In last week’s edition of the Scottish Review, Kenneth Roy and Gerry Hassan considered the recent controversial developments involving Rangers Football Club and the Herald. As far as can be gathered from reports on the matter, Rangers did little more than privately dispute a factual statement about one of its directors, with a spokesperson confirming no legal complaint or action had been raised at the time of the apology by the Herald.
We should be cautious about implying a pattern of behaviour or believing the grubby actions of the Church of Scotland in the 1920s will shine much light on the situation. I take heart from the impression Rangers remains a financial and cultural titan despite all the evidence of recent years but the specifics of the case might have been more comprehensively explored. According to Roy Greenslade, for example, the Graham Spiers column that sparked the controversy was not vetted by the paper’s lawyers prior to publication because of 'an editorial staff error’.
The NUJ criticised the Herald for 'pandering to the mob'. When exactly this was supposed to have happened in the timeline of events I can't be sure. Was it during the Herald’s private exchanges with Rangers? Or was it when its lawyers told the paper the claim by Spiers would not stand up in court? Was it when Spiers personally 'dynamited' his position at the paper by creating a website to challenge an apology issued by his employer? Angela Haggerty’s case might be worthy of more sympathy but equally there must have been other ways for her to express solidarity with Spiers. Did she have to take to social media to 'undermine’ an apology offered in lieu of possible legal action? Given her many previous comments about Rangers and Rangers fans, it seems unlikely Haggerty went to the barricades, as Kenneth had it, with a heavy heart. At the very least, she was partly undone by the impulsiveness encouraged by social media, about which the Sunday Herald engaged her to write in an expert capacity.
Gerry might have been right to argue that Scotland has a fondness for dominant narratives that stifle debate but it’s not at all clear how this observation bears any relationship to this specific case. He is entitled to assess 'the toxic legacy of Rangers’ as he see fit but others are entitled to question how he might be going about that business from such a starting point. The debate about sectarianism in Scotland is characterised by subjectivity, ill-feeling and folk mythology. This requires us to carefully handle the facts we do have at our disposal. Gerry carelessly stated Rangers did not sign Catholics until 1989 without giving any indication of when this practice came into being. The reader was thus invited to infer, intentionally or not, that it had been in place from the club’s inception when experts believe it originated in the febrile interwar period. In a debate as fast moving as that on sectarianism, we shouldn’t easily relinquish the factual footholds available to us.
Gerry Hassan's article (3 February) is deeply prejudiced and one-sided. It is unworthy of a soi-disant academic. He says nothing of the appalling recent history of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. He says nothing of the Kelly regime at Celtic. He says nothing of the benefits that Protestant Christianity brought to Scotland. He does not connect what is wrong and what is missing in contemporary Scotland with its rejection of Christianity.
Rev Dr Robert Anderson
While Kenneth Roy wishes to defend the actions of both Graham Spiers and Angela Haggerty, I am not sure that advertising his own lack of journalistic integrity or that of his colleague while working for the BBC is necessarily the best way to do it. There is nothing especially symbolic about this little stushie no matter what Kenneth Roy or, for that matter, Gerry Hassan wishes to make of it. The reality is much less dramatic than the protagonists or the columnists wish to make of it.
Freedom of the press has never included the right to print falsehoods or to defame individuals. The Herald erred by not subjecting Mr Spiers' article to legal review. They fixed that mistake by making an apology. Mr Spiers was fired because he publicly undermined his employer following that apology. Ms Haggerty was fired because she compounded the actions of Spiers.
That there has been so much written suggests that many do not understand the relationship between cause and effect. And many of the commentaries seem to imply that journalistic freedom should be above the law. They might take a different view the day they find themselves on the receiving end.
J Charles Lewis
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