In My Opinion: Richard Walker: Don’t believe a word of it; the Press is not risk averse

IN the current, post-Leveson climate, the problem with comments about the Press supposedly doing its job properly or not is that they risk becoming commonly-accepted truths.

I’ll leave other editors to speak up for their own publications, if they feel they need to. I, for one, however, feel the need to stand up for the Sunday Herald’s record in tackling difficult stories during the 14 years since the newspaper was first published.

I do so because, the other week, the editor of The Drum magazine wrote: “In my view, the real challenge facing Scottish newspapers is not their reckless risk taking but their tendency to be risk averse.”

I beg to differ. A look through the archives of the Sunday Herald throws up hundreds of examples of courageous journalism. Several senior politicians have ‘fallen on their swords’ as a result of our reporting. And don’t forget our decision to name the footballer, Ryan Giggs, to expose how the Press can be gagged by super-injunctions in a way that the internet is not.

And that’s before you consider the bravery that is behind the frontline reports from our foreign editor, David Pratt, from war zones in Libya, Africa, Syria and more.

Don’t forget, it was the Sunday Herald who, after five years of secrecy, published the full report by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission into the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing.

Only the other week, we reported that the South African authorities had re-opened an investigation into the killing of two young men, linked to Winnie Mandela.

I don’t mean to simply ‘blow my own newspaper’s trumpet’. Every other Scottish newspaper could provide similar lists of their own.

For instance, Scotland on Sunday’s report the weekend before last on artist and author, Alasdair Gray’s ‘settlers and colonists’ remarks, which brought a lorryload of frankly bewildering criticism upon its head. It was a great story and a brave story and I wish we had had it.

Quite how anyone could read a list of those and other stories and come up with the description, ‘risk averse’, is beyond me.

But, of course, the narrative of the day is that the Scottish press is in ‘terminal decline’, a phrase used so often that no-one seems seriously to question it any more.

Yes, the Scottish Press face serious challenges, on revenues and circulation.

But the journalists I know are as determined as ever to break important stories.

And, despite everything, they continue to do so. Publishers are looking at innovative ways to develop new revenues streams to subsidise the journalism which is an essential part of a democratic society. It’s in all our interests that those efforts are successful.

The quality, reach and impact of Scottish journalism is not declining…it’s diversifying.

In a world in which there is an explosion of media platforms, how could it possibly be otherwise?

Scottish journalists deserve respect and support … and, yes, criticism when they get things wrong.

What they don’t deserve are attacks based on assertions which fly in the face of the facts.

One final point. In his article, Gordon Young states that the Sunday Herald “eventually” published details of the role its own lawyers played in the [former leader of Glasgow City Council] Steven Purcell story. Hands up … we did wait a couple of days. But then that decision was forced on us by the fact that we only publish on, er, Sunday.

Richard Walker is editor of the Sunday Herald newspaper.