Jim Spence Rangers jibes   

Tuesday 1 October, 2013

This week, the Monkey dissects a recent article by Chris Graham of The Rangers Standard on 18 September 2013:

Let’s start with his opening remark:

During the past couple of years there have been many examples of malicious reporting on Rangers troubles.

Go on then Chris, give us a few.

During the course of carrying out research for my chapters in the book ‘Follow We Will – The Fall and Rise of Rangers’ I had the misfortune of trawling through much of this and one of the names that stood out enough for inclusion was Jim Spence of BBC Scotland. He displayed a staggering ability to ignore documented evidence and a level of hypocrisy which marked him out, even in the world of Scottish sports journalism. Since then, there has been much talk in the media of the need to “move on” but if events of this past week are anything to go by then this bitter individual is struggling more than most to actually do so.

Again, offer up a few examples. There’s a lot of presumed knowledge here – and the use of highly-charged words like “staggering”, “hypocrisy” and “bitter” achieve nothing except to demonstrate a high level of emotion and hostility towards the subject matter.

Spence’s latest slur came during a performance on Sportsound on BBC Radio Scotland. During a discussion of the possible boardroom changes at Rangers, he stated the following:

“John McClelland who was the chairman of the old club, some people will tell you the club, well, the club that died, possibly coming back in terms of the new chairman.”

In what way is Spence’s remarks a “slur”? A slur is a term of disparagement, suggesting that it speaks of something in a slighting or disrespectful or belittling way. Spence’s remarks were in the context of a discussion about the structure of Rangers’ business and the potential return of two former directors of the failed company (The Rangers Football Club PLC) to the new company running business and football matters at Ibrox (The Rangers International Football Club PLC/The Rangers Football Club Ltd). His remarks were factually correct; The Rangers Football Club PLC died in July 2012; this is a matter of public record – and Spence couched his remark by saying “some will tell you“. To cast these remarks in a disparaging light is, well, disparaging in itself.

Now there are a few things wrong with this obviously. Firstly there is no “old club”. We’ve been over this before so I won’t bother going through all the times this has been confirmed by High Court judges, by the football authorities and by various bodies asked to rule on it. Most importantly with regard to Spence, the BBC Trust has been through it before when they confirmed that “due accuracy had not been achieved such that the guidelines on accuracy had been breached” in BBC Scotland stating repeatedly across their platforms that Rangers were a “new club”. Spence knows this, so he chose to disregard the finding of the body that regulates the BBC’s output in order to push his own agenda.

There are a few things incorrect about Graham’s statement here; firstly, there is an “old club”. The company, The Rangers Football Club PLC is in the process of being liquidated by the insolvency practitioners BDO – this is not a matter open to debate; it is a matter of public record and fact.

An entirely new company now exists to oversee business and football matters at Ibrox. It is currently known as The Rangers International Football Club PLC (and it owns a subsidiary company, The Rangers Football Club Ltd – which bears no relation, other than name, to the company currently in liquidation). It is entirely irrefutable that there exists an old club and a new club – both companies (the current one and the liquidated one) carry the name “club” in their titles, so to refer to them as “old” and “new” when discussing business matters (such as the return of two former directors from the old company to the board of the new company) would be appropriate. This is what Spence was discussing.

Graham cites “High Court Judges” as having confirmed that there is no “old” or “new” club, which is also unsupportable by the facts. The High Court Judge Lord Nimmo-Smith, in a document produced for the Scottish Premier League, made a remark to the effect that football clubs are capable of being owned and operated or bought and sold by a “parent” company or operator. The document was produced as part of a tribunal into whether The Rangers Football Club PLC had broken league rules in its remuneration to players. Nimmo-Smith’s remarks were not a legal ruling or court judgement; they were his own personal view.

Similarly, Graham asserts that the same confirmation regarding Rangers being a club capable of being owned and operated has been given by “the football authorities and by various bodies asked to rule on it”. Again, this is entirely false; no football authority has made any public proclamations regarding the validity of Rangers being a continuing entity, despite the club’s liquidation in 2012. When making such assertions, it’s important to provide supporting evidence that backs the claim; Graham fails to do so and assumes the wording “We’ve been over this before so I won’t bother” will somehow bolster his view.

Graham also references the BBC Trust’s ruling regarding the corporation’s journalists using the words “old” and “new” to refer to Rangers Football Club. He is entirely correct here; the Trust ruled that the BBC had not achieved due accuracy when referencing the two different corporate entities that have been involved in football and business operations at Ibrox. The BBC Trust did not rule that the BBC had been wrong to make use of the terms “oldco” and “newco” or to describe the club as “old” or “new”, merely that it had been inappropriate to do so in the specific news stories which were subject to complaint and appeal, and, should attempt to apply a more stringent description in future when discussing business and football matters relating to Rangers.

The important part of this issue is that Spence’s remarks were entirely appropriate given that he was making reference to the club’s business structure; as stated previously, it is a matter of public record that there is an “old” Rangers Football Club PLC and a new Rangers Football Club Ltd. It may seem like semantics, but that’s exactly what Graham is debating here; the wording – and specifically, the use of terms such as “old” and “new” to describe his beloved team/club/company.

Secondly, why would you come out with such a convoluted phrase as the above? The natural thing to have said would have been “John McClelland, who was previously Rangers chairman” or something to that effect.

Of course Spence could have said something like “John McCLelland, who was previously Rangers chairman”, but the remark would have been inaccurate. John McLelland was chairman of Rangers, but he was never chairman of the current incarnation of the company; he was chairman of the previous incarnation, or, the “old” Rangers, if you will. Perhaps a more accurate form of words would have been “John McClelland, who was previously chairman of a company which died” would have been more natural – or something to that effect.

Graham makes a forced point of citing the BBC Trust’s judgement on due accuracy, but insists that Spence should have used a different remark to describe John McLelland’s role – one which would have been entirely inaccurate.

It’s clear that Spence felt the need to make a point on behalf of the Flat Earth Society on Twitter and those who lurk in the dark corners of the internet with whom Spence regularly interacts.

This is not clear at all. In fact, it’s a fatuous remark devoid of any substance or argument and fails to back up any of Graham’s assertions. If anything, it seems paranoid, and, somewhat risible.

Indeed when the complaints started to flood in from Rangers fans, it was extremely illuminating to see those who quickly jumped to Spence’s defence. Phil MacGiollabhain, Angela Haggerty, CQN, Andy Muirhead – they were all there sticking up for their champion. It seems Spence is one of the few journalists still willing to prostitute what little credibility he has for these people.

The deluge of complaints received by the BBC regarding Spence’s remarks (some 400+) were largely at the behest of Graham himself, after he encouraged a campaign of vitriol and hatred towards Spence on Twitter, so this point is entirely hypocritical.

MacGiollabhain tells us that his sources (I’m shocked to hear he has some at Pacific Quay…) are saying that BBC Scotland is going to “grow a set” with Rangers over this.

Indeed, MacGiollabhain claimed on Twitter – and on his own blog – that the BBC intended to respond to the constant attacks on its journalism being frequently made by unhappy Rangers fans. Whether this is correct or not is unknown.

We are also told that BBC Scotland are “not happy” with the way that the BBC Trust’s dealt with previous complaints.

One would assume this to be correct. For the BBC to be told it was inaccurate in referring to two separate corporate entities as being different from each other is something of an mystery and prevents the corporation from freely discussing the facts or reflecting the general view of the situation.

Furthermore, Jim Spence is “incensed” at the treatment he has received. This is fascinating stuff, but either MacGiollabhain or BBC Scotland appears to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between the BBC Trust and a regional part of the BBC. The BBC Trust exists to ensure that the BBC maintains their standards. BBC Scotland clearly cannot do that and therefore need to be assisted in meeting the conditions of their charter.

Again, this is mostly untrue – although, the part about Spence being incensed, one would assume, is true. It’s difficult to imagine anyone being anything but incensed at being referred to – quite unnecessarily – as a paedophile or being sent death threats for making a remark about a club being “old” or “new” – or as having “died” – as happened to Spence in the wake of Graham’s campaign against him.

The Monkey is aware that BBC Scotland attempted to appeal the Trust’s ruling, but was unable to do so since the Trust is the last point of appeal in the BBC’s complaint process; its judgement is final as far as the BBC is concerned, although the Monkey understands that a judicial review is a possible route of appeal in certain circumstances. It seems an unusual structure where the BBC cannot offer a reply or submit an appeal to its own appellate body.

Spence is, whether he likes it or not, a BBC journalist. He is no longer writing for a fanzine. He has a duty to the licence fee payers to be objective, accurate and without bias. It is a duty he regularly fails in. He is not doing his job properly. Spence wants Rangers to be a “new club”, “a dead club” because he doesn’t like us. He is willing to ignore the facts of the matter and put his own job on the line to make a point. He has previous for this and it would appear that the adulation of some of the most bitter people on the internet is enough for him to feel vindicated in his approach.

This entire paragraph is a fascinating insight into the mind of an angry, bitter individual, blinded by hatred and hellbent on vilifying another individual in the pursuit of propagating their own world view.

Rangers fans rightly flooded the BBC with complaints.

Rightly? Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, might does not make right. The volume of complaints bears little relation to the validity of the grievance – although does suggest if you make enough noise, sooner or later someone is going to have to listen to you.

BBC Scotland tried to cover up the issue by omitting his comments from their podcast of the show.

The BBC’s podcasts are routinely edited due to restrictions on length. Editing out Spence’s remarks could be viewed by some as an attempt to cover up the comments, but equally, it could be viewed as frugal editing to make the podcast fit the size allotted to it. It’s also possible the BBC edited it to stave off more “floods of complaints”.

However, despite receiving hundreds of complaints about Spence they have predictably refused to deal with the issue – just as they did with the previously upheld complaints.

According to reports, the BBC has dealt with the issue; it has supported and backed Spence and the comments he made, since he said nothing that was incorrect, defamatory or likely to cause harm.

Those who have gone through the process are now at the stage of moving on to the Editorial Complaints Unit of the BBC in London, where they are likely to have much more luck. Once these complaints move out of the control of BBC Scotland they suddenly appear to be dealt with more effectively.

Again, this is untrue. The previous complaints made by Rangers fans regarding the BBC’s use of “old” and “new” to describe the club were rejected at every stage in the BBC’s complaints process – including the Editorial Complaints Unit that Graham refers to here. It was only when the complaints were referred to the Trust that they were partly upheld.

Spence’s response was predictable. He first attempted to play the victim. He retweeted a few of the more choice comments he received on Twitter whilst totally ignoring the issue, which was his own dishonesty and unprofessionalism. He then decided to liken those complaining to Nazis thereby invoking Godwin’s law. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin’s_law

Spence wasn’t attempting to “play the victim”. He was the victim; Rangers fans embarked on an intolerable campaign of intimidation and offence towards the man – characterised and motivated not by his remarks, but from a spurious, irrational, unjustified hatred of the man due to comments they deemed to be unpalatable. Presumably, Jim chose not to interact with the people who were offending him due to fear – and the futility of him attempting to do so.

Additionally, Spence’s comment on Twitter quoting Pastor Martin Niemöller did not “liken those complaining to Nazis” – the comment linked the behaviour of the people persecuting him for his remarks to that of an oppressive, unreasonable force, and, were strangely apt – and quickly proved to be so, given the hostile response he received following its posting. The comment was viewed by many as frivolous on Spence’s part, although a few have commented that it was perhaps unnecessary – and more than a few Rangers fans have behaved in a downright hostile and aggressive manner towards him for doing so; that tends to happen when your behaviour is exposed as unacceptable.

However, Spence was right to make the comment – since his suggestion was, that if he was to be prevented from discussing facts which are a matter of public record (ie. The Rangers Football Club PLC having died in 2012) it could quickly become a significant issue for all BBC journalists if they wished to discuss other similar matters relating to the club. The heart of Spence’s point was: if this particular issue proves to be unpalatable to the club’s fans or custodians, and subsequently results in a deluge of complaints and a sustained campaign of hatred towards those initiating the discourse, then it soon follows that all unpalatable topics of discussion will face the same level complaints, even if the topics are demonstrably correct.

The implication that Spence was making was, that once censured for discussing “proscribed” issues, journalists (and the media outlets they work for) would forever self-censor in the interests of preservation.

Finally, the notion of Spence invoked “Godwin’s Law” (a frivolous assertion made by the American attorney and author Mike Godwin in 1990 in relation to online discussions and the probability of a comparison involving the Nazis or Hitler inevitably arising) is not only fatuous, but ultimately, a fallacist’s fallacy, since it assumes that all online discourse is somehow immune to anyone raising a comparison with Nazi behaviour simply because a notion exists to suggest that such comparisons somehow invalidate a person’s argument. It’s a nonsense point, akin to children attempting to silence each other with a “jinx” when they coincidentally utter the same word simultaneously.

I find Spence’s reaction to this to be typical of those who regularly attempt to denigrate the Rangers support and our club. He says something which is both inaccurate and inflammatory and which he knows to be both inaccurate and inflammatory and then throws his hands in the air in shock when people react badly to it. The inference that anyone who dares to complain about Spence’s unprofessionalism and bias is akin to a Nazi is also interesting. It is entirely in keeping with the type of language used by people like MacGiollabhain about the Rangers support and one wonders who it was that reminded Spence of the quote he used to introduce the topic.

The incomprehensible nature of this paragraph aside, the remarks Spence made were neither inaccurate or inflammatory. It was fact (The Rangers Football Club PLC died in July 2012). Throughout his entire rant, Graham fails to provide any cogent narrative that refutes this – because he can’t. Because it doesn’t exist, except in his mind.

Spence was joined in this line by Graham Spiers who described those taking Spence to task as the “Stasi” – an odd way to describe people simply exercising their right to complain through the BBC Complaints Procedure. I’m not sure that is the route the Stasi would have taken and Spiers should be more versed in their methods given that he famously suggested to the Scottish Parliament that thoughts should be criminalised.

As noted above, the right to complain to the BBC about content deemed by an individual (or individuals) working for the corporation is not an open invite or a licence to do so – and it carries no rights, freedoms or guarantees. Just because the BBC is a publicly-funded organisation does not mean the public owns it and can dictate its terms of office. Although, many people seem to think this way.

When pressed on Twitter, Spence stated that he has no such problems with Celtic fans. The heavy inference being that the Rangers support is somehow unique in reacting badly to people telling lies about their club. Here is a novel idea Jim – try criticising Celtic and see what kind of reaction you get. Better still go on the radio and simply tell the truth about Rangers. Talk about all the official bodies who have confirmed that Rangers are the same club they have always been, that our rich history lives on and that it will be added to in years to come. Then let us know what sort of reaction you get from the same people who currently laud you for peddling their demented propaganda.

If Graham had been paying any attention, he would be aware that Jim Spence has no issue with criticising Celtic or the club’s fans. He has done so on numerous occasions in the past – and, more importantly, he has been openly critical of his own club, Dundee United, on a regular basis. To suggest he has an agenda against Rangers borders on paranoia.

Graham seems at great pains to repeatedly point out that “official bodies (who) have confirmed that Rangers are the same club they have always been” yet has zero evidence to support this claim. Certainly, he has no evidence which has not been cynically re-shapen to conform to his own world view.

It is heartening to see that Rangers are taking the issue seriously. Things have improved greatly on this front since Jim Traynor became involved with the club and the BBC Trust, having already ruled on the same issue, are likely to be perplexed about why BBC Scotland continue to ignore their ruling.

The Monkey thinks Mr Graham perhaps gives too much credit to the BBC Trust with the notion that it is in any way remotely interested in, or aware of any of the goings-on at Ibrox. What now appears to be increasingly more likely is that the BBC Trust made an error of judgement in partially upholding complaints about the BBC’s use of “oldco” and “newco” when referencing Rangers, and now finds itself in the paradoxical position of having censored its own journalists, restricting them from discussing publicly-available information at the behest of a baying, angry, deluded mob.

I would urge those individuals who have complained to take their complaints all the way to the Trust however, and not assume that the club will deal with it alone. The more the behaviour of BBC Scotland is highlighted the more likely it is to be forcibly dealt with from elsewhere in the organisation.

Again, Mr Graham decides to wage a campaign encouraging ordinary folk to complain about the BBC’s coverage, simply because it does not conform with his – or their – world view, and not because the information is incorrect or unsupportable by facts.

The BBC issue will only be solved from London. BBC Scotland, despite admitting privately that they should be apologising to Rangers, refuse to do so publicly.

Another specious statement from Graham. Unless he has a direct line to senior management in BBC Scotland, this is completely unsupportable and vacuous. The BBC has nothing to apologise for; it has not done anything wrong.

They are deliberately placing themselves in a state of conflict with our club and then bleating about freedom of the press and persecution when the club and the fans bite back. It is pathetic behaviour from a totally discredited organisation.

If by “deliberately”, Graham means “reporting facts”, then yes, the BBC may well be putting itself in direct conflict with Graham’s club. Unfortunately, this is how journalism works; as a newsgathering and reporting organisation, the BBC uncovers information – which it knows to be supportable fact and in the public interest – which it then publishes or broadcasts in the form of news. Often, this is material likely to be unpopular with the subject to which it pertains (in this case, Rangers Football Club and its fans).

The Monkey barely feels the need to dissect the highly-charged and emotive statement: “a totally discredited organisation”. Totally means “wholly; entirely; completely”, which hardly applies in the case of the BBC, although perhaps from where Mr Graham is standing, it does.

One wonders if Spence is really cut out for a position at a supposedly objective and non-biased organisation such as the BBC. He would do well to remember what happened when the same people now backing him made promises about filling SPL grounds. He might find his support evaporates when it comes to stepping up the mark. Spence could simply issue a public apology and undertake to be better at his job, report accurately and try to improve both his own and BBC Scotland’s reputation in the process.

As above, Spence did not report any inaccuracies; he reported fact, framed in the context of a live discussion about the business structure of Rangers Football Club. Graham may not like this, but his personal preferences are not a universally accepted axiom.

If not then I’m pretty sure he could get a regular spot on the Scottish Football Monitor website. He might even be able to join McConville, MacGiollabhain and Brennan touring Celtic Supporters Clubs. They won’t care that he’s distorting the truth on a regular basis because he’s telling them what they want to hear. If that fails then I hear The Drum are willing to take literally anyone on as a ‘Staff Writer’.

This final statement is perhaps the most worthy of the hypocritical badge from the Monkey – when turned on Graham, it produces the exact same result; negative media coverage about Rangers is entirely perceived as biased if it opposes his world view, regardless of the reality – and only positive coverage, selectively interpreted in light of his own values and predispositions, will satiate his anger.

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