Whatever the discussion of the proper role of the media in relation to the elected government, there is always two sides to any argument. Anthony McIntyre takes issue with Jim Gibney’s argument (earlier discussion here) that the BBC should seek to reflect the political choices of the electorate “rather than peddle their own personal views”. McIntyre argues that it is tantamount to requiring journalists to become “mood manipulators rather than conduits of accurate information. In essence Gibney is calling on journalists to be self-censorious in order to accommodate the dominant societal view”.McIntyre believes, though, that the argument should be seen the context of recent events:
The problem, however, is that Gibney is only the cutting edge of a more widespread assault on the freedom of the media to monitor the centres of power and ask questions that society otherwise would rather not hear.
Recently two journalists, Suzanne Breen and Liam Clarke, were forced to publicly raise their concerns that Sinn Féin was seeking to dictate news content by refusing to allow either journalist to interview its spokespeople. The northern editors of the Sunday Tribune and Sunday Times respectively, both Breen and Clarke have reputations for digging deeper than politicians feel comfortable with.
In the run up to agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP on the formation of a new power splitting administration Gerry Adams told one of the BBC’s most prominent journalists not to ask ‘stupid questions’ concerning the future of the IRA’s army council. But given that the activities of the army council, in the eyes of most observers, brought down the last agreed administration in 2002, it would be negligent of any journalist to avoid the issue.
The task of the media is not to parrot the consensus in society but to ask questions of it. How otherwise are minority concerns and rights to be protected? The democratic function that media performs in society is only safeguarded when the media has autonomy from the society it serves. Its task is to produce clarity over ambiguity. While that may not be to the liking of Sinn Féin, it is essential for democracy to be extended and deepened throughout Northern Irish society.
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