Neil blasts 'dull uniformity' of Scots media 'on road to knacker's yard'

Andrew Neil used the annual Society of Editors Lecture in Glasgow to launch an excoriating attack on the Scottish media establishment.

The Scottish broadcaster and chief executive of Press Holdings was publisher of Scotsman Publications from 1996 until December last year, when it was sold to Johnston Press for £160 million.

Neil began by attacking Scottish Media Group, "only recently the country's dominant media group, stretching across newspapers, TV, radio, outdoor" but now "a shadow of its former self, lying in intensive care waiting for someone to run off with what remains of it before switching off the life support system as an act of kindness."

He said that the "great city state newspapers" of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Dundee are "quality newspapers that have been in the same relentless long-term decline as the London-based tabloid redtops, a decline which, in some cases, is in danger of falling into freefall."

He said: "Diversity, dynamism, originality, controversy � these are the hallmarks of success in the media in the 21st century, and in these regards, Scotland is not always being best served."

Neil said that since the Scottish media "decided to become the publishing arm of the political devolution movement" it has been "dominated by a dull uniformity of opinion and attitude, clustered around the liberal left collectivist consensus that dominates Scottish politics.

"Those with the temerity to try to break out of this consensus are vilified, awarded pariah status and subjected to relentless mythmaking and propaganda. "It is an effective way to ensure conformity, I can ensure you of that, though in the information age, conformity is the road to the knacker's yard, as the Scottish media might be belatedly realising.

"When the Scotsman Group, when I was publisher, began espousing the sort of economic policies that have seen Ireland enjoy four times the economic growth of Scotland in recent years, the rest of the Scottish media depicted it as anti-devolution, right wing and heartlessly free market."

He said that the one "real media success story" of newspapers in Scotland in recent years was the Scottish Daily Mail.

He added that the Scottish media had "wallowed in its kailyard [slang for backyard] consensus, clearly boring readers in the process" while the "London-based media has used the post-Wapping freedom to seek readers north of the border with formidable tartan editions, which are in danger of doing irreparable damage to Scotland's flagship titles."

Neil warned that when The Times opens a planned new printing plant in Scotland "who knows what damage will be done to our domestic newspaper industry".

He reiterated his long-standing view that the political authorities should have allowed his Edinburgh-based Scotsman Publications to buy the Edinburgh-based Herald titles when they were up for sale in 2002.

He said: "Instead of squabbling among ourselves, as the tartan editions picked off our readers in their thousands, we should have consolidated and shown a united front with the scale and the resources to take on the English invaders… "That moment has passed, and we are gone from Scotland with a very large cheque in our pockets never to return, concluding that there was no further business case for being in Scotland, because the one expansion that would have made both business and publishing sense had been blocked for purely political reasons."

Neil concluded with a dig against fellow Scot Gordon Brown, revealing a conversation he had with the Chancellor at the Treasury summer party in July.

Neil said: "The Chancellor approached me with the following question: �Don't you think the Scottish newspaper groups need to combine to compete with the London press?'

"Well I had to be brought around with smelling salts, because no one had done more behind the scenes to stop this happening when it was possible.

I suppose better late than never…

"As a businessman, the fate of the Scottish media is no longer my concern. As a proud Scot, I would hate to think that the Scottish media has no real future in the 21st century."

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