NOMINATIONS for the Scottish Press Awards have been announced, and in the spirit of acidic opposition, the website Bella Caledonia has opened up nominations for “Breaking Bad – The Worst of Scottish Media”.

It was like moths to a light bulb as Bella regulars vented their spleen on Andrew Neil, Fraser Nelson and the Daily Record’s football correspondent Keith Jackson. Thus far, the nominees are a fairly predictable checklist of the journalists that have angered or irritated Scottish political Twitter – but more deeply, it is a salutatory reminder of how unpopular a species media professionals have become.

Any past associations with truth and integrity seem to have been ripped apart and journalists are regularly up there with lawyers and traffic wardens as the most despised professions – oh how the mighty of the fourth estate have crumbled.

In these feverish times, with Covid-19 laying siege on public life, closing down public events, threatening schools and casting a macabre shroud over older and vulnerable people, the media are not where you would start if you wanted to create a deserving case. But I will.

This week I want to cut through the fog of resentment and try to remind people of what life is really like in the media in Scotland. A small percentage of media workers, maybe fewer than 10%, enjoy salaried employment with sick pay and the benefits of a final salary pension scheme. Most of them work for legacy institutions with a long institutional history.

In the main, they are either in branch offices of London organisations, in perceived regional outposts or in editionised newspapers run from elsewhere. The BBC, the Times and the Daily Mail are among the employers that offer the greatest security, but beyond them working in the media can be a much bleaker world defined by precarious incomes, freelance employment and risky periods of tenure.

This virus is not simply a test of the robustness of public health – it will pose a significant challenge to the whole notion of freelancing and the gig economy.

A few days ago, I had a catch up with two colleagues, just as the bleak realities of coronavirus were beginning to bite. We were still in the mocking phase of denial, kicking ankles, bumping fists and sneezing into arm-joints. Gloria Gaynor’s hand-washing version of I Will Survive had yet to go viral or we would have included that in our rituals of having fun with a pandemic. But across the next two hours, as we drank wine and discussed our various projects, a cold, hard chill blew into the room. One friend, a sound technician, received a text cancelling a shoot that had been in his diary for months, and at a stroke had lost three weeks of work.

Another friend, a script editor, learned of breaking news from America, that flights to and from Europe were to be grounded and that Los Angeles agencies were shutting up shop and sending their staff home. It did not augur well for future offers of work. She is lucky in that her work can be done from home and so self-isolation is not in itself a problem, but when the work dries up and you are at the very end of the commissioning food chain, these are nervous and unsettling times.

The media is far from a special case, but because it is a sector almost entirely predicated on freelance, independent and out-sourced supply, it is clearly vulnerable to disruption and cancellation. By the time we had finished our night out, a darker reality had descended. This virus cannot easily be joked away, and it is already damaging or in some cases threatening people’s livelihoods and their lives.

Before I arrived home, a Twitter update came into my personal feed from The Film and TV Charity, saying they were opening advice lines for freelancers who were worried about the impact of Covid-19 and reminding people that they were able to allocate small emergency grants to help tide over stressed financial times. The emphasis was on small grants and temporary help, and nothing that would give settled reassurance for the barren months ahead.

And yesterday the German government announced immediate financial support to the arts sector and for freelancers due to the crisis.

Live sports events have also fallen foul of the virus. Some were cancelled, others postponed and many more forced to be played behind closed doors. Uefa announced an urgent video conference call of all its 55 members across Europe with the view to cancelling the cream of football competitions, including the Champions League and Europa League, and throwing doubt on the timing of Euro 2020.

MOST sports news tends to focus on the events themselves and the teams and players that feature in them, never the event management staff or media infrastructure that brings the games to television. Once again the work is predominantly outsourced via a network of suppliers, media agencies and freelance crew.

Although Scotland has not featured in major football tournaments in recent times, its talent has. Crews from Scotland working variously for Sky, IMG, Sunset and Vine, or directly for Uefa, now face a serious threat to their livelihood. By mid-day Friday, the sporting economy was in crisis. Scottish football was cancelled, the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Vietnam became the next victim and several football clubs raised concerns about their viability, with no prospect of income from matches and with players still contracted to be paid for years to come.

The SPFL announced there was no prospect of compensation since there was no rainy-day fund to draw on.

This in itself is a public scandal – an organisation so beholden to its membership that it pays out all its revenues with none held back in reserve.

What greedy folly brought those circumstances about and how many more times can the casino economy of Scottish football be so publicly exposed?

The virus was now cutting a swathe through the arts. Aye Write, Glasgow’s major literary festival, was next to fall, and numerous music tours were brought to a halt. Robbie Williams, Madonna and Pearl Jam all announced cancellations.

Politicians were principally leading on public health strategies as they moved our attention from the “containment” to the “delay” phase, placing a new emphasis on how to delay the impact of the virus and manage its peak of impact, in ways that could assist the health services.

What was transparently absent from public discourse was how to support the millions of people on freelance, short-term or cancelled contracts of employment. People that felt they had a secure income yesterday but don’t today.

Of all the politicians that rushed to announce new public policies, only Bernie Sanders, buoyed by winning the California Democratic primary, stuck up for the freelancers.

A champion of the lower paid, if not always the workers on his own campaign team, Sanders went in to bat on behalf of employees on short-term or zero-hours contracts.

Sanders argued that people should receive medical care for this virus regardless of their ability to pay, including any future treatment or vaccines that are developed.

Then turning to emergency unemployment assistance, he specifically addressed those that have been made unemployed by the virus, many of whom are contract workers or freelancers.

Sanders demanded a new unemployment concordat that would guarantee emergency salaries of up to $1150 a week. He called for a moratorium on evictions and aggressive tax demands on sole traders.

None of Sanders’s recommendations in the USA have been as vociferously argued here in the UK yet.

This is a virus that is a danger to the health and welfare of older citizens – but it is also a threat to freelance employees in nearly every sector in Scotland.