloggers”. That was august company into which he had placed me, especially as his writing about me, and his blog then being linked to on Follow Follow by a poster called “Fury” lead to the most views of my blog on any one day up to that point.
Since then he has told others that I do not possess the moral qualities to have a guest article posted on his Rangers Standard website, and he has pointedly remarked on a few occasions that he does not read what I write, on the basis that I am “discredited”, “disgraced”, “a Rangers Hater” etc.
Last week’s BBC Scotland invitation to me to appear on Sportsound almost gave me the chance to converse directly with him. However, as Chris himself has explained, he would not take up the invitation.
After I had written my piece about it and Andy Muirhead at Scotzine his, it was Mr Graham’s chance to take up the pen.
The following piece is from the Rangers Standard and can be read on the RTS site by clicking here.
I feel that a few comments might be useful, and they are in bold following the relevant sections of Mr Graham’s polemic.
The piece was posted earlier this week, as BBC staff went on strike to protest against job cuts.
On a day when BBC Scotland staff will take to the streets outside Pacific Quay to protest at job cuts, there remain huge question marks over the ability of their organisation to meet the terms of their own charter. “The BBC exists to serve the public interest”. It is highly debatable whether this remains the case, at least in Scotland. Agendas and bias should be utterly foreign to the BBC but more and more we are seeing those things creep into their work. Central to this idea of serving the public interest is the idea of “balance”, which has been sadly lacking from the BBC’s output north of the border. Despite this problem having been raised many times with them it was apparent again this past week.
There is a big debate to be had about the issue of “public interest” both in the BBC context and that of the press. However charging that the BBC has failed because of its coverage of one story, enormous in Scottish terms though that may be, seems a tad hysterical.
I should start by saying that BBC Scotland presents something of a conundrum for Rangers fans. We have no real option but to pay our licence fee and fund them, but we find them not only at odds with our view of our club but simply unable to provide anything approaching a fair commentary on matters affecting it. The simple fact is that as a group we can’t hurt the BBC in the same way as we can a newspaper or an independent broadcaster because boycotting them does not hit them in the pocket. It was from that standpoint that I agreed to a couple of discussions with BBC Scotland producers and presenters recently about appearing on their shows.
Mr Graham is wrong. There is an option for his fellow fans to refuse to pay the licence fee. However failure to do so is, in all but the most extreme circumstances (such as not having a television) is a criminal offence. If Rangers fans are as offended as a vocal minority says on the internet that they are, then a mass (sorry for using that word) campaign of organised non-payment and defiance might be the way forward. After all, the Community Charge disappeared under the weight of public outcry and, in Scotland at least, not very many people were sent to prison for their protests, Mr Tommy Sheridan being by far the most famous example.
However Mr Graham does seem to be looking at some sort of campaign. But, as he says, he realised that a boycott of the BBC would not work, so he was therefore willing to discuss appearing on the BBC.
That seems a very mature response. If the BBC is a body which Rangers fans want to “hurt” then it takes a magnanimous person to attend within their very lair to engage with them.
But dialogue and discussion are generally good. As Churchill put it over lunch in the White House in 1954, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”
The “balance” question is at the heart of this debate. Must the BBC be “balanced” on every issue, no matter how extreme the views actually are?
A pal with a sense of humour commented that phone in radio debates require to exhibit balance between sense and non-sense! If Airdrie United Football Club is mentioned on the BBC, should I ring in demanding that Albion Rovers be covered too?
If one looks at Lanarkshire football, then the coverage given to Motherwell FC dwarves the time spent on Hamilton, Airdrie and the Rovers put together. Maybe that means the BBC are Motherwell sympathisers and “Rovers haters”? Or maybe the BBC devotes resources it considers appropriate to each task and, except in an election campaign, does not have producers sitting with stop watches to ensure each party has precisely the same coverage.
I am not going to go into the content of these meetings too deeply because I would like to respect that they were private. However, I will say that it is apparent that BBC Scotland, at least in certain areas, understand that their programming is being harmed by the perceived anti Rangers bias which infects their output. They remain at loggerheads with the club and are refusing to apologise publicly for their “Madmen” montage featuring Ally McCoist. They also refuse to publicly acknowledge that they have an issue with imbalance in the panels which make up their sports programming. However, saying something publicly and recognising privately that there is a problem are two different things. The BBC know they made a mess of the McCoist issue and they know that continuing with panel shows which feature only those people who have been outspoken against Rangers in the past year, is leaving them vulnerable to accusations of bias. The more lucid, self-aware panel members also appreciate the imbalance that exists on the shows they appear on.
On the anniversary of the club going into administration, BBC Sportsound aired a show which featured Stuart Cosgrove and Graham Spiers as panellists, on a show presented by Jim Spence. Within minutes of the show airing, Spence had decreed that Rangers “are a new club although Rangers fans will argue the toss on that”. He said this unchallenged. It was a factually incorrect statement that could only have been made by an idiot, someone not in full possession of the facts, someone that wished to pander to an agenda against the club or a mix of the above. I’ll limit myself to saying that Spence is well aware of the facts. We shouldn’t expect more from Spence, he isn’t really capable of it, but we are entitled to expect more of the BBC. I genuinely don’t mind if they want to employ people who are willing to sacrifice their journalistic integrity and twist the facts about Rangers, but they should also employ people willing to highlight that agenda and challenge it.
The “new club” issue is, as I mentioned a blog or two ago, a complex one where people come to it with lots of baggage. I do have a detailed post about it nearly written, to update one from last summer. However to say that the “new club” issue is factually incorrect fails to appreciate the nuances and opinions which are behind the question. There is no simple answer, beyond the Rangers fans saying that the club continues because they say it does.
One of the common themes which I have seen in a lot of the Rangers coverage (and I mean from the “Rangers” side – although I am sure the same happens in reverse) is the “ad hominem attack”. Mr Graham produces a fine example, I think, of it here.
He tells us that the only people who could suggest Rangers are a “new club” are:-
- an idiot;
- someone not in full possession of the facts;
- someone that wished to pander to an agenda against the club;
- or a mix of the above.
He then helpfully tells us that Jim Spence, the presenter is well aware of the facts and therefore, by elimination, he is either an “idiot” or “pandering” to an agenda against Rangers.
He then suggests by implication that Mr Spence is someone “willing to sacrifice their journalistic integrity and twist the facts about Rangers”. If he did not intend that charge, then I withdraw my criticism of him for it, but that is how it reads. And an accusation that a journalist was sacrificing integrity and “twisting facts” is up there in terms of defamation along with a CEO accusing a creditor of “inventing invoices”. That is not to say that the charges might not be true, but people and companies have found themselves in the courts for far less serious slurs.
It is clear, I think, that Mr Graham does not like Mr Spence.
Later in the week, with a panel consisting of Tom English, Graham Spiers and Gordon Smith (making a rare appearance), Spiers continued this line of propaganda with “technically Rangers are a new club”. Well, no. Technically, we are the same club. Technically, the SFA licence was transferred between corporate entities – something which could only have been done if we were the same club. Those are the technicalities so, technically, Graham was talking nonsense. Again this went unchallenged. There was no balance.
Sadly it is not the case that every news or current affairs programme gets everything right. Indeed, if the BBC is getting things as wrong as he is saying, then this is not an issue of balance at all, but one of accuracy. Bias and imbalance comes about in relation to people’s opinions. But “facts” are either true, in which case they are facts, or untrue, in which case they are not.
I have not done an in-depth analysis of the pundits who appear on the BBC to discuss Scottish football. However Messrs English and Spiers are very experienced journalists, and with, one would hope, the neutrality which comes from that. Mr Smith is if course a former Rangers player and former Director of Football at Rangers, working for Craig Whyte.
In what way was the panel of Mr English, Mr Spiers and Mr Smith unbalanced, or more correctly, how was such a panel “unbalanced” against Rangers, which I assume is Mr Graham’s complaint.
Now herein lies the problem, there are different ways of achieving balance. One is to have a panel in which each member is neutral, but given the current paucity of Scottish journalism and broadcasting this is virtually impossible. The other way to do it would be to have a panel which consists of those who detest or dislike Rangers, which the BBC already have plenty of, and balance it with those willing to stand up and reject their propaganda when it rears its head. Whilst journalists can openly declare that they support Dundee Utd or St Johnstone, anyone openly stating that they support Rangers would be hounded out of a job. Not providing any counter to the panellists who are hostile to the club is where the BBC in Scotland utterly fails in its duty.
If we assume that Mr Graham likes appearing in the media spotlight, and from reading the reaction to his appearances on websites he seems to be thought of as very good at it, then he is taking an interesting stance. Telling the national media that they are hopeless seems an unusual way to influence them and persuade them to have him appear. Maybe however he sees his place in the media as part of the global media coverage that Rangers will provide for itself in-house, bypassing the normal TV reports and interviews.
It is interesting that he describes it as “impossible” to have a panel in which each member is neutral. Let’s look at that for a minute. What does he mean by neutral? Does he mean, as I think he does, neutral as between Celtic and Rangers?
Generally the pundits on a sports programme, unless on to discuss a specific non-sports related aspect of a story, will be fans of the sport. Therefore, as there are few “neutral” football fans, by definition any football fan asked to appear will have a lack of balance. Is that to be addressed by balancing the “Rangers” view with the non-Rangers?
Now his other idea, of a panel of “Rangers haters” on one side and “Rangers defenders” on the other, might seem superficially attractive, and at least could make entertaining radio. But once more we have the special pleading. Rangers are on one side and everyone else is lumped into the “hater” category.
As far as his comment that people are free to espouse support of Dundee United or St Johnstone, but not Rangers goes, it seems to ignore reality. There are plenty, it seems to me, of pundits with associations with Rangers. After all, Mr Graham has just mentioned in this article Gordon Smith being on the panel.
I was invited on to the show on the 14th where Spence peddled his lies but could not appear due to work commitments. I was offered a studio in London to facilitate my participation but it didn’t meet my travel plans. It was clear the BBC wanted me on but I then woke up that morning to discover that they had offered the place to Paul McConville, Celtic fan, Celtic blogger, associate of Phil MacGiollabhain and regular attendee at Celtic functions (to talk about Rangers obviously).
Despite Mr Graham’s misgivings the BBC producer wanted him on. When it was mentioned to me about appearing, I was told that Mr Graham was in London, and thus unavailable. Fair enough.
Once more I wonder about the wisdom of accusing a respected journalist on the national broadcaster of “peddling lies” when in fact he was speaking about an issue which is a Gordian Knot!
Now Mr Graham mentions me.
Talking of “peddling lies” … here we go.
I am not a Celtic fan.
I am not a Celtic blogger. Indeed various folk take great delight in pointing out that I only seem to write about Rangers. Does writing about Rangers make one a Celtic blogger?
Associate of Phil Mac Giolla Bhain? Quite literally guilt by association. But guilt about what? And interesting that Phil’s name is mentioned with the assumption that having anything to do with the journalist who broke news of much of the dramatic developments at Ibrox over the last few years is automatically suspect. If speaking to Phil from time to time makes me an associate of his, then fine, I am.
Regular attendee at Celtic functions?
I have had the privilege of appearing twice on a panel at the Columba Club in Blantyre. On each occasion last summer the main, but not exclusive, topic was the fate of Rangers. I provided, where I could, some legal background to the various issues. On both occasions Phil and Paul Brennan of Celtic Quick News were on the panel. On one, we were joined by Archie McPherson. The discussion ranged over various matters including the future development and direction of Scottish football. And the nights raised lots of money for charity.
Naturally, I contacted the producer of the show to voice my discomfort at this. I was told that if I appeared they would drop McConville from the show. I informed them that I was willing to try to change my travel plans to do so but asked who else was appearing. At this point I was told it was Stuart Cosgrove (which I already knew), Andy Muirhead from the Celtic blog, Scotzine, with Jim Spence and Graham Spiers as possible other participants. I made my feelings clear and declined. Let me explain why.
I like the way in which Mr Graham says that “naturally” he contacted the BBC to “voice his discomfort”. If I see a person listed on a panel for a forthcoming programme, then obviously it is “natural” to call the producer to express one’s discomfort. (No it’s not.)
Funnily enough what he says is directly contrary to what the BBC producer I spoke to said, namely that it was not the BBC’s policy to allow guests on their programmes to dictate with whom they were prepared to appear. It was for the BBC to decide on the guests, not for the guests to dictate who the other participants should be. Bizarrely Mr Graham was protesting about the guest on a programme that he had already declined to appear on!
However, Mr Graham then got more information than I had, namely who the other participants were going to be, other than Mr Cosgrove.
People have different opinions about matters. Mr Graham believes that Scotzine is a Celtic blog, because Mr Muirhead is Celtic fan. Mr Muirhead, I know, does not believe that Scotzine is a Celtic blog as it covers many different teams in Scotland. Messrs Cosgrove, Spiers and Spence… well we know what Mr Graham thinks of Jim Spence and we also know what he thinks of Stuart Cosgrove too.
Mr Graham has taken down his personal blog now. Even before he did that however he had taken down what I understand was probably his most popular blog post. On February 16 2012, to the acclamation of the Rangers fans on message board and on his own site, he posted a piece about “The Enemies of Rangers”.
He ended his piece with the light hearted comment:-
I would ask those of you who read the blog to post comments here or tweet me including the names and quotes from people who revel in our misfortune over the coming weeks and months. If you can also provide links that would be helpful. I will update this post weekly so that when RFC is back on its feet we have a record of those who spoke out against us.
His list consisted of various people perceived as slighting Rangers, and included, at number 8, Stuart Cosgrove. Here is what Mr Graham had to say about Mr Cosgrove one year ago:-
Stuart is a busted flush. It seems perhaps he knows this since his ‘comedy’ show “Off the Ball” on BBC Radio Scotland seems to have become more and more bitter as time has passed. Stuart seems to know about a criminal tax investigation that the rest of us are not aware of. He also seems to think he knows the outcome of this fantastical investigation which he unveiled on his show on the 18th February. Stuart has previous as a Rangers hater and is a big fan of using the word “hun” on his show. Not likely to be the only BBC employee on this list by the time we are done.
Bearing in mind the views expressed by Mr Graham here and elsewhere, one must admire the BBC for extending him an invitation at all! After all, he is clearly a man with no love for the Beeb, and asking him on to a programme where the presenter would be the “busted flush” might have been seen, should Mr Cosgrove be a prima donna, as getting at him!
And, one wonders why Mr Graham would even entertain the possibility of appearing on such a programme on the BBC?
It was clear to me that the message on “balance” is still not getting through. It would have been bad enough for the BBC to think that me appearing with three journalists, who have been amongst the most outspoken critics of Rangers over the past two years, would have been “balanced”. However, for them to be contemplating a show that also included Muirhead and/or McConville would have been farcical.
Let me get this straight. Mr Graham did not believe that a programme with the three journalists mentioned would be balanced? Having either myself or Andy Muirhead on would also have made it unbalanced.
Clearly Mr Graham himself thinks far less of his oratorical skills than the BBC or STV do. They ask him on and therefore I assume they think he can fight his corner. But maybe Mr Graham has self-doubt? Who knows?
He also did not mention what the piece of the programme I was asked to speak on was about. I had not been asked on to discuss the Rangers story from start to finish. Instead it was to discuss the blogging and social media impact on the story. That piece of the jigsaw is actually the one which baffles me the most.
If there was to be a discussion on the construction of football stadia, and the studio guest was to be the person who designed Parkhead, would this be seen as “biased” or “unbalanced”?
If I had appeared, and decided to indulge in a rant about the evils of the past or present Rangers Board, for example (I am not suggesting that there are any “evils”) then quite rightly my microphone would have gone off and I would have been lucky to say another word on the show. However, as I assumed I was on to talk about what it has been like blogging and tweeting about the story, then I fail to see where the “balance” issue comes in.
And presumably Mr Graham’s invitation was in his capacity as a “Rangers blogger” too, as Andy Muirhead’s was also as a blogger.
Frankly if I had been on and was asked to give an opinion on how well Rangers were playing, or how good a football manager Ally McCoist is, I would have had little to say, and nothing sensible at all.
I was, for the avoidance of doubt, due to speak about an aspect of the Rangers tory, and not about Rangers itself!
The idea that I could have provided balance on a show which included two Celtic bloggers, two journalists in Spiers and Spence who are willing to ignore the facts on Rangers status to peddle “new club” myths and Stuart Cosgrove, no friend of the club, is utterly ridiculous.
As I said, I am surprised Mr Graham lacks confidence in his own abilities. After all, he is immensely proud of how he handled Graham Spiers on a Scotland tonight broadcast some time ago, I understand.
Now, I’m willing to accept that perhaps the BBC didn’t know about the backgrounds of Muirhead and McConville. They do both masquerade as neutral in their own ways, McConville on the pretence of being an Albion Rovers fan and Muirhead by pretending his website is not a Celtic blog. Also, I must give the BBC some credit because, once the facts were presented to them, they clearly took on board the fact that to have those people appearing on the programme would have been ridiculous. However, they should not have needed me to tell them that.
What “background”? The BBC producer knew I wrote a blog which has been involved, in a very small way, in this story. I assume that someone in the BBC might have read it, even if only before emailing me about appearing.
I also like the wonderful way in which neutral, in Mr Graham’s eyes = not Celtic. Professing being an Albion Rovers fan does not make me a neutral, unless sports coverage in Scotland is always seen only through the Celtic/Rangers prism.
Mr Graham is of the opinion that, thanks to his intervention, the BBC dropped the guests they had already invited. What powers he now possesses!
An enraged Muirhead took to his Celtic website in his inimitable, semi-literate style to brand me a coward for not appearing, a bigot (a regular, baseless accusation), and complain about me ruining his shot at ‘stardom’. I’m not going to get into a slanging match with him because he’s not important. I’ll just mention this quote that a fine gentleman made me aware of, from Thomas Paine, “To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason, is like administering medicine to the dead.”
“Ad hominen” anyone?
I’m told McConville was quite put out too. I don’t have the time to wade through his spectacularly lengthy drivel to see what he said so I’ll content myself with the knowledge that apparently my refusal to go out of my way to appear meant neither of them got to spew their bile about my club on national radio. Why they were ever invited in the first place will remain a mystery. I would neither expect nor accept an invite to appear on the radio or TV to talk about Celtic. Whatever odd personality defect gives them the sense of entitlement to think they deserved to be on a show talking about a club they hate will also, thankfully, remain a mystery to me.
And now we come to the reason why it is a good thing to actually read what someone says, rather than rely on second hand sources. I was not “quite put out” as anyone who read my blog about the cancellation would have seen. It would have been fun, but was not to be on that date. That happens.
I also like his reference to my “spectacularly lengthy drivel”. He has got me spot on there. Maybe I will do an easier version so he can understand. Sorry. That was uncalled for, and I take it back.
What makes him think I was going on to “spew bile” about his football club? As I posted yesterday, show me the evidence!
But it is of note that Mr Graham feels he is due the credit for preventing us infecting the airwaves.
And, I repeat, I was asked to speak about blogging, not about Rangers.
And, in the same context as the “bile” comment, I note that I am a hater as well. (In fact it was a bit of a disappointment that I did not make it on to Mr Graham’s list of enemies last February, although my “barmy blogger” tag is still on show).
The BBC have to find a way to balance their own output without relying on appearances from fans, bloggers or ex lawyers who require to work under supervision. They have to balance their own panels and their own staff. It is not my job, the job of any other Rangers fan or Rangers fan representative to challenge Spence or Spiers on their lies – although we could. Fans should be on these shows to give the fans view, not to stem the tide of inaccurate drivel from those employed by the BBC. The BBC should be employing people to appear regularly on these shows that will pull people like Spence and Spiers up if they wish to stray from the facts. Until they do, they will continue to find it hard to get Rangers fans to take their output seriously and they will continue to damage what little credibility they have left.
So Mr Graham’s recipe is that there should be Rangers fans on all of these programmes to ensure that the truth is told, and yet, when offered the chance to do so himself on 14th February, he refused. (I am NOT calling him a coward. Instead it seems that his “manifesto” for defending Rangers is totally the opposite of what he actually did.)
Perhaps if they can balance their own output then they will find that Rangers fans are willing to engage with them again. Maybe they will even find the club more willing to cooperate with them. However as long as their website, radio and news outlets continue to churn out snide, agenda driven content, often with no factual basis, then the rift will widen and who knows, perhaps those responsible for upholding the BBC charter will start to take more and more interest in our little corner of their operation.
I wonder if the BBC will invite Mr Graham back on again in the future. I have no problem if they do – after all it is a decision for the BBC to make. I have no right to tell the Beeb who should be on and who shouldn’t. However, if the BBC did choose to have on a guest who claimed the credit for having a discussion cancelled by his own refusal to participate on an earlier occasion, that would suggest that, in fact, and despite the protestations of the BBC, they were allowing a guest to dictate who else appeared. I am sure that is not their intention.
So I finish with a challenge for Mr Graham.
Maybe one of his minions can pass this on to him, so as to prevent him having to take up time reading more of my “drivel”.
Should we both be invited on to the BBC, or another broadcaster, at a later date, would you participate or would you suggest to the producer that I should not appear?
Would you refuse to participate if I was to contribute to the programme myself?
If we were both to be on the panel, then who else would be acceptable to you as presenter or panellist? One assumes that Messrs Spence, Spiers and Cosgrove would not be. Who would?
I ask these questions because, when Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s book “Downfall” was published and the serialisation on the Sun was mooted, this was stopped because of pressure, it seemed. Some Rangers fans expressed shock at this, stating that they had no intention of denying Phil the right of free speech. There was astonishment from some at the accusation that they wanted to silence a critic.
The impression I have picked up, from this piece by Mr Graham, and other comments, is that, in my case, they do want to stop me speaking, which is all rather confusing.
Posted by Paul McConville