“Information is the lifeblood of freedom. It is also its most contentious commodity.”

As the BBC’s editors’ blog notes, the UN designated May 3 as World Press Freedom Day in 1993 and it’s been observed as such ever since. But in the Irish News, Jim Gibney uses the occasion[subs req] to re-frame the debate about journalists being “well-behaved” and, in particular, to criticise BBC journalists for asking ‘stupid’ questions. By way of the Guardian’s Peter Preston, fortunately, here’s a useful corrective. Adds Newshound has the de-subscripted articleJim Gibney’s argument [subs req] against the BBC is founded on a misconception of the role of journalists.. even publicly funded journalists.

Other media outlets might aspire to be objective and claim they are. The BBC has to prove it is because it is funded by the licence-paying public. In theory BBC journalists do not have the same freedom to peddle their personal views.

There is a public expectation that BBC journalists will be objective and their comments broadly reflect the mood of the licence-paying public.

The licence-paying public voted overwhelmingly for an administration led by the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Yet over the past month BBC journalists have harried Sinn Féin and DUP politicians with questions which are negative, which instil pessimism and could undermine the public’s hopeful mood.

If that public expectation is there, that BBC journalists should “broadly reflect the mood of the licence-paying public” and to not, by implication, ask ‘stupid’ questions – and it’s not my expectation – then that expectation is fundamentally wrong.

As Peter Preston correctly identifies

Politicians and journalists may work, drink, dine and go on holiday together. Some journalists may even become politicians, or vice-versa. But the roles are separate, and essentially adversarial. Politicians run governments and seek to exercise power in the name of the people. Journalists serve those people directly day by day, for they are their readers and viewers. They do not, if they’re wise, want power for themselves. They do, though, have a direct hand in the workings of democracy. Their stock in trade is information (which, to be frank, the politicians wish to keep under wraps). Information is the lifeblood of freedom. It is also its most contentious commodity. Most battles between press and politics are really information wars.

That applies whether the BBC – and by extension the journalists who work there – is funded through the licence fee or not. And, in case the point isn’t clear, sometimes that information can only be revealed by asking questions that some politicians might want to characterise as ‘stupid’.

Of course it could just be another case of someone demanding that everyone should simply accept the “agreed truth”..

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  • jake

    no matter how hard they try, the provos keep on showing their slips, on this occasion it is leading sinn fein think tank member jim gibney who lets the cat out of the bag;
    his views on the media produce a number of conclusions. one is that the provos are a bunch of intolerant control freaks who cannot tolerate dissent or disagreement. another is that their once principled opposition to media censorship is, like the rest of their politics, a fraud. people like jim gibney, and especially his boss, the big lad, would happily silence all but the most obsequious voices in the media. the only aspect of section 31’s censorship regulations that applied during the 1970’s to the 1990’s or the british broadcasting ban introduced in the 1980’s that sinn fein really objected to is that the restrictions on the media’s freedom was directed and aimed at sinn fein!
    for these two reasons the prospect of these people having access to power in belfast and a share of it in dublin is something that fills me – and i trust many others – with dread. they are of the stuff that fascists are made of;
    consider the logic of what gibney is saying if it was applied to other places or in other times;
    in the 1960’s the vast majority of people in northern ireland voted for a right-wing unionist government who considered catholics and nationalists as second-class citizens. in those days the bbc reflected this situation and banned programmes or items that criticised the political status quo or which even held it up for scrutiny. yet i am sure that jim gibney and his chuckie mates would be the first to have condemned the bbc for such lickspittle obedience to the unionist government and they would criticise the bbc to this day for their behavious. yet this is exactly the sort of attitude and approach to programme-making that he now wants the bbc to adopt today in the light of sinn fein and the dup winning power at stormont!
    the logic of jim gibney’s argument also is that the american media were quite correct in not scrutinising or questioning george w bush’s claims that iraq was behind 9/11 or that saddam hussein’s regime was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons to use against american cities. by gibney’s light the u.s. media behaved as they should have done, never questioning the power structure and allowing bush to lead his country into a war which has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents;
    equally, according to gibney’s logic, the german media was right not to question where hitler was going in the 1930’s, the russian media were right to stay silent during stalin’s purges and the irish media was right to ignore the birmingham six and guildford four for so many years;
    this is the just a taste of what is in store for ireland, north and south, with people like gibney and his masters in power. god help you all!

  • rapunsel

    Some good points Jake but i’m not sure that all SF members and elected representatives would agree with Jim Gibney. Jim is increasingly like a mirror image of Gail Walker in the Belfast Telegraph except his writing is a lot worse. He doesn’t even see the irony of using an opinion piece in a newspaper to essentially attack the freedom of speech of journalists and essentially wants all of the media to act as spin doctors for the great leaders.

    I expect that many of the Irish News purchasing public think Gibney a fool and are sick of his polemical party political propaganda masquerading as intelligent comment. Perhaps the Irish News might act on that and get a columnist that doesn’t gush and eulogise in every other sentence

  • jake

    rapunsel: the point about gibney is that his nickname in the provos is ‘his master’s voice’, his master being, of course, gerry adams!

  • rapunsel

    I didn’t know that. The thing is his articles never usually say anything worthwhile – usually just a monotonous diatribe. His opinions as voiced today greatly concerned me. I wonder what his views are in terms of freedom of information wrt government.

    [play the ball – edited moderator]

  • Pete Baker


    The argument itself is fairly clear.

    Can we keep the ad hominem comments to a minimum, please.

  • jone

    Surely the role of the media during a period of happy smiling optimism is to be a shower of awkard, parade-raining bastards?

    Otherwise they may as well give up and go home, handing their jobs to people who are good at shorthand and typing without asking too many questions about what the politicians say.

    [play the ball – edited moderator]

  • jake

    pete baker: what in the name of god is ad hominem about mentioning gibney’s nickname, something that is widely known and has even been written about! wise up and stop crawling to these creeps!!!!

  • Pete Baker


    Your comment was not moderated. So I fail to see why you seem so personally agrieved.

    On the wider note…

    It should be fairly straight-forward to argue against the case made by Jim Gibney..

    But ad hominem comments will only distract from that discussion.

    If there is a continued inability to keep to the ball.. then I’ll just have to close the commenting option on this post.

    And that would be to no-one’s benefit.

  • Shore Road Resident

    There’s something else going on in the background here . Adams knew he’d f***ed up with the “stupid questions” remark. He made a very crawley “happy Easter and I love you all really” style remark to the assembled NI media at a subsequent press conference and Richard McCauley phoned BBC management to apologise and smooth things over.
    But now we’ve got Gibney casting it up all over again, and to what end? Has the small matter of Gerry’s enormous ego caused a spot of friction in the kitchen cabinet? Doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would end up going so public but I can’t think of another explanation – except that Gibney has lost the run of himself without checking back to base first, which frankly isn’t very credible either.

    In any case, a laughable article which will cause snorts of derision in newsrooms across town. The Shinners can try this sort of stuff on all they like – it doesn’t work and it isn’t going to work. Get with the 21st century, guys.

  • The Dubliner

    SRR, you could be right. Gibney’s target audience for his article isn’t journalists; it’s nationalist voters who saw the mask slip and the quasi-facist face of PSF revealed to Mark Davenport. Gigney is doing “they deserved it” damage limitation.

    Gibney argument (as Jake pointed out) is hogwash: the role of the media is not to prop-up the status quo or rationalise popular concensus. Indeed, if the media did as Gibney instructs, he’d quickly find out that the “mood of the licence-paying public” in the United Kingdom is one of utter contempt toward Sinn Fein. Or does Gibney only wish that the section of the BCC “licence-paying public” who support Stormont (Northern Ireland) should be considered? What of RTE’s “licence-paying public”? Their ‘mood’ confines PSF to a handful of Dial seats that are traditionally reserved for those on the lunatic fringe of Irish politics. Should RTE not reflect this public mood and dismiss the Shinners as assuredly as the the public have dismissed them? I don’t expect Gibney to be consistent there – for some strange reason.

    Now that the Shinners are converted to majority rule, perhaps they should support a system that allows actually the majority to rule? But perhaps they’d also conclude that will of the majority must not censor the will of the minority after all, were they to follow their own logic all the way back to the majority rule of Unionists. Still, it’s better to have them arguing – out of self-serving interest – that the will of the majority must take precedence than arguing that the will of the majority when it was expressed in opposition to PSF’s murder camapaign was of no relevance and was to be duly ignored.

  • The BBC has always been an MI5 front. Just look at how enthusiastic they were for the illegal war in Iraq. There is no need to defend the hired hacks of the BBC here as they have one of the world’s best websites to do that for them.
    The BBC follows an agenda just like MI5 does. As Gibney has been around the block a few times, he has some idea how this stuff works and if not guys like Denis and Richard McA can teach him. He is asked to write op eds because of his position not because of his O levels in English.

    If BBC journalists were such crusaders, they would have high fatality rates like journos do in the Philippines. But as they are the establishment, they don’t.

  • BP1078

    Just look at how enthusiastic they were for the illegal war in Iraq.


  • jone

    Ahh Seamas,

    As I remember it the BBC lost a Director General and a Chairman over their ‘enthusiasm’ for the Iraq war, but maybe I’ve got it wrong.

    Still I’m sure friends of Kate Peyton and Simon Cumbers appreciate your enthusiasm for dead journalists.

  • jake

    pete baker: guess i have to spell it out for you while speaking very slowly – gibney is called ‘his master’s voice’ because he echoes and mirrors the views, opinions, tactics and ambitions of gerry adams – therefore when he writes an article urging self-censorship by the bbc it is reasonable to assume that these are also the views of his party leader – that is why this is not an ad hominem attack but a perfectly reasonable comment – my anger was due to your inability to understand this very simple reality!

  • rapunsel

    The comment of mine censored used the word
    ” Lickspittle ”

    I see now that this would not be a fair or appropriate description of Mr Gibney.

  • The Dubliner

    Rapunsel, go now and sin no more.

  • MichaelD

    My favorite Gibney line is how questions asked by BBC journalists could “instil pessimism and could undermine the public’s hopeful mood.” This is straight out of the good old Soviet Union. The job of writers is to combat “pessimism” and not undermine the “hopeful mood” of the people. Maybe the more appropriate analogy here is De Valera’s Ireland in 30s/40s and 50s. Does this mean that the DUP has a better position on freedom of speech than Sin Fein?
    And Gibney is the intellectual who sits at the right hand of Mr. Adams? Yikes!