Examining the treatment of sexuality in the Scottish media, this monthly column by Garry Otton, called the Scottish Media Monitor, first appeared in January 1996 in Gay Scotland magazine. It was sparked by what was widely seen as inadequate reporting of the violent murder of 35-year-old Michael Doran in Queens Park in Glasgow in the summer of 1995. Here, a gang of three lads and a 14-year-old girl went on a queerbashing rampage putting a hammer through one guy's head, beating another so badly, he was unable to walk and finally murdering Michael Doran. Michael received 83 blows to his body. They stabbed him several times in the groin, stamped on his face until they had broken every bone in his head and left him in the bushes, choking to death in his own blood. With their clothes still bloodstained, they joined their friends at a nearby party bragging about what they had just done. In the face of widespread abuse of gay human rights in Britain, BBC Radio Scotland boasted how it had just produced a programme on lesbian poetry.
Within weeks after Michael's tragic murder - a copycat of the Queen's Park murder that led to the last hanging at Barlinnie Prison in the sixties - Thomas Hamilton gunned down a classroom of kiddies and their teacher in a school in Dunblane. Despite no evidence Hamilton sexually molested children in his care, or was indeed himself gay, the Dunblane tragedy became sexualised and gays were swept up in a tidal wave of moral panic.
Scoutmasters and gym teachers, boys' club managers and priests were dragged across the pages of the Scottish press in frenzy. One 'sex beast' after another was 'caged'. A 24-year-old was jailed for three months after being found on school grounds in Paisley. A 77-year-old man was sentenced to four years for taking pictures of kids at the seaside in Ayrshire, a drunken 37-year-old priest faced shame and retribution after allegedly groping a 16-year-old and Iain Macdonald was jailed for 18 years for the rape of Charles Kumar. Charles denied he was gay, but later went on to win a heat in the Mr Gay UK contest and work in a gay sauna. Iain still languishes in prison. Public toilets, saunas, parks and swimming-pool changing areas throughout Scotland became flash points of moral warfare. A 29-year-old man was sentenced for peeking at two 14-year-old boys in one swimming-pool changing area, and at another, a 34-year-old scoutmaster faced indecency charges after filming boys with a video camera. A swimming-pool attendant warned parents 'all their children are at risk', and was reported in a tabloid begging more staff to patrol open changing-rooms. 'The only way to clampdown on this kind of thing is by fitting screens to the top and bottom of cubicles and security guards watching at all times', he said.
The end of the 20th century was a period when Scots actor Robert Carlisle joined a band of unemployed men to strip for The Full Monty and radio stations banned the Bloodhound Gang from doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel. It was also a time of unusual sexual repression that touched most people, particularly gay men. The failure to equalise the age of consent, the obstruction of the repeal of Section 28 by militant religionists, the rounding-up of gay men in police operations across Scotland and a string of subsequent suicides.
Much of the Scottish media both protects and excludes readers in a process of restraint, contraction and limitation on sexual issues. A perceived threat to children from 'perverts' was trumpeted by tabloid campaigns such as the Record's 'PervertWatch' and the News of the World's 'Name and Shame'. The press attach a sense of shame and fuel moral outrage to any legitimate means of sexual expression. Most prominent amongst these campaigns has been the attack on 'Channel Filth' on Channel 5's late night depiction of erotica and the Daily Record's 'SmutWatch' campaign. An increasingly politicised church, fearful of moral decay and advances in liberty and expression, succoured these campaigns. A major victory for the Church and their media crony's was the banning of an exhibition of erotica in Glasgow. Such a campaign, however, paled into insignificance to what the fledgling Scottish parliament faced when they were caught unawares by the longest political debate in its history, the bankrolling of a campaign to prevent the repeal of Section 2a, (Clause 28), which forbade the so-called 'promotion' of homosexuality in schools, by Scottish business tycoon, Brian Souter.
Whenever the issue of sexuality has appeared in the Scottish media - as it does on an almost daily basis - it is rarely academics the journalists turn to, but a string of religious and conservative 'spokespeople'. In Scotland it has been Mrs Ann Allen or the Rev Bill Wallace of the Kirk's ridiculously named Board of Social Responsibility, the notorious 'Sexfinder General', the late Monsignor Tom Connelly for the Catholic Church, Phil Gallie, a deposed Tory MP and any number of partisan organisations like the Christian Institute and Family and Youth Concern. This laziness on the part of journalists to latch on to Church press releases, sound bites or PR machines attached to religious organisations has both distorted and misrepresented Scotland's sexuality. In colluding with moral conservatives; serving a regular diet of propaganda and misinformation on sexual issues, the Scottish press have failed the public they are supposed to serve; contributing to Scotland's appalling record of sexual repression. Scotland has Europe's highest rate of teenage pregnancy (some seven times higher than the Netherlands) whilst sexual pathology, crime, ignorance and disease are rife. In the Netherlands, sex education begins at Primary level and the age of consent is 12. Nonetheless, children start having sex later than their Scottish counterparts and don't wait for years before crying foul when the sex is wrong!
In support of the morally conservative sexual propaganda issued by Churches, there is an abundance of equally conservative columnists operating within almost every major newspaper in Scotland. The most well known of these was Jack Irvine, a former editor of Scottish editions of the Sun whose column in the Scottish Mirror regularly carried his rabid homophobia, inspiring Brian Souter to enlist his support for a £2million campaign to have the Church influence sex education in schools. One of Irvine's most controversial remarks was his reference to "slobbering queers". There are plenty more of his ilk. Jim Sillars, a former SNP MP writes weekly in the Scottish Sun and has advised readers that homosexuals need to get the homosexual age of consent "as low as possible to ensure a continuous supply of sexual partners". In the Daily Record, they have Tom Brown whose comments on gay's "sad, seedy perversions" border frequently on obsession. The 'Brigadier' was promoted to the First Minister, Henry McLeish's speechwriter. It is the 'Brigiadier's' expressed opinion that "only sexually inadequate adults buy dirty magazines", an opinion apparently shared by the Daily Record's matronly agony aunt Joan Burnie - or 'Old Mother Burnie' as she has become widely known - who evoked the ire of many of her readers by describing erotic videos as "filthy". She once advised a woman whose husband enjoyed erotica to "burn anything you find". She has written: "If my sons grew up to think porn was harmless, then I'd know I'd failed as a mum…" The Sunday Mail used to have Gary Keown. Never mind the "pansies", his opinion of women was equally suspect. "The drunker they are, the better… Give me two slappers pulling at each other's cheap perms… Mini skirts riding up flabby thighs…" The Scottish Daily Mail is the most favoured tabloid of the morally conservative. In the midst of the vociferous Section 28 campaign it ran anatomical drawings showing how to distinguish gay people from straight and reported what was a benign group of a dozen protesters from the Scottish Socialist Party handing out leaflets to the congregation outside multi-millionaire Brian Souter's church in Perth as a "50 strong… gay law mob" with their "leaders". No such gay 'leaders' attended. Katie Grant is also paid by the Scottish Daily Mail to support the role of its Scottish Political Editor, Hamish MacDonnell to spout a morally conservative agenda behind the benign persona of a 'concerned parent'. Before Section 28 was repealed she was busy sending siren calls to readers, warning them how the government was about to remove legislation that would ensure schools would be awash with gay propaganda. The Scotsman, once a liberal broadsheet, boasts Linda Watson-Brown who believes all men are potential rapists and is a virulent anti-porn campaigner. The Daily Telegraph has Alan Cochrane who led this paper's campaign against the repeal of Section 28 in Scotland. Even The Herald, despite its support for repeal of this Tory-backed legislation, rode with one foot on the brake and a string of religionists in the back seat. Stewart Lamont wrote of his disgust of gay men's apparent love of public conveniences, Michael Fry thought the repeal of Section 28 would give children AIDS and 'wee free' John Macleod who - before he was 'outed' himself - used to think gays "simply not equipped to live". Scotland on Sunday, gives the Mail's Katie Grant and Gerald Warner a Sunday voice. Warner, a speechwriter to the former Tory Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth once wrote that condoms offer little protection against AIDS and continually propagates the myth there is a powerful gay clique undermining Government. (Although with such powerful friends in Government, it's surprising how it has not managed to pass laws guaranteeing gay equality). Warner - or 'Geraldine' as he has become known in the Monitor - believes teenage mothers create a "social blight" and giving council houses to them is simply a "reward for promiscuity". He once begged in his column: "We cannot sit idly by and watch minority pressure groups and their allies secure an absurdly disproportionate profile in the media…" Without one 'out' gay columnist batting against this surfeit of sexually regulating writers, what Scottish newspapers does he read? Even the Big Issue in Scotland, which accepts free pictures from the Daily Record is not exactly generous with features on gay human rights. The feature on Daily Record columnist, Tom Brown's promotion in the Scottish Executive was rejected by the editor. BBC Scotland has consistently refused a programme for gays while catering for the needs of religionists on a daily basis. With just one per cent attending Church, many now agree Scotland's sexual liberals deserve a better voice. But whatever you think of sexual politics in the new Scotland: Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and people of transgender are on their own. Each day, individuals work to regulate and control the definition of sexuality within a narrow boundary defined by the Church. This forest of deadwood has taken many years to grow. But not until a former editor, a right-wing Cardinal and a multi-millionaire Christian fundamentalist set the forest ablaze were the people of Scotland so exposed and so divided in a moral debate that spilled out into the 21st century.
A new book by Garry Otton is under preparation.