by Colin Campbell
THERE was surprise and disappointment among a considerable number of people when on Monday the Press and Journal carried a report stating that 10,000 people took part in last Saturday’s pro-independence march in Inverness. This I know because several got in touch with Inverness news and views, as angry as they were disillusioned. The first email arrived at precisely 10.45am.
The point they made can best be summed up as: “What chance is there of a fair and balanced debate on independence when even a respected and widely read paper like the P&J peddles nationalist propaganda as if it was hard and established fact.”
The “10,000” claim seemed grossly over-inflated to them. In their view there was nothing like that many people marching in Inverness on Saturday.
The P&J report gave no indication of where the figure had come from. Was it their own assessment? Or had it come directly from the organisers of the demo?
It took a couple of minutes to find out that one lead organiser of the march had claimed on Facebook that between 8,000 and 12,000 people took part in the march.
The “10,000” figure printed in the Press and Journal seemed suspiciously like a straightforward acceptance of that claim, by splitting the difference.
These are highly sensitive times and nationalists will use any and every method to push forward their rolling agenda which seeks to create the false impression that the December 12 election of a Tory Government and Boris Johnson as PM in particular has led to a huge upsurge in support for independence and demands for another referendum. Of course they’re going to try and hype up the success of a march and the numbers taking part. The difficulty is, or should be, in getting their claims widely accepted. The media – and not just the P&J – swallowing whole and regurgitating that “10,000” figure was a significant coup for them.
A follow-up comment piece here described the “10,000” claim as a joke figure and backed that up by referring to previous marches and in a particular a video which had been taken of one of them – bigger than last Saturday’s – when an onlooker had painstakingly counted the number participating as just over 3,000. With sections of the march very thinly spread it was blindingly obvious that there were fewer participants than at previous independence demos.
However the backlash over the bogus figure printed in the P&J went further.
And yesterday it printed a clarification which said: “A report on Monday stated that ‘around 10,000 people’ had taken part in a pro-independence march in Inverness on Saturday. It should have been made clear that this was the attendance figure claimed by the organisers of the event and not our own estimate. Groups opposed to independence claimed the number was about 3,000.”
This had nothing like the prominence of the original article but it was certainly better than nothing. And it was very necessary.
Nationalists are notorious for boycotting papers they think are against them – which means, given their perpetual state of paranoia, every paper is a potential target. The Scotsman has been a particularly hard-hit victim.
But having spent 44 years in journalism, 17 of which were with the P&J, I offer a helpful reminder that this is no time for any regional or local newspaper, even inadvertently, to be seen as being in the pocket of the nationalists and the SNP.
Unionists buy papers too.