Media, politicians and reinforcement of the dominant view

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.

And finally:

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.

  • SuperSoupy

    McIntyre like others on this site has taken an argument relating to a state funded body, the BBC, and expanded it to the entire media.

    It’s dishonest and spin.

    The points raised by Gibney relate to the compulsory payment for journalism from the BBC that often doesn’t reflect the opinions of a massive chunk of society or sets a narrative tone against them.

    No one has argued for journalists to be silenced or controlled but the specific issue of the unique funding arrangement for the BBC and therefore it’s responsibility for scrupulous balance and fairness is being buried under spin and nonsense.

    If Mackers wants to address a broader issue he should but to do so while ignoring the actual issue being raised and twisting it to another area is a weak way to do it.

    The issue was the BBC, funding and balance. That ain’t going away no matter how much doctoring is applied to the ball.

  • Mick Fealty

    If you look at the rest of the article you’ll find his base premise is wider than Jim’s article.

  • páid

    Hear hear.

    Clarke hit by flying chickens coming home to roost.

    A reputation for digging deeper?

    Don’t make me laugh.

  • SuperSoupy


    I see McIntyre ignoring the central issue then linking spurious arguments from unrelated issues.

    He ignores Gibney’s central point on balance in state media.

    He raises the legitimate desire to control media output during an election. Breen/Clarke didn’t have access during an election as they are hostile to SF I don’t see why they would expect it. Seems a normal political tactic during an election.

    As for politicians calling on journalism to look at the positives. If that’s a conspiracy then every political party in history is in on the game.

    He has ignored the central issue and then drawn in separate and understandable political decisions or calls to try and create a theme or set a narrative of attempts to silence/control the media.

    It’s 2+2=The shinners are fascists trying to control us all. And completely ignores the point raised.

    This kind of narrative setting is fine in independent media the issue is the compulsory payment for it from the BBC something he doesn’t/won’t address.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    ”It’s 2+2=The shinners are fascists trying to control us all.”

    I daresay it’s an improvement on trying to kill us all.
    Still, they’re obviously taking a leaf from the Orange Order’s book — they refused to talk to BBC’s Talkback programme as they perceived an anti-OO bias. Or maybe the two organisations just can’t take the heat.

  • Confused

    Gibneys argument falls apart when he agrees with GA that it was stupid of a BBC reporter to ask about the future of IRA army council.
    This is a genuine concern for many people and to disregard the question in this manner shows contempt for the public .
    A journalist is free to ask any question and the public can decide what is stupid or not.
    We will not leave this to politicians

  • Belfast Gonzo


    After reading the article, I’d say that Gibney’s criticism of the BBC is just what he hangs his wider argument on. It’s important, but the article is clearly about Sinn Fein’s wider attitude towards the media – which is worth examining, as a party that once fought tooth and nail against establishment censorship now appears, at least in certain quarters, to be advocating it. But what’s another u-turn? Maybe Slugger should stop highlighting DUP u-turns too?Maybe SF will defend them.

    Gibney is hanging his own argument on Devenport’s ‘stupid’ question, yet it only seems ‘stupid’ to SF supporters, and fails to take account of the same journalist’s ‘devil’s advocate’ style of questioning that he applies to other politicians.

    It is entirely fair to ask why a terrorist group retains an army council while its political representatives support the police and sit on its board. I’m curious about how such an apparent contradiction can be internalised, yet I think only the Jim Allisters of this world believe it’s a crisis in the making any more, so devoid of military power that the AC is any more.

    But are you seriously arguing that a journalist’s job is not to cut through bullshit when Gibney is saying that ambiguity (ie ‘spin’) is preferable to stating the facts? Maybe no-one should quiz the PUP about the UVF just putting arms beyond reach as well?

    Adams’ failure was to give a dishonest answer – the army council may in fact be playing a fairly innocuous role, holding things together within the IRA ranks. What is he afraid of? The British and Irish governments and the DUP will defend him to the hilt, so why worry?

    So to accuse the BBC of dishonesty and spin is a bit rich, particularly when Adams has been completely dishonest about his own past role in the army council.

    Perhaps personal animosity is clouding judgment here.

  • I wonder…

    It would be an interesting development if what the author advocates is something other than killing police and “legitimate targets”. If what he advocvates is different then all that leaves is Adrew McCann advocating a violent solution to our conflict.

  • I wonder…

    here and everywhere else a blogger that u defended has banned my pov, on a tangledweb, in the ploughh as elsewhwere no one can object to david vances view on the BBC,!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Gonzo

    I wonder…

    So you’ve been banned from ATW. Fine – take it up there.

    Don’t bore us already.

  • Comrade Stalin


    He ignores Gibney’s central point on balance in state media.

    I read Gibney’s article again. He did not call for the BBC to be balanced; instead he complained because it did not reflect the views of the electorate – this is different. It’s not completely clear what he meant by that, but going by the article he seems to think that this means the largest parties shouldn’t be asked difficult or negative questions.

    No one has argued for journalists to be silenced or controlled

    Actually some people in the course of the other thread made observations about the license fee. Fiddling with the way that the BBC is funded isn’t silencing or controlling it, but it’s damn close.

    but the specific issue of the unique funding arrangement for the BBC and therefore it’s responsibility for scrupulous balance and fairness is being buried under spin and nonsense.

    Gibney complained that the BBC’s reporting would “instil pessimism and could undermine the public’s hopeful mood”. If he isn’t saying that the BBC should be silenced or controlled, what is he saying ? It’s hard to interpret that comment in any way other than to believe that Gibney thinks that journalists should not undermine the hopeful happy public. In other words, if the state pays your wages then you should peddle the state’s line, namely it’s interpretation of the wishes of the electorate. Welcome to Sinn Fein autocracy.

    Gibney also complained about ” ..Sinn Féin and DUP politicians being accused by BBC journalists of selling out..”. I don’t remember the BBC eve “accusing” the parties of selling out. I do remember them postulating this to both parties. Who is guilty of spin here ?

    BTW Nitpicking here, but Gibney did not use either the word “balance” or the word “fairness” in his article. I don’t agree that they were the central point that he was making. Gibney thinks that the electorate have spoken; the electorate have a “hopeful mood”; and therefore journalists should lay off and stop spoiling the fun by asking hard questions. Well, tough.