“that says a great deal about the level of journalism that exists in Northern Ireland”

While I’m probably not the best person *ahem* to point this out, the Belfast Telegraph report on the latest from Hain’s the Preparation for Government Committee reads more like a press release than a report – after all, the consensus around a single Department for Justice and Policing was evident in the minutes from the 9th August. Perhaps it’s not that surprising, given what was recorded in the most recent minutes released from the Committee, dated 16th AugustFrom those minutes it’s clear that the politicians have as low an opinion of the journalists as the journalists may well have of the politicians..

The Chairman (Mr Wells): There are some practical issues that I hope will short and sharp to deal with.

First, I am conscious that the Committee has been meeting for the past two months; members have given up their holidays, and some individuals, whom I will not name — there are certainly half a dozen — have been extremely faithful and have been here at practically every meeting. Despite that, there does not seem to be any perception of that in the media. I am talking not about our discussions or disagreements, but the fact that the meetings have taken place. The Subgroup on the Economic Challenges facing Northern Ireland has issued press releases to keep the media updated, and I am conscious that the Committee has not done that.

I have had a brief discussion with the Committee Clerks, and we have scribbled out a draft press release for your approval. You will be glad to hear that it is not too controversial. To be honest, I have been disappointed that there has been so little media coverage on the effort that members have made.

Mr McFarland: Chairman, one of my colleagues raised the issue with a senior journalist. He enquired why that was the case, given that Hansard is available on the web and that anyone who is interested in politics could find some of the issues that the Committee has discussed during the past two months very fascinating.

Mr Kennedy: Steady on.

Mr McFarland: The word was that they were not getting press releases and could not be bothered to read Hansard. I thought to myself, wow — that says a great deal about the level of journalism that exists in Northern Ireland.

Mr Weir: I do not know who that journalist was. However, I suggest that he was being slightly economical with the truth. I have been to several meetings of the economic subgroup. A press release that roughly outlines the evidence that was presented has been issued after almost every one of those meetings. That information is in digestible form and tends to be a page or so in length. However, those press releases have been completely ignored.

According to one newspaper, Committee meetings supposedly occur only when the trustees of the Assembly Members’ Pension Scheme (Northern Ireland) 2000 meet, despite the fact that either the Preparation for Government Committee or its subgroup meets every day.

Sometimes, the media will run the stories that it wants to, irrespective of the information that it has been given. It is essential that the Committee issues press releases in the interests of openness and trans­parency and keeps the public informed of the facts.

The Chairman (Mr Wells): Admittedly, the draft press release is somewhat bland. It states that the Preparation for Government Committee has continued to meet over the summer recess and will continue to make efforts to scope the issues that are to be resolved prior to devolution. It goes on to say that, in addition to the meetings of the economic challenges subgroup, which will report to the Committee on 25 August, the Committee has been meeting three days per week. Members have been discussing institutional issues, law and order issues, and equality and shared future issues. Today, the Committee discussed devolution of policing and justice, and policing issues generally.

There is not much to the press release: it is simply to show that we are working away and doing something.

Mr McFarland: Is it worth sending a copy of Hansard to each of the major media outlets? I wonder whether a political editor would be more inclined to have a quick glance through Hansard if there was a copy on his or her desk. It is more difficult to go on the Internet, scroll through it, print it all out etc. Do members see any merit in that? A copy costs about £8.

The Committee Clerk: It costs £5.

Mr McFarland: Perhaps the budget would not stretch to that.

The Chairman (Mr Wells): It is a big undertaking. We need to speak to the Assembly press office about that and also ask that at least a press release is sent to advise editors where to find the Hansard on the Assembly website. I spoke to the editor of one of our biggest newspapers yesterday who was totally unaware that it was available.

Mr McFarland: The Hansard reports would need to be sent to the ‘Belfast Telegraph’, the ‘News Letter, ‘The Irish News’ and ‘Daily Ireland’. They could also be sent to the BBC and UTV, and perhaps to the ‘Daily Mirror’ or whatever else is in circulation.

The Chairman (Mr Wells): Can we agree to send a copy of the most up-to-date Hansard to alert the media? Are members happy with the standard press release?

Mr McFarland: Alerting the media on how to find Hansard may help to some extent, but journalists are just idle.

Mr Kennedy: Normally, when a press release is issued to attract wider attention, it includes a point of contact for further comment. Have you given any thought to that or does modesty forbid you?

The Chairman (Mr Wells): Mr Molloy and I can handle any procedural queries on what the Committee is doing. Beyond that, questions must be referred to the lead spokesman from each party.

Mr Kennedy: Will you and Mr Molloy be in the same radio car this time?

The Chairman (Mr Wells): That is unlikely.

Mr Weir: I have a small point on the accuracy of press releases. When referring to a discussion on policing and justice issues and, strictly speaking, our remit is identifying obstacles to devolution on those issues, what would be the title of the press release?

The Chairman (Mr Wells): We could amend that accordingly.

Mr Weir: The real remit is looking at the impediments.

The Chairman (Mr Wells): I assume that we have consensus on issuing 10 copies of Hansard to the media and on releasing the press release. Are members content?

Members indicated assent.[emphasis added]

I will, however, repeat the points I made in my comments from the 18th August – points which, I believe, do play an important role in this..

The time-lag in appearance, and the somewhat haphazard nature, of the Hansard record of Hain’s the Preparation For Government Committee may have something to do with the apparent desire of some parties to spin announce what they want it to be seen to have happened as quickly as they can. But the record is eventually appearing, and it’s worth reading if you have time.

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  • Silly bloggers? Luddite.

  • Pete Baker

    El Mat

    Pol does have a point about the mindless abuse that greets some journalists’ articles.. here more than on most blogs.

    Although he really should try to learn more about the medium before filling some space on the printed page.. even if he does get paid for it.

  • Belfast Gonzo


    If I was a betting man, I’d say you’ll be blogging here long after some columnists…

  • Garibaldy

    Pol O Muiri is a nice guy, but the article does betray something of the arrogance of many journalists, who think they are serious players who set the agenda and lead the way for the ignorant public. The comments about bloggers being failed journalists doesn’t become him, as well as being untrue.

  • Dualta

    Pol O’Muiri is right to a certain degree. There are those who abuse this medium to engage in vicious and nasty attacks on people, eg journalists, politicians, whole communities and faiths, and, of course, each other.

    I blog under a pseudonym for professional reasons. Many do. Otherwise it’s too dangerous to be expressing political views overtly. People in the many professions work cross community and must be careful.

    I believe though, that if you’re going to attack people on a personal level, you should have the courage to do so up front, rather than from behind the mask of a pseudonym.

  • I’d love to see Pól Ó Muirí blogging and getting paid for it on the Belfast Telegraph

    In the article mentioned he has a lot of valid points…
    A friend’s article was recently blogged, that is to say, her article was put up on a site, given a short introduction and comments were then invited.

    Naively, I tipped her off, thinking she would be pleased with the feedback. (Rule Number Three: journalists love attention.)

    I regretted the decision almost immediately. Every bitter, twisted, jealous internet junkie crawled out from under their PCs and began to lambast her on the commentary pages.

    It was nasty, vindictive, ignorant and vicious – and the greater part of the ‘analysis’ was carried out from the safety of a pseudonym and by people who obviously did not read her article but were simply indulging their prejudices.

    Professional journalists earn brass necks and thick skin and, unlike web-wasters, they put their names and faces to their material.

    I’d like to see these web-wasters also start blogging and hopefully get as good as they’ve given. This would give the journalists so often quoted and ridiculed on blogs the opportunity to get their own back.

  • Peking

    His friend, I take it, was Finola Meredith.

  • fair_deal

    I have a nagging suspicion this refers to the Fiona Meredith piece from the Village.

    On the anonymity I am in a pretty similar position as to Dualta.

    Journos are getting paid for what they do, they are supposed to be professionals.

    The growth in blogging is partially fed by the continuing drop in media standards. People want quality and a breadth that the mainstream media has increasing difficulty or even no desire to provide so people go elsewhere.

    Journalism has had a comfort blanket that they could write their pieces and columns and if it pleased the editor have no concerns. They could congratulate themsleves and win awards from other journalists. Any gripes in the letter pages they would ignore. Now they get more of a response much more quickly and they don’t like it.

    Also don’t tell me there are not lots of journos and columnists out there not trawling blogs for stories and themes.


    “I’d like to see these web-wasters also start blogging and hopefully get as good as they’ve given. This would give the journalists so often quoted and ridiculed on blogs the opportunity to get their own back”

    I haven’t noticed any particular reluctance among those who comment on blogs to give an opinion about the blogger as well.

  • John Maynard

    What have you heard, Gonzo? Some juicy gossip perhaps? Did somebody crash their car drunk, claim it had been stolen then get done for wasting police time?

  • mickhall

    This article reeks of fear and arrogance, many columnists are some of the most unprincipled and pliable people, otherwise they would not be in the job. I often wonder if any of them have it written in their contracts that their work will not be edited, I doubt it.

    Recently I sent in a piece to a national newspaper, I received an email back saying, “great, we want to publish it, but could Ihey suggest certain changes, could you drop all mention of the court case as it looks like you are calling the politician a liar.

    Now as the piece was about a certain high profile politician who had shall we say been economical with the truth during a court case, if I were to alter it, it would be the reverse of what I intended. When I refused, the manners went out the window and he reacted as if I had rejected his leg up, which thinking back I suppose I had.

    That the guy thought like this epitomized much of the media, it is all about networking, who one knows, what you can do for me etc. I doubt the guy gave a thought to the fact that the only reason I wrote the piece was to get my opinion across.

    As this also why 99% of people blog, I suppose we should not be surprised with Pol O’Muiri attitude, after all he says himself his priority which makes him write is payment.

  • Pete Baker

    I’m beginning to think I shouldn’t have put the link to Pol’s short article at the start of the original post..

    Few people seem to have gotten past it to the comments from the politicians on journalists..

  • jone

    mickhall – let me get this straight: editor wants to remove what is in his professional opinion a libel and you spit the dummy? Grow up.

  • fair_deal
    I’d like to see these “web wasters” initiate/create blog posts, not just comment. Commenters, I would suggest, find it easier to give opinions about bloggers especialy “nasty, vindictive, ignorant and vicious” comments.

    You can blame me, I’ve more interest in what Pol says than the usual we hear from politicians.

  • Pete Baker

    You can blame me, I’ve more interest in what Pol says than the usual we hear from politicians.

    Oh, I do blame you, CyberS. ;p

  • Pete
    Or you could blame the politicians over the years that have influenced me. You could blame Pól Ó Muirí and his writing style and content.Or blame that LINK for being too close to the title and too easy for people like me who suffer from a “link clicking disorder” to click🙂

  • Miss Fitz

    Sorry, I am coming late to this thread, and from what I can gather, it is referring to the piece I submitted on Finola Meredith’s article in the Village.

    A couple of points.

    I am not a failed journalist. I haven’t actually tried to be one, as I never faniced it, so having not tried I cannot have failed. In fact, I am a reasonably succesful woman who rose to the challenge of there being no female blogger on Slugger, and decided to present some opinion pieces on this site.

    I write under a pseudonym because this activity brings no financial reward or compensation, and I wish to keep a distance between what I do for a living and what I do for fun. Journalists get paid to write stories, it is fair and reasonable that they put their name to them. I still need to work in my field for a living, and as I am the keeper of much sensitive information, I have decided to keep this kind of distance to protect me and my client base. I also make a point of never referring to my work, what I do, what it involves or who I work with. This is a vital element that allows me to blog.

    This is a very different medium, a growing field, but one that has not yet offered the security, legal resources and pay & conditions. The day someone can offer me a salary commesurate with the one I make now, you can have my name, number, shoe size and address.

    I do not report here, I give my opinions and views. That is a critical difference between what a journalist does and what I do. I can see that it isnt going down terribly well, but perhaps this is the first time that journalists are having their dominance in the field of public opinion challenged.

    People write to me with information, stories, news, gossip and more. Sometimes I act on it, sometimes I dont. My particular role on this site is to call it like I see it. It’s my opinion, and in a free world, I am entitled to express it. I can do that in the pub, in a club, in my car or on the internet. As long as my opinion does not become libellous and remains in good taste, then it is not an issue

    Perhaps the issue is with lazy journalism being aksed to look into a mirror and defend practices it got away with for a long time. I have posted positive opinions on positive pieces, but if something looks skewed or presumptive, you better believe I am going to mention it

    The public may not have had a voice, but they seem to have developed one now, and it doesnt look like its going away any time soon.

  • Miss Fitz

    Oh yeah, and the comments in the ‘Silly Blogger’ piece about ‘payment envy’ were cute, coming a couple of days after I had to take an anonymous commenter to task for penis envy.

    I can take this lark or leave it, but you wonder what you are doing right to push so many buttons?

  • Miss Fitz,
    On the article itself
    A friend’s article was recently blogged, that is to say, her article was put up on a site, given a short introduction and comments were then invited.
    The site isn’t named. The article was posted on a site and comments invited.It looks to me that the post itself was fine, so much so that
    “Naively, I tipped her off, thinking she would be pleased with the feedback.
    I’d read what Pól Ó Muirí wrote @ http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/opinion/story.jsp?story=704105 as a fair comment on some commenters on some N.I. blogs/forums.
    I’d also suggest that some readers of this blog only read posts by their favourite bloggers on here and I’m sure you could be nearly the top of the list. 🙂

  • Pete Baker

    Miss Fitz

    The reference by Pól was both specific, but anonymous, and general.. as was his target, so I wouldn’t take it too personally.

    It’s worth pointing out that Pol’s self-admitted lack of knowledge about bloggers, and blogging in general, would strongly suggest that he doesn’t fully realise the difference between the blog post itself, and what happens in the comment zone.. where any offense has probably been committed.

    And its also worth pointing out, to Pól et al, that we do try to encourage a civil discussion about what is written.. by directing commenters to our commenting policy and trying to apply it when necessary/possible.

    Now perhaps someone has a comment on what the politicians think of journalists…

  • Miss Fitz

    Pete and CS, thank you both very much. I really do try hard to be fair, honest, and objective but I may take a harder line on trolls on my threads in future. If it does not to further the debate or is unnecesarily person not ball, or just pisses me off, it will be deleted. (I think)

    You’ve both been reassuring and I needed that!!

  • Now perhaps someone has a comment on what the politicians think of journalists…
    I’ll dare to say the local ones featured in that “Assembly sketch” would rate journalists much the same as the Secretary of State. Further on in the report…

    Mr S Wilson: Some questions are technical, so we want him to have advance notice so that we get full answers. If it entices him to come along, there is no reason not to give the Secretary of State the questions in advance. There will be supplementary questions anyway.

    Mr Kennedy: Chairman, wherever the Secretary of State is with his bucket and spade, he has access to the Hansard reports of this Committee.

    Mr S Wilson: I am sure that he is not reading them.

    The Chairman (Mr Wells): I am sure that his officials, at least, are reading them on his behalf.

    The Committee Clerk: They will have only read the Hansard reports that have been agreed. The Secretary of State does not receive draft copies, so he will be a bit behind.

    Mr S Wilson: He is probably awaiting the next episode with baited breath.

    It’s reassuring to know we have “Sound of music ” fans as politicians too…
    The Chairman (Mr Wells): The Clerk has asked whether members want to autograph the issues before they are sent out.

    A communication from the economic challenges subgroup, in Alan Patterson’s name, has been handed to each member. As you can see, members of the subgroup are keen to hear the views of Maria Eagle, but she is on leave until the end of August. Apparently, MPs do not work at all during August.

    Mr Kennedy: How do you solve a problem like Maria?

    Mr Weir: By not making jokes about it.

    Pete,I might just get into politics soon. God help us 😉

  • Donnacha

    On the blogger vs journo issue, what happens when a blogger is a journalist in his/her spare time? DO they look on themselves with scorn for doing for free what they would otherwise do for money? As a (professional) journalist and amateur blogger I am desperate to know.

  • Pete Baker


    “Mr S Wilson: He is probably awaiting the next episode with baited breath.”

    That’s from Hansard? *sheesh*

    Bated breath, people, bated!


    I’d reckon any serious journalist would take exception to Pól’s job description itself.. although, as a blogger, I may just have a completely different motivation…

    Hey.. perhaps that’s it…

  • from…
    Cruel Clever Cat
    by Geoffrey Taylor

    Sally, having swallowed cheese,
    Directs down holes the scented breeze,
    Enticing thus with baited breath
    Nice mice to an untimely death.

    Pete, look how many e-mails you’ve to post to get them to correct their spelling from this lot of journalists


    CS 🙂

    weres the spelchequer gawn?