The proper role of journalists viz a viz politicians and the vexed question of what a legitimate question might be has been a point of discussion here for some time. It’s an important subject. In the past legislation north and south has put severe restrictions on journalism in Ireland. For Jim Gibney, true democracy and presumably by extension a truly free press can only take place in a united Ireland. But, in the meantime, he believes the BBC should reflect the political choices of the electorate:
Despite the huge, unforeseen and welcome political changes that have taken place in the past month the old order and the old way of thinking are also to be found in sections of the media. This has been most noticeable although not exclusively so in the commentary provided by the BBC especially in their flagship programmes Hearts and Minds and Let’s Talk.
Some of the print media also reflects analysis by journalists which suggests they are locked into old battles and prejudices and have not caught up with the new circumstances and mood created by the agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP. And while the public have the ultimate sanction over these journalists by simply refusing to buy their paper the same approach does not apply to the BBC.
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 overwhelmingly voted 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.
The Gerry Adams-Ian Paisley press conference is viewed as an historical departure point; one of the most important breakthroughs since partition, paving the way for republicans and unionists to work together to peacefully resolve problems: a truly inspirational moment. But not for one BBC journalist who a few days later, amid the euphoria and optimism, asked Gerry Adams about the future existence of the IRA’s army council!
His question brought a swift and uncharacteristic put-down when Gerry Adams described it as “stupid”. Other stupid assertions followed with Sinn Féin and DUP politicians being accused by BBC journalists of selling out – on the one hand administering British rule or on the other being willingly on the road to a united Ireland.
On whose behalf are these questions being asked – the journalist or the public? What contribution are they making to the emerging new society on this island?