We must remember who “we” are, especially when home nations clash in sport

The Only Way is Ethics: Our coverage of last week’s football was not as one-sided as the match itself

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The Independent Online

There is nothing like a good sporting rivalry, whether between individuals (think Coe versus Ovett), domestic teams (Ipswich Town and the mighty Norwich City) or nations – as manifested in the Ashes, for instance.

If England are playing, or Team GB is in action, most media outlets take a greater interest in the performance of our national stars than the opposition. Journalism reflects the public’s understandable focus on “our boys” or “our girls”.

But when home nations come up against each other, there is a need for care when it comes to presentation. The majority of The Independent’s readers may be in England and its journalists may largely be based in the south; yet it is a national, British paper. In relation to our coverage of last week’s football match between England and Scotland, a reader suggested we had got our tone wrong, giving the impression that we were primarily concerned with England at the expense of their opponents.

This taps into wider questions about the future of the United Kingdom itself, especially in light of the upheaval of September’s Scottish referendum.

Our editorial line vis-à-vis the referendum was that the UK was better together. Yet the perception of the London-based “national” media as paternalistic and patronising is almost as significant a motivating factor among many Scottish Nationalists as the feeling that those at Westminster are out of touch and out of sympathy with Scotland. If, as a newspaper, we want to change that perception, it is important to show commitment to serving Britons across the country.

As it happens, our coverage of last week’s football was not as one-sided as the match itself. True, our list of “five things we learned” all related to England. But we also ran a lengthy analysis about where Gordon Strachan’s team are heading. Perhaps the fortunes of the Scottish national side are of more interest to England fans than vice versa.

Being in favour of the Union does not mean that the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish should be barred from taking the piss out of each other. But for national newspapers based in England there is an imperative not to exclude the other home nations from expressions of “we”.


Being careful with the ‘cult’ card

Refer to any organisation as a “cult” and its adherents are likely to suggest you have made a terrible mistake. The aggressive and persistent nature of the complaints often speaks volumes about the accuracy of the description.

A report on The Independent’s website last week reported suggestions that supermodel Ruslana Korshunova had connections with a group called Rose of the World before she took her own life in 2008. Rose of the World, which follows the teaching of Russian mystic Daniil Andreev, holds itself out as a new world religion which will bind together those which currently exist. We termed it a cult; not so, said a reader, it is a sect.

Now, if a sect is a sub-group of an existing religious belief system, then it is hard to see how Rose of the World could be described as such. The fact that followers are reportedly subjected to dehumanizing treatment on courses run by the group gives the “cult” description some weight.

Journalists have a duty not simply to use descriptions that dubious groups themselves prefer (Isis would much prefer Islamic State for instance).  But equally, some labels can be attached too easily. Rose of the World may be a cult but if terms like that are to have any real meaning they must be used judiciously.