10 April 2009

On the (non)coverage of the Neil MacGregor case...

As those of you who regularly peruse the Scottish political "blogosphere", Yousuf has been yapping about the shameless non-coverage which the case of Neil MacGregor has received by the Scots media. As I mentioned, from the sounds of it, this man is a crank whose dubious threats sound like the consequences of intoxication or unutterable, crushing stupidity.

While the precise facts of this matter are rather difficult to fathom out - in particular what this man has been charged with and admitted his guilt to - the tight-lipped response from the press is astonishing. I would, however, be cautious about describing it - as Yousuf has done - as some sort of attempt. To my mind, attempt implies physical actings of a sort which goes beyond ringing up the polis. In particular, given the political atmosphere surrounding "acts of terrorism" and how seeking information, sharing information and speaking might be constructed in such a way as to constitute an act of attempted terrorism, I would advocate a much more cautious and careful analysis before labelling any "speech-act" as a positive attempt to do something. The implications are clearly quite different.

**Interestingly - and as something of aside - we've seen another interesting example of late of how "accurate" media coverage of legal terminology can risk proving more generally misleading. I refer in particular to the appalling case of H.M. Advocate v. Harcar - or rather, how his defences were described by the BBC and others. Harcar unsuccessfully argued the defences of alibi and incrimination. The press, legally quite appropriately, labelled these special defences. The statutory basis for this distinction is found in the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, which requires an accused who wishes to argue a "special defence" to notify the prosecution ahead of time, instead of raising it on the hoof.

However, how many people know this to be the case? How does "special defence" sound to someone not versed in the internal meanings of the system? One interpretation is that the defence is somehow extraordinary, or worse, somehow dubious, strange or an example of "special pleading". I wonder.

But anyway, I digress. Back to the point.

These reservations about the language of "attempts" aside, in order to lend a paw to efforts to pressurise the various goonish copy-coves into mentioning this case, I've sent the following message around the appropriate news outlets. I hope it assists in some measure.
"To whom it may concern,

I write to you concerning your wholesale absence of coverage of the case of Neil MacGregor, the member of the National Front who has plead guilty to making threatening phone calls in which he promised to blow up Glasgow Central Mosque, and made further claims that he would behead a Muslim a week until every Mosque in Scotland had been closed.

As you will be aware, MacGregor's sentencing hearing is scheduled for the 17th of April at the Sheriff Court.

This is a story of absolute public interest. Whether one regards McGregor as a cretinous, dubious figure - who was perhaps indulging in idle fantasy in these threats - that cannot justify the paralysing omerta which you and other members of the Scottish press have imposed on this story.

One can fairly draw parallels with other matters of a similar nature which were not symmetrically sidelined or ignored by your organisation. Why you have done so here I find difficult to understand. Sharing this story with friends and colleagues, the responses I have received have been by turns, shocked, appalled and mystified by the silence with which this legal case has been met by the media, given its nature and seriousness.

However, it is my hope and expectation that you shall change your approach when MacGregor's sentence is handed down on the 17th and that this matter will be the object of comment in your publication. To do so is to be even-handed, and to act in the public interest."
**Updated with a little observation on the coverage of the H.M. Advocate v. Harcar case. Its been niggling me, and this is as good a place as any to tuck the thought.**

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