When Steven Purcell resigned as leader of Glasgow City Council towards the beginning of the month, the Scottish media felt the combined forces of lawyers, Levy & McRae, and PR consultants, Media House International, breathing down their neck.
They were acting on behalf of Purcell, with Levy & McRae well known as lawyers for a number of media outlets and Media House’s Jack Irvine a former editor of the Scottish Sun.
It didn’t help that the original tale of Purcell’s demise initially attracted substantially different levels of coverage, with the Edinburgh-based Scotsman newspaper arguably the most energetic.
By the time it came to the weekend, the Sunday Herald soon caught up, insodoing earning itself a complaint, by Media House, to the Press Complaints Commission.
As if the reasons behind Purcell’s sudden demise where not arresting enough, so the way the whole affair has been handled – by his advisors and by the media – has also taken something of the centre stage.
One cameo illustrates the point. On Saturday evening, Media House boss, Jack Irvine, issued a memo to the Scottish media, saying that Levy & McRae’s Peter Watson is a trustee for his children and has no pecuniary advantage in his company.
That the two men who have partnered each other in acting on behalf of Purcell may have a friendly or other relationship has become bizarrely material in fevered speculation that has, as its root, a suspicion that no-one has been unable to rise above their social and professional networks. Irvine has even retorted that some of the coverage has been driven by a desire to settle an old score.
Every day, an amalgam of near objective journalism values, politics, personal and other reasons are brought to bear in the shaping of the news agenda. That one person’s splash is rarely another’s single par on page 17 is because of an overriding professionalism. It was perhaps less the relative lack of coverage of the Purcell case in most of the press and more the relative abundance in one newspaper, The Scotsman, that first got this particular ‘hare’ running.
And when allmediascotland.com was invited – over two weeks ago – to think dark thoughts as to why, it immediately contacted a senior editorial executive for some sage advice.
What would be surprising, he said, is if the lawyers employed by a newspaper didn’t also have clients who might periodically become the subject of an investigation by that very same newspaper. There’s an easy solution to possible conflicts of interest: you seek advice from elsewhere, and it happens more often than you think. And, at the end the day, it is only advice; there’s no obligation to use it.
It's called common sense.