“It would be helpful if newspaper headlines focused on the football rather than referring to hatred ahead of the first Old Firm match”, those were the words of SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan on his twitter page this morning.

Sadly for Mr Regan, the Daily Record are taking advantage of the hatred of Neil Lennon by Rangers fans, and using it for their own agenda. Using the back page headline of ‘Who’s more Hated at Ibrox?’ could the Record be stirring up said hatred to sell more issues?

Last season the issues surrounding Neil Lennon from the referees strike to clashes with the SFA over touchline bans and the parcel bombs and bullets in the post, helped the Record and other newspapers in Scotland shift more copy. Despite the headline grabbing stories, the Daily Record and Sunday Mail were hit where it hurts – staff cuts.

Both newspapers saw their editorial staff numbers cut almost in half, with 90 journalists losing their jobs. The cuts saw non-Scottish content being produced by the Trinity Mirror groups other titles, while some magazine and features pages handled by the Press Association.

In June, Bruce Waddell, editor in chief, said: “In common with all newspapers, the Daily Record and Sunday Mail are not immune from the current difficult economic conditions and our industry is experiencing unprecedented structural change. We have to constantly review and adapt the way we work to harness the opportunities available to us. Ultimately, our plan will retain what the Daily Record and Sunday Mail does best – the generation and production of brilliant Scottish news and sports – while safeguarding their future success for generations to come.”

However the generation and production of the Sports pages still remain at Central Quay, Glasgow, and that is evidently proved today by their headline grabbing attempts to incite those who already have a hatred for Celtic manager Neil Lennon.

Since his move to Celtic some 11 years ago, Neil Lennon has been the victim of serious assaults, death threats, parcel bomb attacks, bullets in the mail, being assaulted on the sidelines of the pitch and suffer from depression. In those years he also has seen a level of hatred aimed at him that no other manager in European Football, possibly even World Football has endured.

The question is how can the Daily Record get away with such a headline that could lead to those elements who hate him with a passion into attacking the Northern Irishman? Yes it lists the taxman as another answer – but when was the last time HMRC had to deal with 11 years of assaults, death threats and bouts of depression.

In my opinion the article relevant to the back page headline, written by Keith Jackson is inciting hatred. Would Jackson, the sub-editors, the sports editor and the Daily Record get away with such an article, such a headline if it had ethnic minorities shown, in regards to an article about the BNP, the English Defence League or the KKK? Would they publish a headline – Who is more hated? Blacks or Jews – of course they wouldn’t because this would be tantamount to inciting hatred and even delving into racism. While Lennon is one man, the rights of the individuals must be protected, especially those who have suffered from a mental illness in the past. However it seems that the Sports Editor at the Daily Record is willfully forgetting the Press Complaints Commission’s own guidelines to Editor’s.

There is no passing the buck onto the sub-editor’s on this one. The PCC states: “It is the responsibility of editors and publishers to apply the Code to editorial material in both printed and online versions of publications. They should take care to ensure it is observed rigorously by all editorial staff and external contributors, including non-journalists, in printed and online versions of publications.”

Section 12 of the PCC Editor’s Code points to Discrimination. It reads:

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

The continued pursuit of headline grabbing articles using the hatred aimed at Lennon can only be explained as the paper’s way of selling more papers, it is certainly not in the public interest to know who is more hated at Ibrox and it certainly could have a serious detrimental effect to the mental health of the Celtic manager, who saw a level of hatred unparalleled in world football.

After last season’s ‘Old Firm Shame Game’ which saw touchline and tunnel confrontations, 34 arrests inside the stadium for a variety of offences and three Rangers players sent off, a high-level summit to discuss the incidents was held chaired by First Minister Alex Salmond and involved MSPs, Rangers and Celtic, the Police and the Football authorities. The Offensive Behaviour bill was a baby of that summit, with the authorities trying to be push it through during the summer but failing due to a number of issues.

The Bill proposed to introduce an offence which:

  • criminalises offensive or threatening behaviour which would be likely to incite public disorder at football matches, and at any public place where a football match is being broadcast
  • targets expressions of hatred of a person or group of persons because of their religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, ethnic or national origins, sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability
  • covers a wide range of offending behaviour from that which might appropriately be dealt with by fixed penalty notices or community payback orders to serious incitement to public disorder which requires to be tried on indictment. The maximum penalty is 5 years imprisonment plus an unlimited fine when tried on indictment and 12 months imprisonment plus a fine of up to £10,000 when tried summarily

Is the headline in the Daily Record this morning tantamount to inciting public disorder at a football match or specifically towards one individual? If so, then surely one of Scotland’s top-selling newspapers would then be hauled in front of the courts charged with breaking the proposed Offensive Behaviour Bill [when or if it is passed]- along with the sub-editor, sports editor and journalist in question? If an individual on facebook can be held responsible for comments posted on the internet, then why not a newspaper or a journalist?

In a recent Justice Committee meeting on the 6th September 2011, Pat Nevin (a broadcaster and former professional footballer) and Graham Spiers The Times sportswriter were in attendance. James Kelly the Labour MSP for Rutherglen – and Deputy Convener of the committee discussed the Role of the Media.

He asked the question: “I will touch on an issue that has not yet been raised: the role of the media. To an extent, the journey that we are on today started on 2 March at the cup game at Parkhead. It was the pictures of Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon squaring up to each other being run and rerun on television that caused a lot of public outrage and drove us down the road to legislation. I know that there were other more serious matters after that, but that was the start of it. To an extent, that shows the power of the media. What role can the media play in the debate to influence a positive change in attitudes and in culture?”

Graham Speirs replied: The media can be very influential. The old cliché about the power of the pen contains a lot of truth. Because I have written about this problem so much during the past 10 years, I have been accused of misusing my power, or writing in an inflammatory way about the bigotry problem. Other people have taken a contrary view.

“For example, I have written a lot about Rangers, which was my team when I was a kid, because it has had a significant problem. In my experience of Rangers trying to fix the problem, the media’s role was influential because, in a way, Rangers were prodded into action by humiliation in the media. That is what happened. These songs were being sung, and I was aware of them for decades, but when parts of the media began to highlight the issue at Rangers, it became embarrassing for the club. I know for a fact that UEFA was alerted to what it regarded as the Rangers problem by what was written in the Scottish papers—to my great surprise, that was explained to me by someone at UEFA five years ago.

The media can have an influence, and if people say that I or Pat Nevin or anyone else can misuse that power, they might, at times, have a point. I plead guilty to sometimes lampooning bigots in print in my column. People would say to me, “Graham, you shouldn’t really do that.” Maybe they were right, but I got so fed up with making no progress. Someone said to me that people do not like being ridiculed or lampooned, and I was guilty of that.

The media can be powerful and I dare say that we have to exercise that power carefully. Maybe I have not always done that in my own field.”

Dr Waiton of the University of Abertay Dundee remarked: “….the BBC had to apologise. That is where the danger lies. Because being against sectarianism is such an accepted absolute, we end up with problematic and prejudiced reporting.

The BBC had to apologise to Ally McCoist because of its depiction of him laughing. He was asked a question about violence at old firm games and the pictures were switched so that he was shown laughing when the question was asked. He challenged the BBC about it and the BBC had to apologise for the editing of that piece.”

Will the Daily Record apologise to Neil Lennon?

Waiton added: “That is the problem. It has become the case that there is such a profound prejudice and such an absolute moral certainty among the cultural elite that almost anything seems to go. If you want to know what the problem is with the media, that is the problem.”

Sadly the Justice Committee meeting did not go into further details in regards to the role of the media, but safe to say that Graham Speirs own words testify to the fact that the media are influential to its readers and it is a powerful tool if used in the right way, even more powerful when it is not.

Even this wee site as some label it has been at the sharp end of the spear when tackling issues related to sectaranism and bigotry. We have reported on one man Wayne Greig who was posting sectarian and bigoted comments on his twitter page, all the while boasting of his place within a Football Aid charity match. Football Aid on being contacted for a comment later banned Greig from all competitions and rightly so.

We also highlighted the sick facebook page which mocked the Ibrox Disaster of 1971 and continue to promote and highlight a new group based on Facebook called Rid the Old Firm Bigotry once and for all. We have written on various subjects from racism and bigotry to threats made to our own person because of the articles we have written. So even wee sites such as Scotzine are a powerful tool when reporting on said issues within Scottish Football.

So if a website like Scotzine is a somewhat powerful tool when reporting on such issues online, what does that say about the Daily Record? They have a significantly higher readership than this site has to say the least. They are a national newspaper that hits every newsagent, shop or supermarket in the country and they produce such a headline on their back page?

In my article for ESPN Soccernet, I asked ‘Is the Scottish Media stirring up hatred towards Neil Lennon?’. That piece was written in July and we are still seeing evidence of the Scottish Media – in this case one specific newspaper – using the hatred tag to sell more copy.

I stated in the piece also that: “The Scottish media outlets had a field day last season with the number of incidents that revolved around the Celtic and Neil Lennon. And by all accounts it looks as though they are looking to continue this, by fuelling the flames of hate that burn between the Lurgan man and Rangers supporters.”

That comment was in relation to the Scottish newspapers turning a joke comment from Lennon in regards to a Plane banner stunt by some Rangers fans down in Oz, which Lennon laughed off. Sadly the Scottish media did not see it as a joke or ignored his comments and twisted it to suit their own agendas.

And I added: “Most officials, fans and football personalities hope and pray that Neil Lennon does not go through a season like he did last season. However you can bet on the Editors and the bean counters in Scotland’s mainstream media, hoping and praying it continues to a certain degree to sell more papers, to gain more air time.

“Celtic and Rangers cover 90% of the Scottish Football coverage in our media, and with Neil Lennon at the helm at Celtic Park the focus will as per usual for the coming season fall squarely on the shoulders of the Lurgan man. And with some papers cutting jobs and others losing circulation numbers dramatically, they will use any trick any angle to sell more copies.”

I have already seen the extent that some professional journalists would go to safeguard their positions, their exclusives, their press releases churned out as articles – so why would they not use and abuse the hatred that the Rangers support have for Neil Lennon for their own gains?

It certainly isn’t the first time that Neil Lennon has taken the Daily Record to task over an article – and coincidentally in the July article it was Keith Jackson who wrote the piece – and I doubt it will be the last time. This is the same Keith Jackson who was temporarily banned from Ibrox for writing an article solely on the money available to manager Ally McCoist, and who has now wormed his way back into the corridors of Ibrox to secure those all important press releases exclusive stories.

Rangers this season, have banned the BBC and one Record journalist specifically for a press conference recording or an article they did not like. They have also banned The Herald Group from Ibrox because of their reporting on the Rangers legal case against their former lawyers Levy & McRae.

If Rangers can do all that, what is stopping Celtic from doing the same?  Specifically targeting the newspapers and said journalists who use their manager as a tool to fuel the flames of hatred within the Scottish game to sell more copies of their newspapers, is far more warranted than banning – albeit temporarily – a journalist for writing an article about how much McCoist has got to play with in the transfer window.

Graham Speirs is right the media is a power tool and the pen is mightier than the sword and with the first Old Firm derby of the season under 24 hours away, the Daily Record are pouring more fuel on an already simmering fire, which could be ready to explode as it is without the unnecessary and hate-filled headline this morning.

So whether it is the sub-editors at fault for writing the headlines, as Daily Record Chief Sports Writer Jim Traynor testified to, last week on BBC Radio Scotland, the buck ultimately stops with all parties. It was Jackson who wrote the hated comment in regards to Lennon or the HMRC in the first place. It was the sub-editor who selected said comment and turned it into a backpage headline splash, it was the Sports editor who passed said headline and article for publication, it was the Editor-in-Chief who passed the whole newspaper for publication, not to mention the newspaper’s lawyers.

Our regular legal contributor Paul McConville said on his own website that: “Could it be argued that the headline commits, or is likely to cause, a breach of the peace? It possibly could, but there is no way that any proceedings would be brought against the Record for that – as we saw yesterday with the Met Police action against the Guardian (trenchant criticism by Stephen Raeburn of the Firm Magazine), police action against the media provokes a civil liberties backlash which is entirely justified.”

“The rights of a free press to publish are vital to a properly functioning democratic society, but there is not, nor should there be, the right to shout “Fire” in a crowded cinema.”

In my opinion, the Record not only shouted Fire, but they also look to have poured a few cans of petrol onto the flames. I wonder what Celtic’s stance will be? I wonder what the Daily Record’s headline will be on Monday morning?

About The Author

Scotzine is a Scottish football website covering all aspects of the Scottish game from the national team to the SPFL, Highland & Lowland Leagues, the Juniors and the Women's game.

7 Responses

  1. martinneilson42@hotmail.com'
    Marty

    This article takes the usual hysteria and agenda-peddling to new levels. The Record headline was a joke – and one aimed at Rangers and Rangers fans, in its references to hatred plus the tax situation. Not that I’m bothered. It would be a bit of banter if it was posted in a place like this. Let’s just call it tabloid drivel when it’s in the rags.

  2. jockcollins@hotmail.com'
    jocky bhoy

    Marty The Drum (PR website” reported The Daily Record has apologised to Celtic FC for a headline in Saturday’s paper as part of the build-up to yesterday’s Old Firm match which used the word “hated”.

    In a prominent apology at the top of its back-page sports coverage under the heading: ‘We’re sorry’ the Trinity Mirror tabloid points out: “This has caused dismay and anger and it was wrong. We apologise for any offence this may have caused Neil Lennon [the Celtic FC manager], his family and also supporters. The Daily Record has a history of condemning intolerance in all its forms. Our headline was a misjudgement and it was not intended to stoke up feelings ahead of yesterday’s match.”

    The owners of the newspaper have issued an apology – presumably under direction from their lawyers – calling it a misjudgement. Hardly agenda peddling when the country’s leading toilet paper apologises for causing offence dismay and anger to a football manager, the club and its fans in the run up to a game that is notoriously volatile…

  3. jockcollins@hotmail.com'
    jocky bhoy

    Sorry – should have read:
    Marty: The Drum (Scottish PR website) reported The Daily Record….