Journalist and editor of CommonSpace, Angela Haggerty, lost her job as a columnist at The Sunday Herald yesterday, for expressing support for (now also ex-Herald columnist) Graham Spiers. Spiers wrote an article in which he questioned “the mettle” of the current Rangers board to deal with sectarianism and recounted a meeting at which a director had called The Billy Boys, a “great song.” Given that the song celebrates sectarian murder, particularly those carried out by Glasgow fascist gang leader, Billy Fullerton, it’s not unreasonable to mention this encounter in an article about offensive chants at the club you support.
Yet the piece was suddenly taken down from the Herald’s website and an apology issued, stating “The Herald and Graham Spiers accept this was inaccurate.” It now transpires that statement was…inaccurate. Spiers wrote a blog post, in which he confirmed that, “My opinion – as expressed in my column – was based on a truthful account of my meeting with a Rangers director.”
What’s happened appears very simple, at least if you take the Herald’s word for it. Their statement reads, “While one of our advertisers is on the board of Rangers that was never an issue and we shall continue to report on the pressing issues of the day without fear of favour.” In other words, “we shat it.”
If you want to see the real consequences of reporting “without fear or favour” in 21st Century Scotland, there are few better case studies than the now sacked Angela Haggerty. As a journalist who dared to edit a book about on the goings on at Rangers and dared to be a woman more generally, she’s been subjected to a sustained campaign of violent, misogynistic and or/sectarian hatred and intimidation for years. What message does it send the boardroom bullies and the online bigots if we don’t stand by journalists when it really matters?
The National Union of Journalists have condemned the actions of the Herald; General Secretary, Michelle Stainstreet said it was, “outrageous that commercial meddling has led the Herald to sack a respected columnist. This pandering to the mob does the freedom of journalism and the reputation of the Herald no favours. We call on the editor to reinstate these columnists at once.”
The day a journalist is fired at the behest of a football team is the day I start taking an interest in football. What other companies get to tell papers who is and who isn’t allowed a say? What other board of directors can rely on an army of supporters (who also fucking hate them) to leap to their defence when they sound the “journalism threatens our brand identity” alarm? The tiny elite who run the club will continue to rely on that “support” to do their dirty work, while they spend fan’s ticket money threatening people who’re doing their jobs.
The Herald and Times Group may have adeptly positioned themselves to capitalise on the new political mood in Scotland via the Sunday Herald and The National but those readers are unlikely to be chuffed that when it counted, the editors chose protecting Rangers over protecting their own journalists. It’s an utterly stupid commercial decision for the group to so clearly abandon their staff for challenging the erstwhile star turn of Scotland’s unionist establishment. The reputation of the various individuals who’ve sat on the Rangers board for the last few decades wasn’t particularly sparkling prior to yesterday’s events – but trust in Scotland’s print media now hangs by a thread.
The sacking of Haggerty and the treatment of Spiers is a frightening episode which exposes just how much power a few men in suits wield when it comes to setting the news agenda. This must serve as a warning about what happens when we don’t stand up for the basic freedoms, like the freedom of a journalist to form an opinion based on something that actually happened or the freedom of an employee to stand up for their colleagues against their shitebag bosses. If The Herald can’t be relied upon to defend their staff and their stories from the corporate bully boys, their readers will continue to look elsewhere – but I’d warn that chucking our papers on the bonfire with our TV licences and our teacakes does no-one any favours; we have to support journalists working in this incredibly hostile climate, even and especially when we don’t like the decisions made by the editors or more likely the advertisers.
The Rangers board are undoubtedly responsible for much foul play but in securing a victory for bullies large and small, it’s The Herald who’ve scored the own goal.