McLaughlin: what is wrong with the media?

Mitchel McLaughlin, General Secretary of Sinn Fein, wonders if the media is responsible for the growing cynicism in Northern Irish society with regards to the political process . He questions the assessments being made of the state of mind of the general public, and suggests that the media may effectively be making an ‘editorial decision’ first and then asking people after. In particular he questions the judgement that there is a collective responsibility on all players for make politics work in NI, when, he argues, ‘it is only the DUP which refuses to participate in a fully functioning Assembly’From Mitchel McLaughlin

Is it just me or do others agree that certain sections of the media contribute greatly to the perceived cynicism within our society towards the political process? The general public are variously described as disillusioned, turned off or disinterested in politics in this part of the world. But who makes these assessments? Is it those referred to as the ‘general public’? No, very often it is political commentators, and journalists. Commentators who have the power to influence the mood and opinion of the ‘general public’ in a manner that no other section of society possesses! I would appeal to the more responsible of them to exercise this power in a more positive and factual manner.

For instance, consider the reporting of the political impasse that parties are attempting to map a way out of. Invariably when we listen to the ‘News’ or read a ‘Newspaper’ the situation is described as the responsibility of all the Parties. This is of course not factually correct. Of the four main parties in the Assembly and all of the Independents it is only the DUP that refuse to participate in a fully functioning Assembly on the basis of equality of mandates. What is it in the psyche of political commentators that prevents them from being definitive in informing the ‘general public’ when anyone other than republicans are believed to be responsible? The general response from those in the media when asked this question is “that it is in the interest of balance”. But is it the remit of journalists to distort a particular circumstance in order to spare the sensitivities of particular political parties or opinions? I don’t believe it is. I believe that it is the responsibility of the media to report the news factually and not to dress it up to fit a particular agenda.

For many years republicans because of censorship had to be extra resourceful in order to get our message out and I believe that despite the best efforts of governments and political opponents we were by and large successful in that endeavour. While continuing to engage proactively with all sections of the media we will continue to rely heavily on our own resources to deliver our message to the public. I have no fear of any organ of the media factually reporting and scrutinising the activities of Sinn Féin and its public representatives but I would ask that they apply equal diligence to the affairs of other political parties and politicians in their public activities.

It is not good enough for commentators to regularly misrepresent events by the liberal use of such comments as ‘they’re equally to blame’, ‘both communities’, ‘all parties’ and ‘everybody accepts’. This applies equally to the reporting of acts of political violence or sectarianism as it does to reporting of political issues and is an abdication of responsible journalism and a disservice to the ‘general public’. The media should without fear or favour identify defaulters based on the facts of the situation.

The public expect News organisations to factually and honestly report events as they occur. They expect and accept that politicians will present events in a manner that will project their party in the best possible light. But they do not expect or deserve News organisations that present opinion or allegations as fact in order to satisfy a particular political agenda or bias.

Perhaps if there was less of an obsession within sections of the media with the idea that every report has to be ‘balanced’ and more focus on facts, then maybe a better informed general public would develop a healthier attitude to politics and demand that politicians deliver on what they were elected to do. They would certainly be better equipped to identify those parties and politicians unwilling to deliver on the mandates entrusted to them by the electorate.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

donate to keep slugger lit