Saturday, 13 September 2014

Stabs in the Dark

Publishing Phil Mac Giolla Bháin’s Downfall – How Rangers FC Self Destructed was my introduction to social media which, hitherto, I’d only been vaguely aware of.

I learned what the term MSM meant and of its disdain for “internet bampots” which betrayed contempt for anyone - journalist or otherwise - not choosing “official” media as a route for their observations, work or indeed, scoops. The MSM attitude reminded me of BBC Radio One’s attitude to Punk Rock in the 1970s when the old guard of Tony Blackburn and the like either ignored Punk Rock or rubbished it, the way their forefathers had rubbished The Rolling Stones, all hoping the inevitable New Waves would sink into the sand to forever be forgotten so that they could continue their comfortable, dry existence. The Internet has provided something akin to Pirate Radio in the digital age. The music played on Radio Caroline was still the real deal. Most New Waves however tend to leave a permanent mark for generations, leaving those who tried to put their fingers in the dyke to stem the flow looking a bit daft in retrospect, washed out even.

Some MSM reporters on Scottish football seemed to grimace en masse when the reporting of Phil Mac Giolla Bháin was referred to on-air or in print. It was like they covered their ears the way Tony Blackburn must have done when he’d heard Anarchy In The UK, as if doing so would make “that racket” go away.  In fact, Mac Giolla Bháin seems to have been air-brushed out of the mainstream history of the Rangers story, becoming The Invisible Journalist. Still, we’ll remember him more than his detractors, just as we remember Anarchy In The UK more than we remember Tony Blackburn. Of course, Mac Giolla Bháin was only invisible to those who chose for whatever reason not to acknowledge his journalistic scoops in breaking the Rangers story in remarkably prophetic fashion.

Was it jealousy that a lone wolf had taken a scoop from under the noses of the pack that accounted for Scottish MSM’s silence while others trumpeted Mac Giolla Bháin’s name from the roof tops, if not the Red Tops? That would have been understandable. However, these journalists had in some cases left the story undeveloped for fear of their “access” to the subject being denied if they ruffled the wrong lamb chops. One wonders what the purpose of journalistic access is if it is not to report on all deeds and misdeeds of public interest, unless there were other benefits outweighing any desire to tell the truth...

All this came back to me recently when I noticed some twitter comments from mainstream journalists regarding Mac Giolla Bháin. After Scottish SMS having maintained a uniform silence, achieved either by coincidence or by design, here were references, however fleeting or disparaging, to The Invisible Journalist. It was like the USSR’s Pravda of the 1980s acknowledging the existence of long-denied dissidents.Was this Perestroika? The ice of silence momentary thawed when one journalist tweeted that Mac Giolla Bháin’s journalism was merely “stabs in the dark.” Another’s tweet implied that Mac Giolla Bháin had been mistaken for a journalist when he was really just a fantasist.

That got me thinking. Not whether or not Mac Giolla Bháin’s work was merely “stabs in the dark”. I already knew that wasn’t true. After all, his work had been vindicated far beyond merely the shores of Scottish mainstream sports writers. For instance, The Press Gazette had named Mac Giolla Bháin as the 10th most influential tweeting reporter of 2013. His work had been praised UK-wide by many, including Channel Four’s chief correspondent, Alex Thompson and Professor Roy Greenslade of The Guardian. Thompson in fact wrote the foreword for Mac Giolla Bháin’s Downfall book and Greenslade wrote the definitive article covering the outraged and outrageous reaction to the book and The Scottish Sun’s adoption and then pathetic abandonment of the serialisation of the same book due to intimidation by some Rangers supporters. Throughout this time Mac Giolla Bháin has been an active and respected member of the National Union of Journalists holding several senior positions in that union.  Either all these accolades were for “a fantasist’s” “stabs in the dark” - or for well-respected journalism. 

Let’s check the facts;
Mac Giolla Bháin in April 2010 broke the story that spelt out the arithmetic of the Big Tax Case at Rangers.
In November 2010, Mac Giolla Bháin broke the Dallas email story.
In January 2011 Mac Giolla Bháin’s published his scoop on RFC offering to settle BTC for £10M - this was confirmed in 2012 when FTT published result.
In June 2011 Mac Giolla Bháin’s piece on Craig Whyte being no billionaire and using Season Ticket money was published. This at a time when real “fantasists” were describing Whyte as possessing “wealth off the radar”.
In August 2011 Mac Giolla Bháin published his scoop on Sheriff Officers at Ibrox, having his own photographer there.
In October 2011 Mac Giolla Bháin predicted that RFC would run out of money that month - vindicated by Craig Whyte in interview one year later. Whyte’s Rangers stopped paying tax. Mac Giolla Bháin’s reporting was correct again. Rangers did run out of money in the October.
In January 2012 Mac Giolla Bháin was predicting imminent insolvency.
In February, once in Administration Mac Giolla Bháin reported that there was no chance of CVA and that liquidation would take place.
In June 2012 Mac Giolla Bháin’s “stab in the dark” hit the target again.
In the Postscript to Downfall Mac Giolla Bháin sketched out the dangers of insolvency for new entity as they tried to pay topflight wages with bottom tier revenues.

Enough of a track record there, wouldn’t you say, to qualify Mac Giolla Bháin as a “proper” journalist? Despite this, as witnessed by the recent Twitter Glasnost, there are those who’s faltering attempts to have a go at the invisible journalist inevitably see them falling flat on their faces. Interestingly, another of their number asked Twitter users to “lay off” one of the Pravda brigade who was getting a bit of metaphorical kicking. What a shame that such Good Samaritans were generally absent when Mac Giolla Bháin’s editor of Downfall was having her life threatened, among other abuse. That shameful lack of support was reminiscent not so much of a stab in the dark as a stab in the back.

If all Mac Giolla Bháin’s scoops are a fantasist’s stabs in the dark then Mac Giolla Bháin is a blind-folded knife-thrower you could bet your life on.  Or, perhaps, he’s just an old fashioned journalist, basing his reporting on solid sources, factual evidence with a fearless, loud and unrepentant attitude. Eat yer heart out, Tony Blackburn.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Mac Giolla Bhain makes Press Gazette Top 10 Twitter List

Remarkable, investigative journalist Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, the guy who broke the Rangers-going-bust story way before the Scottish mainstream media even acknowledged there was a story, has been recognised by the Press Gazette, being named in its list of Top Ten Twitter journalists (see link below)
The reaction of the Scottish Mainstream Media (SMSM) to Mac Giolla Bhain’s exposes and epitomises, among many things,  the struggle between some in mainstream media to come to terms with social media, describing journalists like Mac Giolla Bhain as everything from “Internet Bampots” to “not proper journalists”, despite Mac Giolla Bhain having been a NUJ member from many years. Indeed, Phil is on the Irish Executive Council (IEC) of the NUJ and editor of The Irish Journalist, Irish journalism’s in-house magazine.

You will very rarely, if at all, find Mac Giolla Bhain’s name mentioned in the SMSM, despite him being championed by some very heavy UK hitters such as Channel 4’s Alex Thomson and the Guardian’s Professor Roy Greenslade. In fact, the mere mention of Mac Giolla Bhain among some established journalists sends shudders down their spine, partly as a reaction to Mac Giolla Bhain himself but also a reaction of Luddites to the ability of new fangled gadgets to operate at least as effectively as certain “proper journalists”. Mac Giolla Bhain’s is the name they dare not speak as Phil has effectively shamed them into, however reluctantly, doing their jobs properly on certain big stories in Scotland today from the liquidation of Rangers FC (the subject of Mac Giolla Bhain’s best-selling book, Downfall, a book conspicuously ignored by SMSM) to anti-Irish racism, a subject so uncomfortable for some in SMSM in the west of Scotland that they deny its existence. Despite glowing reviews from many respected Social Media sites, Mac Giolla Bhain’s book on anti-Irish racism was studiously ignored by the SMSM, with a few honourable exceptions.

There’s a simmering resentment from some in MSM that they are no longer upheld as only guardians of truth and information. Social media has empowered anyone with journalistic talent and a real story to tell as exemplified by the uncovering some of the biggest scoops, scoops that SMSM lacked either the will or the ability to chase. Mac Giolla Bhain has proved himself irrefutably a “proper journalist” and has established a readership far in excess of many of those who continually ignore his existence.

Still, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, The Invisible Journalist, is continually recognised for his ground-breaking investigative journalism by many on Social Media and beyond Scotland. The Press Gazette’s listing of Mac Giolla Bhain in their Top Ten Twitter journalists of the year is therefore an extremely fitting accolade. However, it’s unlikely you’ll find a reference to this award in many SMSM outlets anytime soon.

No matter. Mac Giolla Bhain has proved that it is possible to reach a readership from wherever when you have a nose for a story, the ability to generate and cultivate contacts, and the balls to not just chase the story, but to print it. Now, that sounds like proper journalism to me. 

Friday, 14 March 2014

Debunking the “Liberal” myths regarding Tony Benn

The Mainstream
So Tony Benn was, according to his liberal critics turned Benn Fans for a day, too far to the left of the mainstream. But whose mainstream are they talking about? The mainstream that said Nelson Mandela was a terrorist? That the ANC was a terrorist organisation? The mainstream that thought Trade Unions were not needed to protect working class jobs? The mainstream that wanted US missiles on UK soil? The mainstream that thought the media was safe in the hands of the crook Robert Maxwell and the revolting Rupert Murdoch?  It’s just a thought but perhaps it was the media and their “liberal” lackeys who left the mainstream, the people’s mainstream.

Leftism Let Thatcher In
It wasn’t the left leaning Labour Party policies of the early 1980s that cost Labour power and let Thatcher in. If I remember correctly, it was the right wing of the Labour Party which led Labour to defeat by Thatcher in 1979, the same right wing which defected from Labour to form a vehicle for their own naked ambition, the SDP.

Splitting The Party
As the left wing of Labour had bitten its tongue and served under a right leadership, the left had every right to expect that, following Callaghan's defeat at the polls, the right would accept that it was its turn to support a Labour Party whose activist base demanded change. Instead, the right’s treachery split the anti-Tory votes and let Thatcher consolidate her power in the 1983 election. So much for the left “splitting the party”.

Press Bias against Benn’s Labour Party
The right wing press were never going to play a democratic or fair role in any election. Look at the treatment of Ed Milliband. If press has the cheek to call a centrist like him Red Ed then just think how much more extreme the treatment of a left leaning Labour party was. The voters never heard a fair representation of 1980s Labour policies. So to say that they "rejected" them is inaccurate.  

Benn Took Labour Leftwards
Comparing the Benn-inspired Labour Party of the early 1980s manifesto to Clem Atlee’s 1945 manifesto, one could make a case for Atlee’s Labour Party being to the left of Labour of 1983 and yet Atlee is revered nostalgically by the “liberal” media though of course at the time Atlee too was subjected to reactionaries hostility. If anything, Benn was simply trying to bring Labour back to its roots, roots that were electorally more successful than Callaghan’s rightward-drifting  -and losing – 1970s Labour Party.

So, let’s not leave history – or Tony Benn’s legacy – in the hands of “liberals”. 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Ukraine and Media Fairy Tales

Such a shame. All that media infrastructure, all those highly educated journalists, cutting edge information technology. And what do we get from Western MSM coverage of the Ukraine crisis? Fairytales about big bad Russian ogres and Western-approved of princesses. This is naked self-serving, Western national self-interest dressed up as humanitarian concern for Ukrainians. It is as if the centuries of educational and technological progress since Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm first conjured up stories of good versus evil had never occurred.

Now our storytellers are be-suited official sources and their dutiful establishment conduits in the media, telling us about big bad Russian bears hiding in the Ukrainian woods, stirring up the locals, spreading fear and panic. But these storytellers, with their breathless pronouncements, and their flashing cameras, are not actually telling us a damn thing about the woods - only about the trees. In fact they point our faces straight at the trees, the individual events, the falling of a President, the fragility of the interim government, images of goodies and baddies. They hold our faces up against the fracas, and we feel part of it, informed and so can go about our daily business under the illusion that we know what the fuck is going on when the whole exercise has actually diverted us from the truth. We can’t see the woods for the trees. Not that we are meant to.

I heard an Economist journo on BBC 4 this morning describing how Russia will likely now indulge in “encouraging insurrections” perhaps even with a view to ensuring partition of the Russophile east Ukraine from the Europhile/NATOphile western Ukrainians. A lot of western orientated commentators would have no difficulty nodding sagely along to that view yet at the same time accusing anyone suggesting there has been comparable Western interference and manipulation in the current Ukrainian story of being a nutty conspiracy theorist.

So it can’t be the concept of conspiracy they object to because they already have attributed conspiratorial motives and methods to Russia. No, it’s the notion that we, lovely-peace-loving-humanitarian-democratic us, are somehow above the fray.

Those who claim to abhor conspiracy theories are often the first to promote them as long as they explain the behaviour of an enemy. Understandable this may be. Objective it is not. Informative? Perhaps, in some lopsided way. But it’s another excellent view of those “fascinating” trees - and yet another diversion from those pesky woods.

The woods, in this case, is the geo-political context of what is happening in Ukraine. Russia has been out-foxed by the political and intelligence machinations of the West.  All’s fair in politics and war. And Russia is no innocent abroad here. But the notion that “Machiavellian” Russia is somehow “interfering” in Ukraine while the “honourable” West is simply wanting to ensure events take their “natural” course is as infantile as any fairy tale. Are we really to suppose the West has no interest here?

This is not about anything other than the march of NATO, the vanguard of Western corporate interests. Not that The West is uniquely wicked. On the contrary, this is just what empires do, have always done and always will do. And the West is simply the current leading empire. The notion that we are in some post-history age without empires and where the Great Powers subjugate their economic interests to the rule of international law is indeed comforting, like many a bed time story. However, in the real word, the opposite is true. As Chomsky says, “You don’t need to be a genius to see it. In fact, it takes genius NOT to see it.”

If one considers the history of Great Powers then it’s obvious that Russia has no choice but to resist Western expansion or to accept Western influence on her borders and then perhaps within them. If Russia were to accept that her status as a Great Power would be imperilled. This is why of course Russia went to war in Georgia in 2008. That is why she has resisted Western interests in Syria. And this is why she is deeply unsettled by growing Western influence in Ukraine.

Russia has been out-manoeuvred politically in Ukraine. This deeply divided country on her borders appears to have chosen to lean westward. Certainly this is the wish of many in Western Ukraine. But to suppose that that wish was something Western interests did nothing to encourage is to pretend that Great Power politics does not exist. That takes us back to the land of Hans Christian Andersen.

One expects Great Powers to behave this way. But aren’t we, in a supposedly sophisticated western democracy, entitled to journalism that challenges their press-released narratives? Don’t we deserve more than fairy tales? Or do we just want the comfort of of a bed time story?

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Pathetic Imitation of Sectarianism

When some Aberdeen fans sound sectarian what you are hearing is simply a pathetic affectation of sectarianism, which has been facilitated by Scotland’s long-time tolerance and dismissal of real sectarianism as just “banter”. Whether affected or real, sectarianism is inexcusable. 

Here’s the thing, though. Aberdeen fans are not sectarian. Nor is Aberdeen a city remotely interested in such nonsense. Moreover, while working up there in the 1980s, the North East, a predominately protestant area, was unusually understanding of Irish Nationalism and while not supporting the IRA, for example, it empathised to quite a degree such an organisation’s motives if not it’s actions.

So, why do we hear, emanating from the Aberdeen end at Celtic Park, on the last two visits especially, songs one would normally expect sung by the worst elements of The Rangers support?

There are the Jimmy Savile chants. Clearly there is a desire to insult sporting rivals and, these chants are an obvious – and odious – choice.  Knowing that an element of fans of Celtic’s greatest rivals, The Rangers/Sevco, have constructed (for their own nefarious reasons) a fictitious narrative regarding Celtic and paedophilia, rival fans know that parroting this nonsense will insult Celtic fans. And so it is sung by some Aberdeen fans as a rather pathetic imitation of The Rangers sub-culture. The irony of some Aberdeen fans seeking to emulate the worst of The Rangers fans would no doubt be lost on the idiots singing this.

Do Aberdeen fans singing this crap believe it at all? It’s remarkable that, when fans are castigated for singing something inappropriate in “jest”, they often then attempt to justify these chants. In doing so they haul out instances of paedophilia, and cover up of it, in the Catholic Church, as if that organisation was the only structure in society where such abuse every occurred (and it certainly occurred there). For instance, they could just as easily sing chants about systematic abuse of children in non-denominational state care homes, or paedophilia rings in political circles, or wherever it may exist. Surely if anyone had a genuine concern regarding the abuse of children in care (which all right-minded people share) they would sing just as loudly about all these instances rather than focus on just one area. Such selectivity of condemnation reduces the complaint from a moral one to a convenient one. And to reduce such a serious subject to nothing more than a stick to beat an opponent with exposes an immoral cynicism.

Paedophilia is the result of people with power over other people abusing that power. It has nothing to do with what religion, what nationality, what political affiliations or what race the abusers are. Chanting about cynically selected examples of paedophilia is, in the case of The Rangers chanters, an attempt to justify their hatreds, and their feelings of superiority over their Celtic rivals and over Catholics in general. These hatreds and feelings of sectarian or racial superiority are alien concepts in Aberdeen.

Those Aberdeen fans who, in an attempt to wind up Celtic supporters by singing about Jimmy Savile and paedophilia, need to decide if they’re happier singing songs affecting the real hatreds, bitterness and sectarianism of Scotland’s least loved sub-culture, than singing about Barry Robson, Peter Pawlette, Willo Flood et al going to Glasgow and dominating and defeating the Scottish Champions on their home ground. `

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Abuse of Neil Lennon

It’s striking that intelligent journalists suspend their faculties when discussing the outrageous abuse of Neil Lennon in Scotland. They trot out their trite trying to keep both sides happy phrases about Lennon being “feisty” or other such unconscious (and sometimes, conscious) blame the victim nonsense.  If Lennon was black then none of them would be discussing his “feistiness”.  Was Mark Walters (a 1980s Rangers player who was the victim of outrageous racism, including banana throwing) “feisty”? Barry Robson put in another “feisty” performance yesterday at Celtic Park for my team, Aberdeen.  Was he subjected to death threats as a result? No, I think we can forget all about “feisty” and instead ask ourselves what kind of environment has allowed the abuse of Lennon to thrive.

Sure, there is abuse of Lennon which is not sectarian as Lennon himself pointed out last week after the vile Tynecastle abuse from some Aberdeen fans. Gordon Strachan for example attracted all sorts of abuse as an player and was indeed attacked on the pitch at Celtic Park which had nothing to do with his religion. Dennis Wise in England was subjected to sustained abuse unrelated to religion, as were others. That happens in football, sadly.

However, this is to miss the point. The degree and consistency of the abuse Neil Lennon attracts is far more sinister. Bullets, bombs, physical attacks, and death threats from terrorist organisations have nothing to do with football or with winding up opponents. 90% of the abuse Lennon receives is both racist and sectarian. Much of the abuse he receives, from Aberdeen fans for example, may not be directly sectarian, but a sectarian and anti-Irish culture in parts of Scotland has already rendered Lennon as target, a hate figure, fair game for anyone else to join in it seems.

How did this happen? This is a very dangerous situation and should be investigated by anyone masquerading as a journalist - and “feisty” is one word that won’t be necessary.