More than 15,000 people have complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) over a front page heading in the Scottish Sun
on 13 August – part of its coverage on the horrific Scotrail train crash near Stonehaven in which the driver, conductor and a passenger were killed and six passengers injured. This is the highest number of complaints received by a UK press regulator since, in 2009, the former Press Complaints Commission (PCC) handled more than 25,000 complaints over a Daily Mail
article on the death of Boyzone lead singer, Stephen Gately. However, IPSO, the regulator of most of the UK's newspapers, has revealed that it has not
been able to uphold the huge number of complaints on the heading – 'Death Express' – which was superimposed on a graphic aerial picture of the crash scene.
The Scottish Sun's
editor, Alan Muir, has already published an apology, part of which read: 'Wednesday was a tragic day for Scotland, and the headline on the front page of our paper in relation to the terrible train accident caused further distress. For that I am truly sorry'. In its findings, published on its website, IPSO points out: 'Due to the high volume of complaints and level of interest… we've responded in a summary to some of the key elements of the complaints received about this article and provide further information which may be useful'.
We don't have the space to allow us to include much of the illuminating 'further information' sections. However, I would urge you to read the detailed IPSO summary on its findings to gain a valuable insight into how a regulator handles the often tragic circumstances which lead to press complaints, how it responds and reaches its findings. The website is: www.ipso.co.uk
IPSO explains the complaints cannot be upheld under the Editors' Code for Clause 1 (Accuracy), stating: 'Many complainants were concerned that the article, particularly its headline, was offensive. The Editors' Code does not address issues of taste or offence. It is designed to deal with any possible conflicts between the right to freedom of expression and the rights of individuals, such as their right to privacy... Newspapers and magazines are free to publish what they think is appropriate so long as the rights of individuals – which are protected under the Code – are not infringed. While the Code does not cover issues of taste, we welcome the publication's decision to print a letter from the editor apologising for the offence and distress caused by the article'.
The summary goes on: 'Some complainants said that the article was inaccurate because they believed that the headline may have misled readers into thinking that the train driver was responsible for the incident. IPSO found that the article made clear the incident was an accident… where the article did not attribute blame for the crash to the train driver, and made clear that it is believed that adverse weather conditions were responsible for the crash, we found there could be no possible breach of Clause 1'.
But it adds: 'Even where IPSO does not take forward a complaint, our standards department closely monitors these issues. We use the information we gather to identify areas of potential concern to provide targeted interventions to raise press standards. Our team is closely monitoring developments in this area'.
IPSO, which has a staff of only 17 people, and whom are all currently working remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has, under considerable pressure, succeeded in less than a fortnight in assessing all 15,000-plus complaints individually, and each complainant will receive a separate response. The regulator says it recognises that there is often press interest in a major incident, pointing out: 'Any incident which results in the tragic loss of life not only has an impact on those directly affected, but on the wider community and beyond. Many people will also have strong feelings about how such an incident is reported in the press'.
And it adds: 'Deaths are highly sensitive, but they are a matter of public record and may affect a community as well as those who knew the individual personally. Journalists have a basic right to report the fact of a person's death, but under the Editors' Code, in cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively'.
Perhaps because of his high-profile political career, an MP for 18 years, and spells as both Energy and Trade Ministers in Labour Governments at Westminster, people may lose sight of the fact that Brian Wilson has been a journalist throughout his working life.
He gave up active politics in 2005 for family reasons, and now 71, and living with his wife Joni and family on the Isle of Lewis, Wilson is still pretty active on the writing front. He has a weekly column in The Scotsman,
fairly regular articles in the Sunday Post
, and provides a steady stream of contributions to numerous and varied publications, especially The Guardian,
with whom he has always had a special relationship. Indeed, he was its Scottish football correspondent in the 1980s while he was freelancing for national newspapers across the UK and, in tandem, seeking a full-time career in politics, culminating in him becoming MP for Cunninghame North in 1987. He also makes the occasional television and radio appearance.
There is no love lost between Wilson and the SNP – he is vociferously opposed to Scottish independence – so I wasn't at all surprised to see journalism and politics coalesce in polemics in a recent online column critical of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's continuing daily lunchtime television appearances on the BBC. Wilson, whose first major job in a Labour Government was as Scottish Office Minister for Education and Industry from 1999 to 2001, points out that he is not at all surprised that Sturgeon was now 'soaring the popularity heights, giving the relentless campaign of unchallenged exposure she is permitted'. Demonstrating the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword, he averred: 'The generals behind any self-respecting military coup know the most important buildings to occupy are the broadcasting studios. Scotland has witnessed a COVID coup without any signs of resistance'.
Wilson was not at home when he penned this particular column and, in sarcastic mode, he explains: 'I am in Ireland at present and each jurisdiction has done around three times better than Scotland, measured by excess death rates during the COVID-19 months... Who would know that? Astonishingly, this has been achieved without any politician dominating the airwaves or continuing to report personally that another day has passed without a death. Scotland is uniquely blessed... In fairness, everyone else seems to have dropped the pretence that this is primarily a "public health update". Even the Scottish Government's website publishes her text under the heading "First Minister's Speech"... On Monday, the "speech" ran to an impressive 1,700 words – though any competent sub-editor could have cut it by three-quarters without any sense of loss. And that was only the opening gambit. How long is this farce to continue?'
Co-incidentally, Scottish Labour peer, Lord Foulkes, a former MP and MSP, has tweeted: 'I've put a formal complaint to @BBCScotland that they are breaking Ofcom & BBC Charter rules on impartiality by broadcasting daily broadcasts by the SNP leader without the right of reply to Opposition parties. Others could follow this example!'
Laura Paterson has been appointed the Scotland editor at PA Media – the national news agency for the UK and Ireland – after serving as a news and political reporter and news editor since joining PA in 2016.
Laura began her career, in 2009, on the Glasgow weekly, The Digger
, and has also worked for The Press and Journal
(The P&J), the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter
, Central Scotland News Agency, and the Sunday Mail.
She commented: 'With the ongoing coronavirus crisis, as well as the upcoming Brexit transition period deadline and a Holyrood election on the horizon next year, we anticipate a busy news agenda and will continue to provide fast and accurate coverage'.
A public consultation has been launched by a Scottish charity group to provide the first real opportunity for people interested in contributing to the content of a draft written constitution for the future governance of Scotland – via a fully-independent and transparent website
The charity, Constitution for Scotland (CfS), is providing the public consultation through an interactive, internet-based platform – an initiative which evolved from a decision taken some 11 years ago by a 22-strong group of Scots committed to independence. The charity (SCO49193) is managed by four trustees and chaired by Robert Ingram, a retired chartered marine engineer who lives near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire. Robert explained that the group were dedicated to the concept of a model written constitution for Scotland 'rather than just talk about the need for one'.
He told me: 'The model constitution has been formulated to stimulate debate on specific proposals rather than vague notions – but is not in itself prescriptive. It is offered as the groundwork of a skeletal outline of the future fundamental law of Scotland – based on the concept of popular democracy'.
The document within the website contains a summary which outlines the 15 articles that are set out into 174 separate sections within the model constitution on the website. The interactive debate will provide choices – enabling participants to read either the summary or the full model constitution. They can choose to read the summary and then use a quick vote facility, or use the links or searchbox to locate a section of interest, and from that section another click will take them to the vote, amendment and blog panels.
Participants can then add their own ideas and comment on those of others. They will be able to return again and again to see the latest vote counts and rankings, or update their own input and vote – right up to independence day, should Scotland win the right to govern itself.
Robert adds: 'When this consultation is concluded, the politicians will know precisely what we want and what we expect them to do about it... and that's what a constitution is all about. And Scotland will have a constitution which truly represents a modern popular democracy... It does not matter whether you are for or against self-governance: we should all prepare for a positive outcome to a referendum that would enable Scotland to once again be a normal country making its own decisions. Being prepared is not just a good motto for Guides and Scouts. Everyone will benefit from looking ahead and considering the political nature of a Scotland in full control of its own affairs, economy and resources... That is the thinking behind this initiative to conduct a public consultation on a written constitution. For all these reasons, this is a job not just for politicians – it is for every citizen to have a say in how he or she is to be governed and to make their priorities crystal clear'.
The Constitution for Scotland, which was formally constituted as a Scottish charity in April 2019, advocates Scottish independence as a matter of community democracy and fundamentally exists to encourage consultation on a draft constitution. It is not aligned to any particular political party and all its activities are wholly financed by donations from supporters. The charity is managed by four trustees – Robert Ingram; Ronald Morrison, from Helensburgh, a retired accountant and entrepreneur; Lorraine Cowan, from Uddingston, a senior college lecturer; and John Hutchison, a retired chartered civil engineer and community advocate, who lives near Fort William.
If you wish to seek further information on the public consultation processes, you can contact them through: firstname.lastname@example.org
. There is also a contact form on the CfS website