August 27, 2021

Gannett has been hit by a petition campaign accusing the company of taking sides in the Scottish separatist debate and publishing coverage including “anti-English racism.”

More specifically, the petition is directed to Newsquest, Gannett’s little-known regional U.K. media company. Among its 120 papers and digital sites is The National, a tabloid that describes itself as the voice of the Scottish independence movement.

The accusation comes from Change.org, a global social action site specializing in petition drives.

The petition asks Newsquest to direct The National to stop publishing what it alleges is vicious anti-English content. It says the paper routinely highlights anti-English news stories on its front page and added that “reader comments sections … are full of grievance and anti-British bile, whipped up by its cynical commentators.”

The independence issue has not risen to a Northern Ireland level of hostility but is plenty divisive.

Gannett CEO Mike Reed is also mentioned and asked to intervene. I reached out to the company and a spokesperson said Gannett has not issued a response and would not comment.

I am guessing that even informed United States readers may not know Gannett has a British subsidiary. The company bought Newsquest in 1999 as an effort at diversification, exporting the Gannett formula of regional journalism to the U.K.

Newsquest’s results are included in Gannett’s financial reports, but the British chain rarely turns up in discussions of the company’s strategy.

Ironically, the great majority of Newsquest’s papers are English. It also owns a more centrist Scottish paper, The Herald. In fact, in a quick Google search, I found a Herald column strongly deploring anti-English excesses.

The National was launched in 2014 with an advocacy agenda after the failure of a referendum asking that Scotland become an independent country. In effect then, Newsquest corporately is on both sides of the explosive issue with sister papers.

It is as if one company owned both The New York Times and Wall Street Journal and allowed each an ideologically different editorial voice.

The text of the petition is here.

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
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