As the prospect of Rangers FC ceasing to exist looms ever larger, and is now openly discussed in the mainstream media, it is interesting to see the line which is being taken.
Recently I have had the pleasure of attending a couple of meetings of the Scottish Press Club, where some of the machinations of the media are laid bare. Two recent speakers are, I think, relevant to this discussion.
First of all James Doleman wrote the terrific Sheridan Trial Blog. That had a large part to play in making me start my own, so he is the man to blame!
James sat in the Tommy Sheridan trial for its entire duration, reported thoroughly and correctly every day, and was able to observe the antics of the traditional media. He noticed that there was a “herd instinct” whereby there seemed a reluctance to be the person striking out in a different direction with the story. James had the feeling that there was a “safety in numbers” approach. If a reporter took a different tack from the rest, then he ran the risk of being wrong – if the general “spin” on the story was the same, them slight variation was in order, but no-one could be faulted for sticking to the “party line”.
It was also James’ view that this was not because of journalists trying to fit the story within their particular organisation’s viewpoint, but a recognition that there is “safety in numbers”. (James – if you feel I have misinterpreted what you said, apologies, and I will correct it.)
Secondly, I was very impressed by Professor Greg Philo from the Glasgow University Media Group. His point (one amongst many) was that what the media failed to report was more important than what actually made it into the papers and on to the TV. He discussed various stories, dating back to the 1970’s, where the facts were simply not reported at all, leading to people forming views about, for example, Trades Union power or productivity of British workers, which (a) were factually incorrect and (b) have formed the general view of these matters in the UK now, almost 40 years on.
What does this have to do, you might ask, with the state of Scottish football and the media coverage thereof?
The story of the tax case facing Rangers was broken, I understand, on the Kerrydale Street website. It seems to have been picked up soon afterwards by Darrell King of the Evening Times. My knowledge of it came through the Rangers Tax Case Blog and via Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s website.
The mainstream reaction to the story seems, from my observations at the time, to have been to ignore it. Bearing in mind that, in a time of financial austerity, it was being alleged that “one of the two most important institutions in Scotland” (as I believe some refer to Rangers) had taken part in a scheme (a) illegally to reduce its tax liabilities by over £20 million and (b) which had the effect of giving them a massive financial advantage over even its closest rivals, it seems astonishing that the media were not poring over the story, and having comment from tax lawyers and accountants about what it meant. The fact that the tax appeal took place in private did not mean that the issues raised could not be discussed.
There were no issues of contempt of court, as long as the privacy of the hearing was respected. If, for example, RTC had detailed the evidence of a witness to the appeal, then I am sure that some form of action would have been taken. Governments and law enforcement agencies can easily penetrate the anonymity of the Internet, if so required.
If an anonymous blogger can provide huge amounts of analysis, and have contributors who are versed in the various areas chip in with their thoughts and input, why not the mainstream press?
I do not think that a message went out from the various editors saying “We are all Rangers supporters, so do not write about them.” However, there was probably a “nod and a wink” to the idea of sitting tight on the story, and for letting someone else take the flak. The reaction by some groups of Rangers fans to what they perceive as negative stories r actions about them, such as the threatened boycott of Lloyd TSB for trying to control the Rangers debt situation, probably made editors think that the risk of a drop in sales, even for telling the truth, was not worth it.
In addition, sports writers traditionally have not come from a business or legal background. Would the City Editor of the Herald be expected to pop over to Firhill and write a match report on a Thistle v Hamilton game? But the media has access to all sorts of experts (so-called) and this seems a story ripe for detailed exposition and analysis.
Against that background, what do we see now that the story is being talked about?
It seems to be the “party line” that Rangers must survive in the SPL in some form, whether as a newco or the existing team. This is not, of course, for the good of Rangers, but for the “good of Scottish football”.
As has been predicted on RTC by various contributors for some time now, this is the “herd instinct” kicking in. The accepted wisdom is that, of course, there must be a “Rangers” in the SPL. There has been little or no mainstream analysis of the issues behind the question.
I try, when writing, to start with a question, look at the evidence, and then reach a conclusion. That might seem old fashioned, but the media view of Rangers and their present predicament seems to have jumped straight to the answer without any analysis to get there.
We are told that Scottish football will wither and die without Rangers on the SPL.
It is funny, but I cannot seem to recall the floods of stories from Messrs Traynor, Keevins, English et alia warning that the desire of Celtic and/or Rangers to leave the SPL and play in England, or the Atlantic League, or the Inter-Galactic Footie Bowl would kill Scottish football stone dead.
I may well be wrong, and there are archives full of articles warning of this very fate, but my recollection is that the media saw this generally as (a) a good thing for the Old Firm as they would have better competition and more money and (b) a good thing for Scottish football.
Now, with the prospect of Rangers disappearing entirely, or else dropping all the way to Division 3 of the SFL, the absence of the Ibrox team (for what might only be three years) will be fatal for Scottish football.
I will leave the analysis of this to wiser people, but it seems to me that the following “logic” lies behind the present media view.
A If Rangers AND Celtic leave the SPL, this would be a good thing.
B If only Rangers leaves the SPL, that will be a bad thing.
C Therefore Celtic remaining on its own in the SPL is a bad thing.
Frankly that “logic“ can only be the result of (a) flawed thinking or (b) anti-Celtic bias. If the contention is that it would leave an uneven playing field and that Celtic would win all of the trophies all of the time, then, frankly, why does Scottish football not turn into a competition where Rangers and Celtic play only each other?
There were no clamours for the playing field to be levelled when Rangers were winning nine consecutive Championships, nor indeed when Celtic won their nine in a row. (In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the standard of Scottish football was very high, and there was a lot of European success).
At the end of the day, it appears that Rangers, through financial mismanagement, have brought about a situation, no matter what happens with the tax case, where it cannot live within its means. Motherwell, Dundee (twice), Gretna, Airdrieonians and, in the mists of time, Third Lanark all paid the price for similar failure.
Would the media be clamouring for the rules to be changed if, as a result of bad play and bad management, Celtic or Rangers faced relegation? Logic would suggest that the same arguments should be deployed. However, that shows the moral bankruptcy of the argument.
We still need, perhaps even more than ever, the likes if Phil and RTC to keep up their coverage of these issues, or else the facts will be drowned out by the pre-set media agenda.
And talking of the pre-set media agenda, I note today that the Scotsman website has a story regarding some of Rangers “targets” including Jorge Claros, the midfielder from Honduras who had a trial with the team earlier this month.
Ally McCoist is quoted as saying “We are not just in a position to offer him a contract yet”. He then goes on to suggest that other areas of the team are a higher priority.
The article goes on to say:-
“Claros has returned to his Honduran club Motagua and their manager, Pepe Trevino, is unhappy at the player’s treatment. He said: “Jorge has a great future and will sign for a good club in Europe soon. Maybe it was not his time at Rangers – I don’t know why they didn’t sign him. Rangers took him for two weeks and now say they have money problems. They should have told him before that. He is a very good player and deserves to be treated better than this.” (Emphasis added)
Mr McCoist’s words ”We are not just in a position to offer him a contract yet” seems to corroborate what Senor Trevino has to say. It does not appear that he was asked why Rangers was not in position to offer a contract, rather than saying that they did not want, just now, to do so.
It might be seen as worthy of comment that Rangers cannot afford to sign Senor Claros. But no.
It is all business as usual – nothing to see here – move along please.
I am sure that the tide will turn and that the media will give this story the attention is deserves. Probably though, it will not happen till the liquidator or receiver is installed in the fine offices at Ibrox.