A legitimate complaint, or case of bullying from the top?

There is a fine line between the two. We (or rather I) claim Slugger as a critical friend to the embryonic process and to an often unfairly maligned political class; although at times when the heat is on one political party or another I concede, it doesn’t always feel like that. I have argued here and elsewhere (here and here) that Tony Blair was right when he described the press as something of a feral beast. But in Northern Ireland, the press has at times come under extraordinary pressure from all manner of angles, not least an often hair trigger threat of litigation.

Now Slugger has come into possession of an extraordinary letter (you can read the original in full below the fold) in which our two most senior political figures have sought to exert extraoridinary pressure on local journalists, not by writing to the editor, but to the proprietor of the biggest selling title in Northern Ireland. To his and the paper’s credit, we have no reports of that pressure being transmitted internally either upon the editor or any of those ‘dissident journalists’ who have bee asking those those notoriously silly questions… But you can judge for yourself exactly what was going on below the fold

  • McGrath

    Amateur Politicians asking for a break. Kind of sums up their whole performance.

    Or maybe Newton Emerson wrote this?

  • padraic

    The rantings of two individuals very much out of touch with reality, never mind the communities which they have a mandate to represent. I hope the media react in a measured and intelligent manner so as not to add to their pathetic persecution complex.

  • bobwilson

    Part of a two part strategy. Press offices bully journalists and get solicators to send threatening letters to editors while leaders attempt to bully owners.

  • padraic

    P.S. Fantastic scoop Mick! Comhghairdeas leat

  • DC

    We don’t need to consult the Belfast Tele for negativity in writing, when we can get it in action, we need just to re-run the 150-plus day walk out during economic collapse or the interview by Noel Thompson with Peter Robinson where he loses his temper (the one with Purdy hasn’t seemed to appear anywhere), or Peter Robinson’s outburst on the floor of the assembly re Margaret Ritchie, or Iris Robinson’s vile homophobic comments, etc, etc.

    The problem is that they are poor leaders because they are negative, and to be a good leader you need to take responsibility, be a heat-seeker not a heat deflector, have the skills to be positive, inspire and motivate people to follow them.

    The DUP-SF have been nothing if not negative and threatening during the last while. So time to reflect a little me thinks.

    Grievance politicians grieving over a negative press, bizarre!

    Also, Tony Blair was just right for Northern Ireland as his ever optimistic attitude was necessary here (however perhaps not on other matters concerning his judgements affecting Britain) as it was really needed to counter balance the ever negative local views held here by our lot.

    Now they are complaining because “mirror mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all” isn’t play that nice gratifying game with them for reasons to do with their own behaviour.

    For goodness sake.

  • joeCanuck

    They do have a legitimate complaint about the BT. Every time I visit their web site, there are often headlines starting with words like “fury expressed by A,B,C “and when you go on to read the article it is simply that A,B or C passed comment on something they disagreed with.
    The letter should have been a public one to the editor, though, not the Proprietor. That was dead wrong and does smack of bullying.

  • brendan,belfast

    Extraordinary indeed. And since its dated 2nd March and there have been other Telegraph stories since, posing akward questions to the DUP on allowances and SF on apartments, then thaksfully we can gather it has been ignored internally.

    Funny though that in the midst of the economic meltdown etc the two men actually set time aside to write the letter, or agree to sign the EIS written letter.

  • Mark McGregor

    I’d be very interested to know what the ‘meeting with us on another matter’ is they are trying to tie in with this complaint.

    You scratch our backs, we’ll scratch yours?

  • WhiteKnight

    Is this the same Peter Robinson whose party threatened the News Letter, Bel Tel et al with legal action if they printed anything about expenses?

    Haven’t heard of any action against the News of World and Daily Mail!

    Do Robinson and McGuinness really believe they can do to the media what they do to their own parties—and gag anything they don’t like?


  • alan56

    Great scoop for Slugger. It really is a sign that the press are doing a sterling job when you see our First/Deputy First ministers writing this clap-trap. Perhaps it is an indictement of the quality of their own PR machine. If they have good news to tell then they should be able to get it out there. If they cannot then get a decent information service. The bland EIS Press Releases which arrive every few hours in the journalist ‘in-box’ are poorly written and frankly boring. I am no defender of Bel Tel but they do have a few great journalists who are not afraid to dig for the stories. Hope they are not reined in because of this. Will watch with interest.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Oh well, what can we expect of trainee politicians who never had any power before. These are the self same politicians who dissembled about the Good Friday Agreement made promises they broke and generally rode rough shod over everbody who got in their way.

    Now they are going to have to learn their free ride is over and they will be publically held to account for evething they do that others disagree with, education, finance budgets and expenses to name but three.

    Welcome to the real world boys, I look forward to the next year with relish.

  • DC

    To be fair to McGuinness he is doing his best, it’s Adams that’s the boulder adding drag to SF.

    Dissident Journalists aside, McGuinness is nowhere near as irascible as Robinson neither does he display the outright aggressiveness which comes from Robinson at times.

    I would perhaps try and muster up some sympathy for the DUP if I wasn’t fully aware of the negativity that party engineered around the GFA time (and before of course), the recent inappropriate press release by Alastair Ross towards the UUP shows up quite clearly how sharp and strident that party’s political attacks can be. Totally negative of course, but with the press release being misplaced and misdirected, the attack lines become all the more visible. Usually this would have landed with a bang but when it backfires the strength of language is there for all to see.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Agreed padraic, this is a remarkable scoop.

    The Telegraph is a crap paper and it loves printing lurid, overhyped headlines. It does run these ridiculous populist “campaigns” on things that the everyone already agrees with and then it claims victory when there is progress, even though everyone with an ounce of sense ignores the stupid publication.

    If the FMDFM feel that their work is being inaccurately reported, are they not entitled to raise this ? The single factor here which is out of place is the fact that they wrote to the proprietor rather than the editor.

  • dunreavynomore

    Writing to ‘Sir’ Anthony must have been fun for poor old Marty. I hope he is taking something for his blood pressure.

  • dunreavynomore

    Forgot to mention that it must be awkward for Martin to complain about the Telegraph without being able to accuse it of ‘discrimination’ and not being able to lable it as a ‘micro led dissident plot.’

  • “Do Robinson and McGuinness really believe they can do to the media what they do to their own parties—-and gag anything they don’t like?”

    Well, if they did not believe they would be able to that, they would never have sent the letter. That is how business, whether political or economic has been done in the six since it was first established.

    Nevertheless history teaches when ‘leading’ politicians start believing they can micro manage everything and everyone, they are heading for a fall, and it will not come about due to something that appears in Mr O’Reilly’s papers, but will comes from out of the blue.

    Mark is right to mention the ‘meeting with us on another matter’ query, for as Mark writes, it has a clear hint of you scratch our backs, we’ll scratch yours?

    And O’Reilly did not get to own his own dung heap without scratching a good few backs.

  • DC

    “If the FMDFM feel that their work is being inaccurately reported, are they not entitled to raise this ? The single factor here which is out of place is the fact that they wrote to the proprietor rather than the editor.”

    Facts can be arranged alongside other facts and interpreted into opinions CS, which appears to be what this appealing letter is trying to claim: too much playing up of arguments over job titles than job creation.

    But if the scoop is so fantastic then why isn’t the content as well, as it is in relation to Belfast Tele reporting, which you think is unoriginal. Surely if the Bel Tel is receiving complaints about something, if we follow your logic, that we all agree as accepted, the view must be then after reading that letter that the FMDFM are acting illogically?

    Not so much the proprietor but more so the content. Besides they have probably written personally to the journos ages ago, perhaps this is the last throw of the dice for them?

  • Pete Baker

    Couple of other points worth considering.

    Was the Office of the Speaker consulted prior to OFMDFM’s complaint about the coverage of the Assembly?

    Because he should have been.

    Were the Executive consulted before this complaint about the way they, collectively, have been portrayed in the media?

    Because they should have been.

    Was Nigel Dodds, who is specifically named in the letter, consulted?


    And this after the would be lycanthropes tried to argue they were just like any other ministers and should only be questioned once a month?

  • adonis

    Peter seems to have changed his mind about the Tele recently however – he went out of his way to praise their listing of MPs expenses as “proper and accurate” last week, while berating the nasty Daily Mail and NOW.

    It’s pathetic how our politicians try to bully the media by threatening legal action (no writs ever seem to materialise) and by running of to owners over the slightest criticism.

  • Jimmy Sands

    It was funny up until the last paragraph which reads like a very thinly veiled threat. Of course telling a businessman what a shame it would be if anything happened to his business must bring a rush of nostalgia to them both.

  • New Yorker

    Below his signature the title for McGuinness is printed as “deputy First Minister”. Why the lower case “d”? Is it a Freudian misprint or a deliberate expression of obeisance to the First Minister?

  • Reader

    New Yorker: Is it a Freudian misprint or a deliberate expression of obeisance to the First Minister?
    If there is any significance to the fact, then it is that McGuinness is de-emphasising the word ‘deputy’ while leaving FM in place i.e dFM rather than DFM.
    When Marty gets the hang of fonts then you won’t see ‘deputy’ at all.

  • Scaramoosh

    I’d be very interested if somebody were to perform an analysis of who owns what when it comes to the Irish media – North and South. The political leanings of said owners, and the power that they have.

    The links that exist between those that have been labelled the “cute hoors” and leading journalists would be a good place to start.

    The stories in relation to the collapse of the Irish economy that have not been run, allegedly, because of close family ties.

    Those that see the Telegraph as some sort of objective voice of reason, checking the political elite, need to wake up and see the bigger picture that is unfolding before their eyes.

    Whilst I have no time for the cosy McGuiness/Robinson routine; equally I have no time for a press that is motivated by things other than a search for the truth.

  • Scaramoosh

    P.S Can somebody name me one independent, objective, Irish Newspaper (or, indeed,if that fails, an independent investigative journalist)that does not have close ties with some big powerful elite?

  • Mark McGregor


    You seem to be seeing something a few of us have noted. It would be interesting to see what other issue they are connecting with their request for more favourable reporting.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m re-reading the letter again and noticing this time the point made about the Point of Order. I very specifically remember reading the article they are referring to in the Telegraph and checking it up on Hansard at that time. I came to the same conclusion that FM/DFM have done. This was a very minor exchange, which lasted seconds rather than minutes, during a full day of discussion, and the Telegraph portrayed this giving the impression of politicians wasting time over unimportant details.

    I still see the complaints presented by FM/DFM in this letter as being largely legitimate. I don’t agree that the Executive has been terribly compelling, novel or productive in it’s work but they are surely quite entitled to raise an issue if they feel they are being misrepresented.

    I do not know if FM/DFM have previously written to the editor of the Telegraph about this matter; if they have then it might explain why they are now going to the proprietor. I would, however, agree that the way they have chosen to present those complaints is ham-fisted and potentially counter-productive; and that they have made themselves sound almost machiavellian in the last paragraph. While that is disturbing I don’t think it distracts from the issues they are raising.

  • Pete Baker


    See this subsequent post on the detail of that letter.

  • Dave

    The last paragraph demands an explanation. You have Gerry trying to extort money from an American company by threatening them with getting New York’s Comptroller to illegally blackball that state’s investment of its pensions funds in said American company if it doesn’t comply with Gerry’s demented demands and now you have the other thug in a suit, Martin, making what sounds like equally sinister threats to businesses. Way to inspire investors in your province. Still, elect sociopaths and what do you really expect?

  • Frustrated Democrat

    All in all not a good week for the DUP/SF axis, expenses, a failure to relook at the budget when the SDLP do, and then this letter. All this coupled to a nasty TV interview where Robinson’s mask fell and his true self was revealed to all and not many liked it even amongst DUP supporters .

    They know they are under pressure and are being found wanting. We need leaders we can respect and trust to solve our problems and in these two we don’t have them, they don’t even talk in public.

  • Danny Boy

    Wow. What the hell was the thought process behind writing that? Here’s hoping they ‘take their lumps’, whatever that means.

  • ‘take their lumps’

    It sounds like something a mafia don might say to his sidekick.

  • “an independent investigative journalist)that does not have close ties with some big powerful elite?”

    Would an independent investigative blogger count, Scaramoosh? Probably not a lot but the Rathlin ferry stories have been followed by a £55,000 government ‘whitewash’ and, now, an investigation by the EU Commission. Very little of this has appeared in the pages of the Belfast Telegraph so perhaps ‘lobbying’ is having some effect.

  • Rory Carr

    I don’t see how anything sinister is implied in the last paragraph of the letter to O’Reilly. It would make perfect sense to remind an addressee of a meeting already scheduled to discuss an earlier issue which might present the best and earliest opportunity to discuss the matters raised in the letter.

    In order to impute anything sinister a reader would require to exercise a degree of malignity himself, which is hardly helpful for objectivity.

    Newspaper editors and propietors are bullied and threatened by government ministers on a regular basis and this letter seems only to be a polite reminder that government effort was not receiving its due coverage.

    Tony Blair’s pet Rotweller, Alstair Campbell would not have been so polite and Sir Anthony would have been lucky to get away with one of the milder Campbell threats to “cut his effin’ gizzard out”.

  • Scooby

    Quite frankly I find this letter disturbing. Why on earth are our leaders getting involved with what the media print? They have no right to tell the Media what to print or to imply that they shouldn’t print a story. The Belfast Telegraph can do what it wants. If it wants to print stories that are negative about the Executive then it should have the right to. If Gordon was to write a letter like this to any media outlet then he’d be vilified and rightly so.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Quite frankly I find this letter disturbing. Why on earth are our leaders getting involved with what the media print?

    Because they feel that their work is being misrepresented. Isn’t that obvious ?

    They have no right to tell the Media what to print or to imply that they shouldn’t print a story.

    Except they aren’t, they are complaining about the way that the paper is sensationalizing certain details at the expense of others.

    The Belfast Telegraph can do what it wants.

    Nobody has said otherwise.

    If it wants to print stories that are negative about the Executive then it should have the right to.

    Nobody is denying that.

    If Gordon was to write a letter like this to any media outlet then he’d be vilified and rightly so.

    Tony Blair at least has gone on record with his opinion of media coverage. Not sure about Brown, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Other figures in his government have complained about coverage by bloggers which is close to the same thing.

  • DC

    CS, why can’t you just admit that wee P Robinson is a parvenu?

  • Scooby

    Comrade, I was hardly suggesting anybody here had suggested that the Belfast Telegraph couldn’t print what it wanted. My comments were directed at OFMDFM and had nothing to do with you.

    “We do not want to fetter freedom of the press but by the same token we do not expect to see a campaign ostensibly about creating jobs being used to deginerate and undermine the Executive and Assembly.”

    They ‘expect?’ To me, that is OFMDFM telling the media what to do.

    Quite frankly, I think I’ll be the judge as to whether the Assembly has done a good job in creating jobs. Not Robinson and McGuiness.

  • John K Lund / Lllamedos / Suchard

    Surely with all the Brass they are all taking from the British taxpayers the Dup and Sein Fein could consummate their joined at the hip love in by buying both the Belfast Telegraph and the News Letter and promoting themselves. Perhaps the wee curly headed ginger can tell all the people who want to enjoy the continuity of the Union that they should vote for their sister party the UDUP and; likewise The Swiss Roller could encourage all nationalists to vote Sein Fein. They then if they are remotely successful form a combined one party Little Ulster Republic whilst still triple jobbing. Hissing Sid Robinson must be getting mildly pissed off if in the unlikely event that La Diane gets all the European dosh as well and overtakes him and Cruella the homophobe in the winning of The Gravy Train Stakes, Really rivetting stuff. Grant you the UDUP could employ McPoison,Whelan and Draper that hopefully unemployed team of modern day Goebells to edit their suggested joint venture with Sein Fein.
    Hell its a bloody hard world this true democracy people with differing view points practicing Free Speech it really pisses you off.