Who’s the crackpot now?

Some call Scottish Yessers – now better known as the45 or the45pluscrackpots who are losing their touch with reality. Some had obviously expected that 1.6 millions of people who stood by their desire for independence with their vote would shrug their shoulders after the majority No, would say “well, it wasn’t meant to be”, step back into the shadow of the individual’s meaninglessness and would give politicians and opinion leaders their head. Far wrong. Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister of Scotland and probably future First Minister of Scotland, announced an hour ago that the SNP (Scottish National Party) has more than 60.000 members now. SNP’s chief executive Peter Murrell wrote via Twitter almost at the same time:

“Shaka Laka Boom!! Everybody on your feet, we’ve added new @theSNPmember 34,358. Total is now 60,000.”

I have to repeat that because it’s unbelievable: Since Scotland said No just five days ago, more than 34.000 people decided to join the SNP to strengthen Scotland’s quest for more powers and a sharper national identity. 34.000 people. In five days. The party is now almost twice as big as it was before. And it’s not ebbing away yet from what I read and hear. That’s nothing about shrugging shoulders and remaining silent, right?

On top of it, there are serious efforts to push (at times: crazy) changes forward in Scotland. For example, there’s a crowdfunding project called Freedom TV which aims to creating an independent broadcaster which is meant to provide people freely with unbiased news from around their country. Honestly, I love the idea, as I know, being a journalist, that it is almost impossible to work completely without any influence. It’s not easy to explain why since objectivity is journalism’s virtue, but I will try: If I was employed by a paper or broadcaster, I would have a contract of employment as everyone else which contained specifications about my monthly salary. This salary would be paid by the publisher who usually wants his editors to be as objective as possible, but where does this money come from? The publisher earns money by selling papers or by getting licence fees (btw: public broadcasters would lose fees if the country became smaller, right?) and in particular by selling advertisement slots, be they printed or telecasted. Advertisers and fees make up the biggest share of imcoming money, no doubt about that. So they effectively pay the biggest share of employed journalists’ salaries. And those of freelancers as well, because the budget to buy reports from outside has to be paid as well, of course.

And now imagine, no matter what topic, what kind of balancing act it is when journalists write or speak about something when they very well know that it might not please their money sources. On the one hand, the reliability of the press depends on how unbiased and critical they do report, and that is still a good argument to tell advertisers and sponsors when they complain about certain topics. On the other hand, if those money sources got really angry and decided to quit all cooperations with that paper or broadcaster, it might mean that people get unemployed because there’s less money than before, simple like that. So true, journalists are not completely independent as long as they have to pay their bills and as long as they have to get paid therefore.

Now, a crowdfunded broadcaster seems to be the perfect alternative, at first sight. But there are four problems in my opinion:

  1. The project mentioned above has a kick-off aim of only 6.000 pounds. What exactly do you guys want to do with 6.000 bucks? Seriously, that’s not even enough to buy the equipment you need, means, camera, object lenses, microphone, computer programs, webspace. And who will pay the journalists, at least one? Or let’s put it like that: Who will feed the person’s children if you find someone who’s idealistic enough to work without payment?
  2. Following point one: People who will work for that independent broadcaster are needed, right? Let’s imagine they won’t be journalists: How will you make sure they do research with care and accuracy? How will you make sure that they express facts, issues, opinions in a precise, understandable, non-manipulative way, that they check first if it’s true what they wanna report? How will you make sure that they respect press law, copyright, press ethics and the like? I don’t stress all that because I’m egocentric, but journalists are usually not people who think it’s cool to sit somewhere with a writing pad and a pen or ask people weird questions, good journalists are highly educated. We know how to find out things, we know how many people from both sides plus experts we have to ask in order to deliver an objective view, we know how to express things. It’s not that easy.
  3. Crowdfunding is a nice thing, really. But I’m not sure about crowdfunding for media. There is a crowdfunded project in Germany called krautreporter, but firstly it’s made by journalists, secondly it gets attention particularly from journalists. Journalists know about the influence thingy, see above. But the ordinary recipient does not care as long as it’s for free or cheap. But a serious journalistic project cannot be cheap. The higher the quality and reliability of the content should be, the more expensive it gets, due to equipment and due to manpower. Just a wee example: If I had paid myself for the working time and expertise I’ve spent to realize my SIR-blog, the site would be worth around maybe 20.000 Euro or more. An independent broadcaster would be possible, yes, but only if every single Scot would spend at least 1 pound a month. Would be 5,4 millions a month, and you would get a proper news channel. Online though, not enough to get on-air.
  4. Let’s imagine you had the people and the money to realize it: Do you really think it would be resistant against influence? Sure, there would be no advertisers, but effectively each single Scot would own a part of it by giving money for it. And as we’ve learnt past Friday, Scotland is split: (Almost) one half would thump topics targeting more devolution, a possible future independence, more nationalism and the like, (a bit more than) the other half would thump topics targeting union, better cooperation, borderless thinking and the like. And both halfs would be quite angry if the broadcaster did reports against their attitude. What’s biased then?

That’s a long explanation, sorry for that, but it shows that it’s not that easy to change things. On the other hand, the effort to change things is good, and the idea to free the press from influences is good as well, many journalists would cheer if it was possible, I’m convinced they would as I’d be the first to be grateful. Apart from impossilities, there’s still and even increasingly much activity in Scotland. The immense amount of new SNP members are one proof, many non-commercial commentaries are another. There are blogs from both sides – for example, Effie Deans is writing pro union here, the Butterfly Rebellion members (who are rejecting the referendum’s decision) are writing pro independence here – which are commenting on happenings, opinions, press reactions and much more. Which is a good thing as long as the reader doesn’t blindly believe everything he or she reads but tries to read a lot from both sides to make an own opinion. An unbiased opinion.

And looking beyond your own backyard, it should become clear quickly that there are crackpots on both sides, but no side is the crackpot. Being critical, questioning things, demanding answers, finding new ways, bringing ideas forward in order to change things can never be bad. If there was no change, we would still wear animal furs sitting by a fire in a cave. Change is the first step into a future, that’s for sure. But it’s bad to dig in one’s heels and ignore the other side’s arguments. Only crackpots do so.

©Maria Pakura



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