Tonight has brought some interesting news which has caused consternation and weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the Rangers faithful.
It is not clear yet if the two stories which have come out on Twitter tonight are connected – or if the issues are separate.
Almost simultaneously the BBC’s Chris McLaughlin and famous Rangers supporter, and star of screen and the internet Chris Graham tweeted the following.
Mr McLaughlin is regularly on the ball with his scoops from Ibrox, despite the BBC being “banned”. Tonight he tweeted that Rangers had referred comments against a director to the police. The comments were from a website which he later stated was Follow Follow (a popular gathering place on the internet for post-modern humour and witty discussion about football)
Chris Graham also chipped in. He revealed to the world that “the dysfunctional Rangers Board” was “threatening to sue” him. His response? “I’ll see them in court.”
Can this be the same matter?
Well, possibly not.
The police do not deal with civil matters. In fact, if the police have the chance to classify something as a “civil matter” to get the complainer out of the police station, they will take every opportunity to do so.
A threat to sue on the other hand would come by way of a letter or email from the excellent form of solicitors engaged by Rangers.
Following upon Mr Leggat having to remove a post from his blog last week, this seems to suggest that the Board at Ibrox is taking up the fight although, much to the chagrin of Rangers supporters (or at least those on Twitter and the Internet) the targets seem to be Rangers supporters!
Considering how vocal Rangers fans are about silencing critics of their team (or “Rangers haters” as they are known down the Copland Road) it might seem ironic that the legal big guns are turned on those who love the club.
Now, regular readers will know that Mr Graham was instrumental in bringing my media career to an end before it even started by his telling the BBC he would not appear on a radio broadcast I had been asked to join. Some might think that I would be delighted at this latest occurrence. Schadenfreude is a normal human emotion (though I keep mixing that up with Schweinsteiger).
But, as someone who has already been on the receiving end of a letter from Rangers lawyers (received at 10.30 pm telling me to remove material from the blog by midnight), I must say that there is something unsavoury about efforts by big companies to gag people who are wanting to comment on the company’s affairs.
In my case it was an allegation that commenting on the terms of the supposed presentation to prospective institutional investors in the run up to the IPO was a breach of confidentiality and allegedly “market abuse”. In fact the letter included the remarkable threat that, if the IPO failed to raise the sums looked for, then Rangers would sue me for their losses! Whilst that was very gratifying in terms of my perceived influence, it was rather heavy-handed (especially as the document I was reporting on came from that excellent and secret source Mr Google).
It is ironic that websites and message boards can be a haven for some of the most vile and threatening abuse. Anyone who has put their head over the parapet of the Rangers saga in recent years will have experienced this. Almost all have been prepared to put up with it – working on the basis that there is so much of it that trying to stop it is like emptying the Clyde with a thimble. If it goes over the score though people do react and I can commend Mr Dingwall of Follow Follow for removing threads referring to me when I have drawn to his attention comments which go far, far over the score.
I have detailed knowledge of two people who made reports to Strathclyde Police, as it then was, about abusive and threatening online comments about them. Neither obtained satisfaction. One was told that he had to print all of the material off as the police could not look at it online. In the other case the police denied having received any complaint at all – until the fax receipt proving the 22 pages had reached their office was found, at which time the story immediately became one that the matter had been investigated and found not to have involved a breach of the criminal law.
But when genuine critics are being threatened with action for speaking their minds…
One other ironic feature is that reaction against the Board for this alleged action – whilst, when it was known that I had been subject of an “injunction” (which I was not – because injunctions do not exist in Scotland and no court action was ever raised) there was rejoicing and some commenters were delighted with the prospect of me ending up in Barlinnie.
It might seem hypocritical for folk to welcome gagging of one’s enemies but to condemn such action against one’s friends.
But that should not distract from the premise that Rangers could be seen as doing something which, on a larger and more notorious scale, McDonald’s did in the so-called McLibel case – with the result that the longest libel trial in English legal history ensued and the burger company’s reputation was seriously damaged.
It is fair to say that the various owners of Rangers over recent years, and those looking to be owners, have experienced allegations of all sorts of misbehaviour, some (such as many of the posts on this blog based on research, analysis and public statements) whilst others elsewhere are based on rumour, innuendo and wild unfounded speculation.
But, despite that, the move to threating and taking legal action against critics does seem to be based on economic factors, rather than anything else.
It strikes me that the Rangers Board is over-reacting – having seen off the “Rebels” at least for now – they are now striking at their own.
As readers of this blog know, I am not keen on censoring free speech – so although it might surprise some readers – I stand firmly on the side of Chris Graham here. Let him say his piece and let it be defeated by debate, if the Board can do so. Gagging people rarely works. Even when views are unpalatable, it is better to hear them and let people make their own judgements rather than create martyrs whose opinions become hidden. If someone is talking rubbish, let us hear that, so we can judge for ourselves.
Now, all we need is to see if those on the Rangers side who are being gagged appreciate that they have looked to do the same to others.
Posted by Paul McConville