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Readers’ Ombudsman: We are biased towards policies that benefit our region but will NEVER tell you which way to vote

Unlike more partisan publications, we will never tell you which way to vote at the ballot box.
Unlike more partisan publications, we will never tell you which way to vote at the ballot box.

I have an important message for you if you are one of the people who has got in touch to say that this newspaper is biased when it comes to reporting politics.

You are absolutely right.

Just not in the way you think.

Dealing with the barrage of complaints we get on this can at times be baffling.

Some critics tell us in no uncertain terms that we are a nationalist-hating “Tory rag”.

Others are equally convinced that we give the SNP “a very easy ride” and deal with the government it leads with “a feather duster”.

I will gladly accept taking contradictory flak from all directions as an encouraging sign we are getting the balance about right

On one count these implacable enemies are agreed: both varieties of one-sidedness are glaringly obvious in every headline and every word published in these pages or online.

We support policies that are in the best interest of the north and north-east

So how to explain this apparently absurd contradiction? By returning to that bias I was happily confessing to, a bias we are proud to be guilty of and which we are certain most readers will understand and appreciate.

Put simply: the one and only thing we are unfailingly in support of is policies that we believe are in the best interests of the north and north-east of Scotland.

It does not matter which party proposes them, what philosophy underpins them or how slick the politician presenting them may be – local benefit is the sole measure on which we judge them.

🗳 With so much at stake, we asked leading polling expert professor Sir John Curtice to help us assess each party’s fortunes before ballots are cast on May 5.

Posted by The Press and Journal on Wednesday, 4 May 2022

If we decide they are good for the people and the communities we are proud to serve, then we will celebrate and champion them and have the Voice of the North say so loudly.

In the same way, proposals which fail to consider voters’ needs “above The Belt” or are downright damaging to them get called out just as clearly and just as loudly.

That is an approach we believe best serves our readers.

Unlike more partisan publications, we will never tell you which way to vote at the ballot box. (Worth noting that we are, contrary to some popular opinion, entirely free to do so. Our regulator Ipso neither requires us to be impartial or balanced when it comes to elections – only to clearly distinguish comment from fact and not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted material).

What we do see as our responsibility however is to make sure that every time you fulfil that precious democratic duty, you do so in the most informed way possible.

Giving a voice to different sides of key arguments

That is why we provide extensive coverage of what is being proposed by different candidates and parties, including forensic analysis of their manifestos.

It is why we do not just report on the big debates but hold our own hustings too, to put the questions that we know matter most to our readers directly to those seeking public office in our region.

And why we stimulate those debates by giving a platform in our Comment sections to powerful voices on different sides of key arguments, whether established commentators or fresh young minds entering the fray.

We carry paid-for political adverts, but never disguise them as anything other than what they are or allow them on the front page.

All this we do in a way that any reasonable observer would describe as fair, objective and impartial, without ever being guilty of “bland neutrality” as our editor in chief Frank O’Donnell put it in our own manifesto for last year’s Holyrood election.

In an ideal world of course, we would not get any angry screams of bias from either side.

But the blindly partisan out there will continue to leap on every critical word about their party, every instance where an opponent gets three column inches to their two, as proof of some kind of conniving imbalance – conveniently ignoring all the times where the reverse was true, the wider pattern across the days and weeks, not within a single article or edition.

That is, sadly, just the nature of the political debate in a country so intractably polarised over one very particular constitutional question.

So until we enter less fraught waters, I will gladly accept taking contradictory flak from all directions as an encouraging sign we are getting the balance about right.

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