3x1 Blog

Campbell Gunn

Good news is no news

7 July 2017

There’s an old saying in the media that “good news is no news”. Various attempts over the years to launch publications carrying only positive, uplifting stories have withered and died. The simple truth is that people are interested in bad news, from horror crimes to natural disasters, from political scandals to economic failures.

So recent interventions by politicians, attacking the media in its various forms of peddling only negative stories, are probably accurate, but ultimately futile.

First, we had Conservative minister Liam Fox complaining about what he described as the BBC’s constant negativity over Brexit. That was following swiftly by former First Minister Alex Salmond attacking the media’s treatment of the latest Scottish GDP figures.

In the latter case, he was undoubtedly correct. Right up to the moment of publication of the figures, Opposition parties, newspapers, and indeed, the BBC, had been predicting that Scotland was about to go into an economic recession. The previous quarter’s figures had been poor, and a second consecutive set would have resulted in a technical recession.

In the event, Scotland’s GDP grew by 0.8% – four times the rate of the rest of the UK, and ahead of most of the rest of the world, including Japan, France, the United States, and even Germany. What concerned Mr Salmond was the sudden lack of interest in the story from the majority of the media.

While the BBC did report the results, most Scottish newspapers hardly mentioned them, with only one publication carrying the story on its front page. Imagine the furore if the results had gone the other way, Mr Salmond claimed.

His annoyance is probably compounded by the fact that the majority of newspapers circulating in Scotland don’t support the SNP’s goal of independence, and he feels that this lack of balance works against his party.

So was Mr Salmond’s outrage over the figures worth it? His complaints will go unheeded by the media, and it plays into what many commentators describe as the ‘Scots with a chip on their shoulders’ view of the SNP. Opposition parties will always make outrageous claims about the performance of the government of the day. Indeed, as leader of the SNP opposition in the days of the Labour-Liberal Democrat Scottish Government, Mr Salmond frequently did it himself, and received widespread coverage for it.

The same tendency to negative coverage could be seen during both the independence and EU referendums. Scare stories consistently won more column inches and received more attention than claims about the benefits of either Scottish independence or remaining within the European Union.

Bad news sells papers, and has been the case for as long as mass media has existed. Complaints from politicians won’t change that.

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