Friday, 14 February 2014

Hearts and Minds
When I was barely old enough to shave I noticed a book belonging to my older brother’s lying around the house. It was entitled ‘Ireland, the propaganda war: The Media and the Battle for Hearts and Minds.’ As an avid reader I set about devouring the book and my young mind became open to the fact that the powers that be will use the media to disseminate lies, half-truths and distortions of reality to further their political aims. Of course growing up in the Garngad meant that there were always alternative views about the troubles to be had from printed and verbal accounts of important events. I recall a watching huge anti H-Block rally on the Royston Road in the early 1980s which attracted an equally large counter demonstration from what I can only describe as a hate filled mob. The violence that day in Glasgow was on an epic scale and only the presence of huge numbers of Police officers stopped a bad situation turning deadly. The Daily Record ‘helpfully’ printed the entire route of the march and times that morning on the grounds that it’d help drivers avoid it. It merely gave a road map to every bigot within a hundred miles. All of these events are part of growing up and to a degree part of one’s political education. Propaganda from the UK based media generally printed the perceived version of events which claimed that the Irish conflict was a religious struggle between two tribes who had yet to leave medieval times. Sure weren’t the good old British merely keeping the two tribes of ‘mad Paddys’ apart with impartiality and fairness? The fact that this was a post-colonial struggle and that the British military were far from impartial was lost on the average UK citizen. The power of propaganda helped keep the general population in the dark about the dirty war the British state engaged in. It was a campaign which far superior writers than I have described in all its tawdry detail.
Those of you who know my writing will know my aversion to mixing politics and football. I accept that it’s impossible to totally separate sport and politics particularly given the crude attempts to insert military personnel at virtually every major sporting and cultural event we see. This reached its low point with the embarrassing scenes at Ibrox Stadium when Armed Forces personnel were filmed singing distasteful songs and generally joining in a frenzied atmosphere which was more Nuremburg rally than a sombre remembrance of the nation’s war dead. Of course, the media had to comment on these scenes but was much more restrained than one might have expected.
In the football arena, many who follow Celtic are convinced that the reporting of key events at Celtic Park is often negative to the point where they see an anti-Celtic agenda. Of course, Newspapers and Radio Station sports phone in shows make editorial decisions about issues such as the liquidation of Rangers in 2012. They can’t afford to lose a large section of their audience so a party line is put out and the presenters generally follow it. The truth is less important than the audience figures which support the advertising revenues which they so rely upon. In the last decade though a new player has entered the game and that of course is the internet. The voiceless suddenly had a voice and the media could no longer print their half-truths and distortions without them being scrutinised closely.

For the average Celtic fan several issues were keenly debated. Chief among these was the treatment of Neil Lennon in Scotland. The ‘He brings it all on himself’ tosh no longer washes. Other players (Souness & Strachan, etc.) were hot headed and even aggressive but they weren’t sent bombs and bullets or assaulted on numerous occasions as Lennon has. His image in the press has been distorted to such a degree that he has become a figure of hate to some. Consider the reporting of the Daily Record with its infamous ‘Thugs and Thieves’ headline when Lennon was a player. A front page spread and several inside pages condemned him as little more than a thug and yet when this version of events was proven to be utter nonsense in court, the paper’s grudging apology to Lennon was hidden away on page six and consisted of a single paragraph. When Martin O’Neil, at a pre-match press conference in Barcelona castigated a section of the Ibrox crowd following a Rangers v Celtic match for vile racist and sectarian abuse of Lennon, the majority of the Scottish media were virtually silent. To his credit, Graham Spiers, not on official duty that day at Ibrox, printed what he heard around him in the Ibrox centre stand and it was a catalogue of truly shameful and foul mouthed bigotry.

The burning of the RIFC coach some months back was immediately portrayed as a hate crime by some before any of the facts were established. McCoist unwisely let his mouth get ahead of his brain on that occasion and one scurrilous piece of reporting carried the story of the bus fire beside a picture of Celtic fans at a pre-season friendly. The picture and the story were entirely unrelated but the implication was clear. Guilt by association seems the likely motivation for that piece of crass ‘churnalism.’ It seems some reporters can’t resist the anti-Celtic slant on stories. When Lennon was sent an explosive device, one paper led with the utterly misleading headline ‘Police hunt Celtic Bomb Fiend.’  Any cursory glance at such a headline would make the reader assume some Celtic related person was a bomb fiend when in fact Celtic, embodied by their Manager Neil Lennon were the victims in this case!

Of course we can now smile at the blindly positive spin put on stories concerning Rangers over the years. (Oldco and Newco) From Minty’s space age casino with its floating pitch to the ‘Billionaire with off the radar wealth’ who was coming to make them top dogs in Europe. No attempt at serious investigative journalism was undertaken when writing these fantasies. It was propaganda in its purest form aimed at boosting the morale of the Rangers support and pleasing the people the laptop loyal were out to support. There are far too many incidents of such reporting for me ever to offer a definitive list. As a Celtic fan I got used to waking up on the morning of a vital old Firm game to be greeted by headlines such as ‘McStay Leaving,’ or on the morning of the 1995 Cup Final to the headline ‘My greatest fear is Pierre will dive and win them a penalty.’ In 1998 as Celtic won their first title in a decade the Sunday Mail carried a photograph of Paul Lambert decked out in Celtic scarves. On one of the scarves an Irish Republican image had been so poorly photo-shopped on you would have thought an 8 year old had done it. What is the motivation for such mischief? Such reporting scarcely deserves the name.

In all of this the real losers will be the discredited mainstream media who see their audiences dwindle as people wise up to their spin and opt for more trustworthy sources of information. I can’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper and my once avid listening to radio phone in shows has all but stopped. For many Celtic fans the back tracking on the death of Rangers by some reporters would be funny if it wasn’t such a cynical attempt to re-write history. Many Celtic fans have had their eyes opened as they consider the the treatment of Neil Lennon, Fergus McCann and the club in general in sections of the media.  For me the pivotal moment when I realised that not all we read is the truth came from the inescapable logic of  that book about the Propaganda war in Ireland I read when I was a lad.  You have to ask yourself who gains from these stories and why do they write them. That usually leads you to the puppet masters pulling the strings of some of these so called journalists. As George Orwell said a long time ago…

 ‘Journalism is printing what other people do not want printed; everything else is public relations.’

Thankfully more and more of us are seeing past the agendas and learning to think for ourselves. That we become better informed is a vital component of any healthy democratic society. In some ways we get the press we deserve if we buy their publications and swallow their lies. I think the tide has turned now though and we are much more able to see through the garbage we once swallowed whole.


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