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Rangers, Chomsky and the Propaganda Model: What The Scottish Sports Media Won't Tell You (Part One)

Written by: NathanRobert86
Tuesday, 14th October 2014

What is the role of the so-called "investigative journalist"? In theory, it is to unearth facts or events which have been covered up or supressed by parties interested in keeping them out of the public eye. In practise, however, many Scottish investigative journalists don't seem to be particularity interested in fact when discussing Rangers.

Why is this? In my opinion, it is because much of what passes as Scottish sports journalism is actually something closer to propaganda, at least where Rangers are concerned.

More specifically, the Scottish media forms a massive "propaganda feedback loop" in which negative stories about Rangers are continually produced, and subsequently reinforced through the selective representation of current events. My goal here is to tie Scottish sports journalism to propaganda using American linguist, philosopher and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky's theory of media 'filtering'.


First of all, what is propaganda? We can roughly define it as a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of a population toward some political cause or position. In other words, it is the use of mass media as a means of engineering public opinion within a particular domain. The key point here is that unlike journalism, propaganda isn't chiefly concerned with representing reality – the political/ideological message is all that matters.

What Chomsky argues is that political and social elites use propaganda to justify the monopoly they hold over the production and distribution of mass media by way of influencing public opinion. And because of this need to justify the monopoly, mass media sources will effectively "filter out" any news or facts which would threaten elite interests. As Chomsky explains:

"…money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalise dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public"

The theory postulates five general classes of "filters" that determine the type of news that is presented in news media. These five classes are:

  1. Ownership of the medium
  2. Medium's funding sources
  3. Sourcing
  4. Flak
  5. Fear ideology

Applying each of these filters to Scottish sports journalism is, in my view, highly instructive, for it allows us to clearly see not only the monopoly enjoyed by anti-Rangers elites over the production of rangers-related stories, but it also allows us to see how these stories are used to manipulate public opinion and supress dissent.


Let us take a closer look at (1)-(5) listed above, and attempt to apply them to the Scottish context:

(1) Ownership of the Medium

That substantial control over print and electronic media is held by anti-Rangers elements of Scottish society is, by now, common knowledge to anyone informed.

BBC Scotland, an ostensibly public broadcaster, continually produces material which can easily be interpreted as biased against the club. One notorious instance happened in 2012, where the broadcaster aired a documentary, i.e. "The Men Who Sold the Jerseys", which in addition to suggesting that Rangers were guilty before trial, used illegally leaked (courtesy of HMRC) financial material of a sensitive nature. One cannot imagine how the BBC was representing Scotland as a whole, not to mention fans of its biggest club, by showing such shocking indifference to the wholly one-sided viewpoint from which the documentary proceeded. Furthermore, the BBC also used the illegal information, this time taken from the "Rangers Tax Case" blog on its news website. These among other related indiscretions against the club can only be interpreted, in my opinion, as evidence of substantial hostility towards the club within the organisation.

Many of the commentators and pundits in Scottish sports media, i.e. those ultimately responsible for disseminating "mainstream" views on Scottish football are decidedly anti-Rangers. For example, the presenters on BBC Radio Clyde are both self-confessed Celtic supporters, as are the Sports Editors at both the Daily Record and Herald newspapers. Furthermore, one of the presenters on the BBC Scotland programme "Off the Ball" has been quoted using the sectarian slur "Hun" when discussing Rangers without reprimand . BBC Scotland has also seen it appropriate to welcome Angela Haggerty, a sectarian blogger (more on this below) on to television panels to discuss matters pertaining to Rangers.

I could continue for pages with similar examples, but the primary point I want to make here is that the evidence points to the acceptability within mainstream sports media in Scotland of presenting material/talking about Rangers in ways which would not be acceptable to do for any other club; and this is because the relevant positions of power are owned or otherwise held by people and organisations hostile to the club (thought experiment: could you imagine a pundit getting away with saying "Fenian" when discussing Celtic? I think not).

(2) Medium's funding sources

Chomsky notes that a media agenda is also, predictably, influenced by the financial interests of both the major shareholders and owners of media companies, and big business, whom have much at stake with regards to regulating popular opinion. I argue that press ownership in Scotland is dominated by stakeholders interested in damaging Rangers, or at least promoting rival clubs.

For example, the Daily Record, one of Scotland's largest print and electronic media sources, has a "commercial agreement" with Celtic FC through which the Record is given money to print pro-Celtic articles and advertisements. This sort of cosy arrangement tells you all you need to know about the concern the Record has for journalistic integrity. Also of note is the fact that the owner of both the Daily Record & Sunday Mail, Trinity Mirror Plc, is also an official partner of Celtic Football club and publishes a Celtic fanzine; i.e.

"The Daily Record and Sunday Mail are published by Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail Ltd and are part of Trinity Mirror plc, the UK's largest newspaper publisher." (www.dailyrecord.co.uk/about-us/)

The very same Trinity Mirror Plc which publishes:

"The Celtic View, the official Celtic Football Club weekly magazine, brings you all the in-depth news and views from Celtic Park." (www.magzter.com/Trinity-Mirror/Celtic-View)

The key point here is that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which club the Daily Record and Sunday Mail have an interest in promoting.

In addition to the aforementioned direct link between Celtic FC and the Daily Record/Sunday Mail (i.e. ownership and funding), consider the following links between Scottish Football Clubs and big business:

  1. Stewart Milne (Chairman of Aberdeen FC) – Owner of Milne Construction Group – Net worth 400 million pounds.
  2. Tom Farmer (Chairman of Hibernian FC) – Owner of Kwik Fit Auto – Net worth 130 million pounds.
  3. Stephen Thomson (Chairman of Dundee United FC) – Former chairman of Morning Noon & Night stores – Net worth of 30 million pounds.

While none of these individuals own a media source, keep in mind that they do exert considerable marketing and advertisement power in Scotland, and as such will be very interested in keeping popular opinion hostile with regards to Rangers. Furthermore, as the events of 2012 prove, each of these clubs has acted in ways designed to damage Rangers, including advocating the punitive financial arrangements agreed to in the Five-Way Agreement.

(3) Sourcing

Sourcing refers to the selection of "appropriate" news sources in line with the economic and political interests of media elites. There is a plethora of examples of journalists being – to use a euphemistic term – "economical" with the truth when it comes to Rangers. Given its importance to filtering, I will here pick out some recent examples.

(i) Graham Spiers, July 10th 2014

Most readers will be familiar with Spiers, who certainly is no friend of the club. The July 10th article displays his modus operandi for all to see. First, Spiers begins things by using "loaded" terminology to spin the ostensibly favourable HMRC decision (as far as RFC is concerned) into another reminder that Rangers are guilty of cheating:

"What the ruling shouldn't do - and I know this only too well - is forbid anyone among us from decrying the use of EBTs, at Rangers or anywhere else, as a crude means of abusing the law and, in effect, avoiding paying tax. Not for nothing were EBTs, when used in this way, widely referred to as "a tax loophole". Everybody and their granny came to know what was going on".

And furthermore:

"My own view on EBTs hasn't changed. There have been different outcomes at various HMRC pursuits -such as at Aberdeen Asset Management and at the pre-2012 Rangers FC - but I viewed EBTs, when used as a vehicle for disguised remuneration, as a form of cheating."

The use of such weasel phrases as "everybody and their granny knew what was going on" (so clever) and "a form of cheating" is a very common tactic used by Spiers. He consistently, and in my view deliberately, tacks loaded terminology on to his writings about the club in order to indirectly associate Rangers with a negative connotation (for more on this, see my previous article on conversational implicature).

We also see blatant violations of journalistic standards in this lamentable article. Three examples: first, we are not told how EBT's are a "form of cheating" in spite of the ruling that they were not. Second, Spiers quotes the phrase "tax loophole" without providing a source for the quote – so there is absolutely no way of verifying it. In short, this type of phantom quotation is commonly used by Spiers to give his articles an air of pseudo-credibility. Third is his very casual repetition of blatant falsehoods. We see him talk about:

A. "…the now dissolved Rangers PLC" – false, the liquidation is ongoing, and there is a chance it may be reversed given the present legal situation.

B. "…the pre-2012 Rangers FC" – this not-so-subtle dig at the club is predicated upon a falsehood (i.e. that somehow the Rangers "died") which contradicts all credible evidence to the contrary. Spiers is either woefully ignorant, or, as is far more likely, has a very juvenile contempt for facts when it comes to his pet subject – Rangers Football Club.

(ii) Keith Jackson, August 11th 2014

Jackson is another writer who doesn't need introduction to the Rangers support given his penchant for jumping on the scraps of any negative story pertaining to the club, no matter how trivial.

In his recent article entitled "WITH Charles Green back on the scene and a losing start to life in the Championship, KEITH warns that Rangers' troubles will never go away until they sort out their boardroom", we see Jackson deploying his favourite technique – hyperbole – as a means of catastrophising the situation at Rangers yet again. For even if we attempt to ignore the inevitable influence produced by the financial agreement between a certain football club and his employer, Jackson's prose reads about as professional as a run-of-the-mill Celtic blogger:

"Rangers are a pale imitation of their former selves and … a huge amount of work is required to turn this team into any kind of force…While this club continues to rip itself to pieces off the pitch it's unlikely they'll find any sort of solace or unity on it… There has been a poison inside Ibrox for three years now and it remains in the system, flowing through its veins and infecting every part of the body."

So to begin with, Keith basically thinks, by analogy, that Rangers are a cancerous body, which is "ripping itself to pieces". Then he gets into the meat:

"The manager and chief executive say publicly their relationship is solid but the truth is they have been clashing behind the scenes for months. As a by-product of these skirmishes a trust issue has developed that might never be fixed…Remember the flurry of speculation linking former player Christian Nerlinger with a role as director of football? An idea that infuriated McCoist. Well that was down to … Wallace who was so keen on landing the German that he travelled to meet Nerlinger … None of which is a hanging offence, even if the thought of this financially troubled outfit – which was making staff redundant at the time – finding £500,000 a year for another executive might be hard for many to fathom… But Wallace did this without informing McCoist…which is not so much working shoulder to shoulder with his manager, more like operating behind his back."

Note that Jackson makes some pretty heavy-duty allegations here without citing any sources. He claims that there is a serious rift between Wallace and McCoist, and furthermore that the former approached Nerlinger without informing the latter. Also, note that he makes room to inform us that Rangers are a "financially troubled unit" which is trying to hire a Director of Football while "making staff redundant" while discussing an ostensibly unrelated boardroom rift. This type of conspicuous non sequitur continually reoccurs in Jackson's articles, and seems to function as a way of reminding us ad infinitum that Rangers are troubled.

He continues:

"McCoist, meanwhile, has reason to wonder if he has the support of either of these rutting stags at the top of the stairs, not least because of Easdale's old alliance with Green – that big-handed Yorkshireman with a seemingly incurable case of Rangersitis… The symptoms are easy to smell and cured only by frequent injections of cash. Green got it so bad that eventually he chateauxed himself in the heart of France (everyone gets a castle in the end) but his whiff has never gone… His grubby fat fingerprints have been all over this relentless debacle…"

This paragraph is, on the surface, about the possibility of Charles Green returning to Ibrox. However, what is actually transmitted by implication is something much more sinister. We have the "big handed [read thick] Yorkshireman" with a case of what Jackson calls "Rangersitis" – which is apparently characterised by symptoms of greed and high spending. Jackson even tells us that Green bankrolled a stay in France with money taken from Rangers; and that he can't keep his "grubby fat fingers" away from the feeding trough [read: Green is a greedy self-absorbed leech].

The overall impression given here is that Green and the current board are motivated by greed alone, and are callously misusing fans money. And while I don't want to defend the board here, I want to make clear how malicious the allegations implied by Jackson's own words are – Charles Green is a fat money grubbing Yorkshireman, Wallace is intransigent and devious. These are not the words of a neutral; the prose, in my view, is carefully selected to paint the club in the worst possible light – something which is not unexpected when we realise who Jackson works for.

TOMORROW: Part Two: Flak, Fear And The Propaganda Feedback Loop


by The Ref
by NathanRobert86


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