John McLellan: Chamber of Commerce sees sense on Sputnik

Common sense has prevailed at the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce which has finally decided it can no longer accept the membership of the Russian government's Edinburgh-based radio and website Sputnik UK.

The interior of the Edinburgh office of Sputnik. Picture: Contributed
The interior of the Edinburgh office of Sputnik. Picture: Contributed

The aims of an information service established as an arm of Russian foreign policy were always at odds with a private organisation furthering Scottish commerce but once the membership was revealed the Chamber simply hoped the row would fizzle out.

My motion to Edinburgh Council – and the Salisbury poisoning shortly after it was lodged – meant it could not be ignored and yesterday the Chamber bowed to the inevitable and terminated the arrangement.

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Now, as attention turns on the Ofcom review of its sister broadcaster RT, the regulator laid out the terms: “Should the UK investigating authorities determine that there was an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK, we would consider this relevant to our ongoing duty to be satisfied that RT is fit and proper.”

So RT could be closed once it’s firmly established that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, but like Sputnik, it has long been a propaganda vehicle and therefore Ofcom faces a political not qualitative decision.

I therefore find myself in the odd position of agreeing with an RT spokesman who
said: “By linking RT to unrelated matters,
Ofcom is conflating its role as a broad-casting regulator with matters of state.”

In last week’s City Council debate about Sputnik, I argued that, while it had no place in an organisation like the Chamber, on principle it was better to let it operate.

Meanwhile RT was raised at First Minister’s Questions by Ruth Davidson during which some SNP MSPs predictably compared it to the BBC, which is as pathetic as it is inaccurate.

Better to see exactly what opponents are saying, expose their arguments and, yes, mock their cack-handed amateurism.

l Hacked Off founder Brian Cathcart has attacked the Daily Mail’s claim that its campaign against the racist killers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence resulted in their convictions. The Mail’s role has been praised by Stephen Lawrence’s mother Doreen, ex-Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw, ex-leader Ed Miliband, and senior investigating officers. It was also recognised in a book, The Case of Stephen Lawrence, by one Brian Cathcart.

By coincidence, last week the Mail ran a story that Cathcart’s research at Kingston University has been funded by Max Mosley, who the Mail also claimed was responsible for the publication of racist political leaflets in the early 60s.

l John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a City of Edinburgh Conservative councillor