Peter Jones: Media should be free to use the ‘S’ word

A LEADING Scottish journalist has declared that the Scottish National Party “must not be allowed to dictate to the press which words can be used to describe their policy”.

In his weekly column in The Scotsman yesterday, Peter Jones considers the words, ‘independence’ and ‘separation’ in the context of the upcoming referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future.

He references columns last week in the same newspaper by Ewan Crawford and Joan McAlpine.

Wrote Crawford: “The party (SNP) is upset that BBC journalists, committed as they must be to ‘due impartiality’, have on occasion used ‘separation’, one of the most politically-loaded terms in Scottish politics, as if it is a neutral word.”

And wrote journalist-turned-MSP, McAlpine: “Independence is a neutral term and that’s the one that should be used.”

Declares Jones, who is a former political editor of The Scotsman, and Scottish editor of The Economist: “I don’t dispute that the word ‘separate’ has negative characteristics and when used in opinion poll surveys, damps down the support for political independence.

“That’s why the SNP’s goal is to expunge ‘separation’ from the airwaves and for ‘independence’ to be the only word used.

“The SNP not only wants to set the terms of the debate, but also the language in which it is framed. This, however, is an unacceptable assault on the media’s freedom to use whatever words journalists and editors think accurately portray what a political party is trying to do.

“Some, it is true, use words in a politically biased sense. But that’s media freedom for you.”

And Jones concludes: “Both ‘independence’ and ‘separation’ are perfectly legitimate though politically-loaded descriptions of what opposing political camps, and differing sections of the Scottish public, believe to be the consequences of the, shall we say, sovereignty debate.

“Banning one, but not the other, would be undemocratic. The BBC should carry on using both.”