There’s a problem in Scottish media that goes beyond perceived or actual bias on constitutional or political issues and that is what’s been dubbed ‘succulent lamb’ journalism. The phrase originates from the issue of media treatment of Rangers during their financial collapse, the Rangers Tax Case blog has this explainer (I have no interest in going over the case nor is this article about Rangers):
“The phrase refers to a description of the food served to James Traynor of the Daily Record (a Scottish tabloid) by former Rangers owner, Sir David Murray. In one of the most obsequious pieces of ‘sucking-up’ ever penned in the long history of prostrate journalism in Scottish football, Traynor celebrates the food choices of his host for the evening. The phrase ‘succulent lamb’ has come to mean benefits accruing to journalists who write flattering and uncritical articles about Rangers FC and its owner. Such benefits have more typically included priority access to Rangers’ news, but have included private jet trips to Murray’s chateau in France to sample the output of his vineyard.”
You can read the full account here.
The issue here is the wider problem of ‘succulent lamb journalism’ in Scotland. The problem lies in a small country where specialist journalists gain access to, and form relationships with the key people in their sector, whether that be in food, the arts, music, theatre, politics or whatever niche ‘beat’ the journalists are assigned in return for access, scoops and promotion. The problem is not confined to the most egregious example of corporate influence on media independence as outlined above, the problem lies with all the other sectors too.
This week the Herald announced (‘Doune the Rabbit Hole accused of ‘insult’ over unpaid artists’) that the organisers of Doune the Rabbit Hole music festival “have been accused of an ‘insult’ to unpaid artists after the company responsible for paying outstanding money went into liquidation.”
BECTU (Scottish Live Events Network) told Bella: “At present we know of at least a dozen performers and production / technical staff who we have spoken to directly that are owed money. We are also aware that some larger production companies are owed money from both this year and from 2021. They were promised their 2021 money if they provided services for this year and are now owed for both events.”
The Musicians’ Union issued a statement saying:
“The MU are concerned at the latest developments regarding Doune the Rabbit Hole going into liquidation. Despite the festival being in receipt of significant amounts of public funding, we have been made aware of large numbers of artists and suppliers who have still not been paid. For the past few months the MU, alongside BECTU, have been in discussions with the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland on the matter and these discussions are scheduled to continue into the new year. We have also had some dialogue with the festival and whilst a few members who have come forward have now been paid we are acutely aware that there are many more who have not.”
The artist HONEYBLOOD responded:
The festival has been in receipt of considerable amounts of public money to allow it to continue. The limited company ‘Festival Beverages and Property Limited’ received (at minimum):
1) Culture Organisations and Venues Recovery Fund (2020) £45,198
2) Culture Organisations and Venues Recovery Fund Round 2 (2021) £45,198
The company that has gone into liquidation (run by his son) has switched/ reverted to the previous company, run by Craig Murray, who are quoted in The Herald to say that Festival Beverage and Property Services, organisers for the 2023 festival, have “pledged” to make any outstanding payments, with tickets already on sale for next year’s edition”
A spokesperson for Doune the Rabbit Hole said: “Festival Beverage and Property Services Ltd are committed to sustaining Doune The Rabbit Hole Festival as the most likely long-term way of repaying these debts. Whilst working towards this, the company intends to seek new investment and develop new income streams in order to expedite payments to crew, artists and suppliers where possible. This will include sale of assets and a crowdfunding campaign.”
A crowdfunding campaign you say?
Intriguingly they added to the Herald: “Since July 2022 Doune The Rabbit Hole Festival Ltd continued to trade because there was good reason to believe that we could expect an imminent windfall from a large bank loan and/or major donation from a private source.”
The spokesman added: “As part of the conditions attached to the planning and promotion of future events it has been agreed that future proceeds from Doune 2023 and beyond will be paid in full to the liquidators who in turn will pay these as dividends to creditors.”
In other words ‘the festival that we have completely botched will be the means by which we repay all the people we haven’t paid?
The Scottish Live Events Network have stated:
“We have highlighted DTRH’s failure to pay its debts to Event Scotland, Creative Scotland, and the Scottish Government and are lobbying them to introduce more cohesive standards and communication across the events licensing system and for both Scot Gov and local authorities to be more aware of promoters’ financial histories and their ability and willingness to pay their bills before granting them a licence. This proposal has been met with interest and we hope to move forward with this at the start of 2023. We are also lobbying Stirling Council not to grant any further licences to this event until all debts have been paid.”
“We will also be speaking to the local councils who gave out the licences this year to a number of events which have not paid their bills and pushing them to be more stringent in their decision making. We will also be putting in objections for any licence application that comes for an organiser who is known for not paying. If anyone has any information which they think might help either now or in the future please get in touch.”
“From just two promoters alone over two years we estimate that over a quarter of a million pounds has been removed from the supply chain because of production companies and artists not getting paid. Also a lot of people bought tickets to see bands which they did not get to see because of what we believe to be very shady business practices. It cannot be allowed to continue.”
“We would ask all suppliers, production companies, self employed etc. to consider very carefully before working with some of these organisers.”
The question remains, how is all of this possible?
The only credible answer is that the arts media is too compliant, too embedded and too unquestioning. Of course we want festivals to succeed, of course we want the struggling arts sector to be supported through the tough times of covid (and after), but this cannot be at the expense of performers, musicians and the myriad technical and support crew who make up the music and events industry.
There are remaining questions to be answered about this fiasco. We desperately need a viable, sustainable cultural sector in Scotland and for that we need accountability and transparency through funders, public bodies and arts media.