An event has occurred that should prove a second watershed in the history of Rangers FC. The first turning point introduced the lexicon of business insolvency into the sporting arena, under the tombstone headed LIQUIDATION; the second pivotal moment is no less seismic. The orchestrated campaign by The Rangers and their fans to formally complain about Jim Spence of BBC Scotland Sportsound ought to have but one ending: the formal announcement by a pillar of the establishment – the BBC – on the status of Rangers FC.
Let us recap. Jim Spence had the temerity on BBC Scotland Sportsound to voice a view, not necessarily his own, that the current club plying its trade at Ibrox is not the same club pre and post liquidation. On the 4th September Jim uttered the immortal line: “John McClelland who was the chairman OF THE OLD CLUB, some people will tell you the club, well, THE CLUB THAT DIED, possibly coming back in terms of the new chairman…” This caused outrage amongst Rangers fans who, encouraged by Chris Graham, immediately complained to the BBC. The Rangers website issued a “Club Statement”, wherein they disclosed that they have instructed “Rangers’ lawyers to write to the BBC Trust” to ensure that “uses of the terms ‘new’ and ‘old'” are not used when referring to Rangers.
The purpose of the main stream media is to inform. To perform this function they must be allowed to represent multiple voices without fear of retribution or censorship. This is called freedom of speech and is guaranteed under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR):
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public bodies and regardless of frontiers.”
The efforts by Rangers to silence any reference by the MSM to Rangers FC as an old club, or even acknowledge that others may hold that belief, is an Orwellian attack on free speech. There is widespread disagreement about the status of Rangers FC and The Rangers. Rangers fans, unsurprisingly, maintain that both are one and the same club; there are others who think differently and argue that liquidation confined Rangers FC to the history books. For Rangers to instruct their lawyers to close down that debate, and for their fans to demand no reference to their club’s status other than one that coincides with their own view, is a step too far.
Historically, the Scottish press fawned over Rangers FC. The phrase “succulent lamb journalism” was coined in Scotland to reflect this sycophancy. Today this deference is still much in evidence. Such is the sensitivity over Rangers’ status that even decent, intelligent journalists are careful when typing not to awaken the gorilla in the room. Tom English, a journalist for The Scotsman, made the following comment while reporting on Peter Lawwell’s appointment to the board of the SFA: “He’s in charge of the biggest and most successful club in the country.” Tom, for he is a loveable rogue, immediately attempted to retract any suggestion that Rangers was not Scotland’s most successful club, writing confusingly on twitter: “To various Rangers fans: Most successful club. In the here and now. I’m talking about the present day situation, not a bygone age. Relax.”
According to Tom, Scotland can simultaneously have two “most successful clubs”: one that is the most successful club “in the here and now” (and which may change next week); and another from “a bygone age”. To be fair to Tom, he does imply that the most successful club from the “bygone age”, even though they did not win the European Cup, was the old Rangers, as the new Rangers, contrary to their own advertising, is not the most successful club “in the here and now”. There can be only one existing “most successful club” in Scotland and Tom inadvertently confirmed that to be Celtic. Still, Tom English got himself into an hilarious fankle trying to appease Rangers fans and his comical prima facie “retraction” saved him from further ire. Jim Spence was not so lucky.
A free media – press, radio, television – is the main vehicle through which citizens are informed on societal issues. James D. Wolfensohn, when President of the World Bank, argued that a free press was fundamental to the very development of society (Wolfensohn, J. 1999. ‘Voices of the Poor.’ Washington Post, 10 November 1999):
“A free press is not a luxury. A free press is at the absolute core of equitable development, because if you cannot enfranchise poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change.”
No one is suggesting that corruption has taken place, but if the press will only listen to those who shout the loudest then the credibility and independence of our press will be fatally undermined; and if those without a voice cannot depend on the press for informed reporting, and to have their opinion represented, then society will struggle to develop in a balanced way.
On the issue of Rangers’ status, when the death-knell of liquidation was sounded not one reporter claimed that Rangers FC would remain intact as the same football club before and after liquidation. They all stated unequivocally that liquidation meant the end of Rangers FC and that, whatever grew from the ashes, if anything, would be a new club with a new history. Insolvency law was unambiguous: liquidation was the end of Rangers FC.
Then Charles Green had an epiphany and so did the press. The commonplace notion that liquidation means the end of a business, including its history, is erroneous after all. According to the emerging narrative that emanated from Ibrox, liquidation was nothing more than a surgical strike on “holding companies”, leaving the core business and its history to survive unscathed and to behave as if liquidation was merely a form of soap powder that cleansed the outside and removed all known debts.
As liquidation takes its current course, this Rangers-in-Wonderland script permits two parallel universes: one where Rangers FC and its history will survive and another where something called the “holding company” and its history will be liquidated. If only we could apply such co-existing alternative realities to everyday life: it is only the “holding name” of the house that is repossessed; I have changed my name so the me that owed the student loan company £20,000 is a different me, not me; I have purchased Einstein’s brain so henceforth his Theory of Relativity shall be known as JohnBhoy’s Theory of Relativity.
Why did the press in particular not challenge this imaginative Satresque “being-and-nothingness” dual world-view of liquidation? “Jings, crivens, help ma boab; this directly contradicts what Rangers previously told us!” Then again, can we expect much from a press that ignores Charlotte Fakes because they are not sure of its sources or how the data was obtained? Professor Roy Greenslade lanced that puny boil. At least ask the bloody questions.
A solitary journalist did disagree with Rangers’ interpretation of The Insolvency Act 1986 – Graham Spiers. He said that the insolvency experts he spoke to concurred with the normal interpretation of the Act and that Rangers accordingly was a new club with a new history. For voicing his opinion he was vilified as a “Rangers Hater”. Jim Spence has now joined that list.
Two events may have persuaded journalists to think differently about Rangers’ status, but neither carries the weight of legal statute. Firstly, Lord Nimmo Smith (LNS), while chairing an investigation into oldco’s alleged breach of SPL rules, expressed an opinion en passant that Rangers FC still existed, although not as a separate legal entity (so someone bought the history of a non-legal entity! And why buy the history and not the club? Was the club, a non-legal entity, listed as an asset? Introduce a parallel universe and the cross-over between reality and fiction creates so many points of amusement). Secondly, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld Rangers’ claim that they are Scotland’s most successful club, clearly validating the view that Rangers’ history remains unbroken. Yet, LNS was not tasked with determining the status of Rangers FC and his opinion on the matter carries no legal weight. In other words, his is not a legal ruling as to the status of Rangers FC. The Independent Reviewer has upheld a complaint that the ASA’s decision was flawed and ran contrary to previous judgements and, in any event, no ASA conclusion, in either direction, supersedes legal statute.
The BBC Trust also ruled in favour of Rangers. Hence the current furore over Jim Spence’s alleged breach of that ruling. However, the ruling has wide-ranging implications for free speech, where reporters are not even allowed to report on what other people think about a contentious issue without suffering retribution and censorship. Oh how reporters and presenters must long for the day when they can write or talk about the beauty of sport without worrying about tribal hostilities, but in this case you reap what you sow. Further, if the BBC Trust depended solely on the same information as that used by the ASA then their initial judgement may be similarly flawed.
So, reporters pre-liquidation had the force of the Insolvency Act 1986 to support their position that liquidation would signal the demise of Rangers FC. Even Rangers held that opinion. To alter their mindset, the press had a non-legally binding view from LNS and a flawed judgement by the ASA. They also had the anger of Rangers fans to concentrate their minds. Neither LNS’s personal opinion nor the ASA’s defective approach usurped insolvency law. Was it the case that the media were mindful of A. J. Liebling’s distinction between their civic function and financial role?: “The function of the press in society is to inform, but its role in society is to make money.”
It is clear that the issue of Rangers’ status is topical and disputatious. For that very reason it needs to be clarified one way or the other and to do that necessitates a legal determination. The press, to their shame, have declined to at least hold a debate. Rangers – club and fans – by their actions against Jim Spence may have forced the hand of the BBC. Where the press have continually failed to understand the meaning of free speech, and the need to represent multiple voices, it is now up to the BBC to stand their ground and defend Jim Spence and what he represents: the democratic right to express an opinion. What the BBC now needs to do is state, after seeking legal advice, their considered opinion on Rangers’ status. The BBC Trust will have to like or lump the consequences. It is untenable for the BBC to follow the footsteps of our supine press and allow a section of society to dictate what can or cannot be aired by our media. If Rangers consider that they have been defamed by the BBC then they should settle the matter in a court of law to secure that legal determination.
Our press have also arrived at an important junction. Live in the past or become part of a modern Scotland and fulfil their primary function to inform without fear or favour. Choosing the latter option might arrest the general decline in readership, and even recover some lost custom, leading, in turn, to increased income. If it is the former option, then step aside for the Internet Bampots.
Jim Spence offered an opinion and his employer was told to silence him. It’s free speech Jim, but not as we know it. It’s time for the media to grow some cojones, support their colleague, and defend free speech.
Posted by JohnBhoy