Wednesday, 21 December 2011

What can we learn from Christopher Hitchens?

(This article was prepared for Newsnet Scotland)

Over the last week the media intellectuals have all been out ‘celebrating’ the life of Christopher Hitchens on television with Stephen Fry and his mewling guests, on radio or in the ‘broadsheets’.  The gist of what was said is that Christopher Hitchens, as opposed to most of the journalistic and media paying homage, asked hard questions about what was going on around him. He was in newspaper terms the ‘Robin Day’ of the last two or three decades. Unlike Paxman, Hitchen’s was never more important than the issue and could, at times, be precise and vacillating in the same sentence. A style of writing which, I believe was unconscious and unpretentious while reflecting the normal conversations we have with ourselves (and others) over the big and small issues of the day.

So why was Hitchens so highly regarded as an essayist?

It could hardly be for his self acclaimed hedonistic life style which he recognised as destructive. He was an outspoken atheist but that would not count for much amongst his readership. I consider he was highly regarded simply because, like Robin Day or Richard Dimbleby, he asked real questions and sought solid answers and was not bought off by political or any other ‘spin merchant’.  He did not mind upsetting people in power and would not write the sort of articles which would open doors at Tony Blair’s or encourage ‘Labour Lovies’ nominate him for some gong or other reward. This is the ‘fearlessness’ the pundits have been talking about in their column inches or Radio 4 media reviews.  Their sadness is reflected in the reality that few who have been gushing over Hitchens, now he is dead, have the ability to do much more than spin what ever the party or editorial line states. They have lost or never had the ability to see through to what is real and asks the simple and obvious questions as their quest for patronage and insider gossip has a far higher priority.

This brings me to Newsnet Scotland. This on line media site has come a very long way in the last two or three years. It has seen its ups and downs, its internal arguments and site problems while operating on a shoe string with volunteers carrying out a lot of the workload. The site has a few ‘weel kent’ journalists and essayists who publish on the site, yet at times the news content is beginning to drift towards the self same style of ‘party press releases as news’ it was originally devised, in part, to counter act. I understand this has to do with the site being run by volunteers and lack of resources to get different view points but as the popularity of the site grows the inability to ask the hard questions of ourselves and the independence campaign has the potential to undo a lot of the good the site has already achieved.

Given the routine slating the pro-independence camp receives from the Scottish media it is nice and very comfortable to have the space provided by Newsnet Scotland to chunter about the ‘daft Unionists’, bemoan our lot and rage against the Westminster machine. I would like to suggest as the opposition to the SNP are not going to ask the hard questions on independence which need answering, for the successful ‘yes’ vote we are seeking, it becomes vital these concerns are expressed somewhere and I am proposing that Newsnet Scotland could be a good place to start. A place to identify where our own concerns lie about the process of independence and seek to engage in discussion and produce answers which will create an even more powerful argument for the ‘yes’ vote than we already hold.

This is where my opening reference to Christopher Hitchens becomes applicable. We need to contribute to the discussion and argument with out fear of upsetting what is seen as the ‘norm’ because unless the ‘norm’ is upset, change and development will not happen.  It has happened in the past on Newsnet over whether or not a newly independent Scotland should join the EU and Eurozone, for example. Two years ago it was the ‘norm’ we would join the EU and Euro on independence; yet now the SNP are clearly having second thoughts. I would like to think the open and frank discussions on the Newsnet site on the EFTA vs EU argument have had an impact on the SNP’s longer term policy in this matter.  Alyn Smith MEP has posted some interesting insights from the perspective of the EU for Newsnet Scotland and possibly we all would benefit from a similar approach from a MP and a MSP to provide the same from Westminster and Holyrood – not necessarily just SNP.

Think about it: we are far more powerful, as an individual, when arguing for what we ‘know’ to be true based on reasoned argument and knowledge against when we are spouting propaganda or ‘on message spin’.
Rather than rail against the BBC and other Unionist media we all need to contribute in what ever way we can to Newsnet Scotland and I suggest the most important way is to continue to add your tuppence worth to the comments no matter how ‘ignorant’ you may consider yourself to be on the issue. I worked in a sector where I was paid a lot of money to ask the bleeding obvious; because the obvious often gets lost in the detail.

Happy Christmas, Beltane, Hogsfather  ...... and for the Scrooge sector – have a grumpy ‘Bah Humbug!’

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