“the wholesale purchase of Northern Ireland’s media class”?

Newton Emerson has been looking at the apparent growth industry of goverment press officers

The Executive Information Service (EIS), which runs the press offices for Stormont’s 11 devolved departments, employs 92 press officers at an annual cost of £3.2 million. The NIO, which retains responsibility only for policing and justice plus a few other reserved matters, employs 30 people including 11 press officers at the Northern Ireland Information Service (NIIS) at an annual cost of £2.2 million. The Assembly Commission, which manages Stormont’s chamber and committees, also has its own media centre. This is only the top tier of the press officer industry.

Every agency under the NIO and each devolved department has its own press office, some of which are enormous. The PSNI press office, for example, employs 36 staff at an annual cost of £1.3 million. Every public body funded by the NIO and the departments, including quangos and councils, has a press office as well.

At a rough guess there could be 500 government press officers in Northern Ireland and perhaps twice that number in the public sector overall.

Whatever the exact number, it is steadily rising. The EIS, which employs 92 people now, employed 55 people four years ago.

He’s concerned about the numbers involved and the cost, and suggests there’s another issue

Press officers are recruited from the ranks of the north’s media, with experience in journalism often specifically required. For people in a struggling industry, where jobs are hard to come by at the best of times, such an abundance of well-paid work is an irresistible lure. There are now more press officers in the EIS alone than the total number of reporters at all three of Belfast’s daily newspapers. For those still in the media, the growing assumption that becoming a press officer is the next step on the career ladder risks introducing a culture of compliance.

The number of people being paid to put a gloss on what the administration, and its agencies, are or are not doing is of concern, particularly in comparison to the number who should be looking at it sceptically. But is “becoming a press officer is the next step on the career ladder” really a growing assumption?

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  • Is Newton’s story substancially different to the one Sam McBride wrote in the Newsletter in early July?


    I remember Sam getting in touch since I’d just had a run in with the DOE press office who were perhaps overrepresenting their newly appointed minister.

  • jone

    I think it’s perhaps a rhetorical flourish too far to assume most hacks are working with one eye on an EIS job.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “SDLP MLA John Dallat said: “The whole thing is showing remarkable tendencies towards the kind of bureaucracies that we hopefully were trying to curtail.

    “The value of some of the material produced is highly questionable in terms of enriching people’s lives and could be argued at times to verge on propaganda.”

    Mr Dallat said that recent concerns that Government press offices are “burying bad news” on busy news days “smacked of the practice of New Labour when they went into power where more energy was devoted to spin than to informing the public about Government services”.

    “We certainly would not want to think that all this money was spent on propaganda rather than on genuine public information – the gap between the two is becoming dangerously close.”

    Ach surely not? Say swear.

  • Drumlins Rock

    the media created the monster they have got to feed it now, would love to see the effort be put into doing the job rather than talking about it, on the other hand the media should give a bit more credit and pick holes a little less.

  • If the Thursday Club is for MLAs and businessmen when and where do MLAs and journalists have their cosy tête-à-têtes far from the madding crowd?

  • wild turkey

    follow the bouncing ball.

    1. it is generally seen, if not agreed, that the two main parties in the ‘executive’ have a tendency to indulge in control freakery

    2. they are aided and abetted is this charade, sorry dynamic, by sernior civil servants (SCS).

    3. in spite of gloomy financial forecasts and an economy going down the tubes, the politicos and SCS have discretionary money to spend.

    4. the politicos and SCS are in a stage of terminal denial.

    5. like Hitler in the bunker, the politicos and their SCS zipper lickers are on the top of the their game. they are stragetically and tactically aware. they are the main men. they summom phantom divisions. or divisions of phantoms.

    6. those phantoms, those who disperse disingenuity, denial and deceit, are called press officers. they deal in opinion. which is the cheapest and basest form of knowledge.

    7. Opinion requires no accountability, no understanding. it is the antithesis of empathy.

    8, empathy requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound, purpose-larger-than-the-self kind of understanding.

    9. the politicos and SCS are incapable of empathy. therefore they hire Press people to mirror and mouth their own inadequacies. this is called by various terms; the status quo, received opinion, common sense.

    10. the cost to our society is not the pounds and pence spent on these wankers, the cost is the lack of an accountable and forthcoming truth.

    11. T’was ever thus. And us.

  • “the cost is the lack of an accountable and forthcoming truth”

    Hear, Hear, WT 🙂

  • wild turkey

    thanks nevin. hope you are well.

    something i forgot

    earlier this year my two children and i saw a very moving and disturbing film. it was called the Boy in Striped Pajamyas.

    My children were disturbed. disturbed because they could not comprehend how human beings could act in such a way towards other beings. they could not understand the fundamental practice of deceit and denial.

    soon afterward there was a convention/seminar of public sector press and PR people in the ‘province’. ‘the north of ireland’, ‘take your pick’. i took my children to this event for a brief time.

    in one way,they are wiser now…but they still do not comprehend. it must be a family thing.

    totally off thread, my kids were and are curious about the whole Derry/Londonderry thing. I tried to explain the history, the culture, the baggage, etc. etc.

    my 9 year old son suggested why don’t they do something radical. and sensible. call it Empathy. He said, ‘Empathy would be a nice place to live’

  • Dave

    Almost poetry, Wild Turkey. A free press is only needed if there is a free people. Freedom is the power of a people to determine their own affairs. The state has given away the fundamental freedoms of the people, so the people no longer have the freedom to determine their own affairs. Their affairs are now determined by others who are not elected by them and who are not accounatble to them and who do not determine their affairs in their interest. A free press is now dangerous because it would act to inform the people that they are powerless. What is need is a press that colludes with the state. Areas of policy that have been transferred from the people by the state to supranational government are now post-democratic in that they are no longer determined by the people. What use is debate among the people about such policies? None. There is no point in debating policies that they no longer have the power to change. So a free press merely serves to draw the attention of the people to the fact that they are now powerless. That’s dangerous. So just as the people operate in post-democratic, post-sovereign, post-political state, they are post-free and so is there press. That, alas, is not poettry but Orwellian reality.

  • jamesorr1798

    And if its not okay for local journos to aspire to work for the EIS, is it also not okay for local satirists / bloggers to take filthy lucre from the mainstream NI media for columns, comment pieces etc? Hmmm…

  • WT, my friends and I have had a bit of sport with ‘accidental truths’ from sometimes less than competent public servants. FoI responses have occasionally revealed more than was intended 🙂

  • Pigeon Toes


    Since Slugger bases itself on mainstream media churnalism, then it follows that what is being debated here, is in fact only what is intended for debate.

    Which also kinda makes one wonder about the whole point of it.

  • Dave

    If you want proof that the state has become a deranged menance with the MSN as its servants, then you might find it in the almost total censorship of debate concerning the most expensive and most economically destructive piece of legislation ever passed by parliment (a mere 4 days ago):

    [i]The Climate Change Bill laid down that, by 2050, the British people must cut their emissions of carbon dioxide by well over 80 per cent. Short of some unimaginable technological revolution, such a target could not possibly be achieved without shutting down almost the whole of our industrialised economy, changing our way of life out of recognition.

    Even the Government had to concede that the expense of doing this – which it now admits will cost us £18 billion a year for the next 40 years – would be twice the value of its supposed benefits. Yet, astonishingly, although dozens of MPs queued up to speak in favour of the Bill, only two dared to question the need for it. It passed by 463 votes to just three.[/i]

    This is a consequence of a media that supports the statist agenda where the people are led to act according to the will of the elected elite (however demented they are) rather than vice versa. Democracy can only fail the people on this epic scale when the freedom of the press has been fatally undermined.

    [i]Yet it is at just this point that the world’s politicians, led by Britain, the EU and now President Obama, are poised to impose on us far and away the most costly set of measures that any group of politicians has ever proposed in the history of the world – measures so destructive that even if only half of them were implemented, they would take us back to the dark ages.

    We have “less than 50 days” to save the planet, declared Gordon Brown last week, in yet another desperate bid to save the successor to the Kyoto treaty, which is due to be agreed in Copenhagen in six weeks’ time. But no one has put the reality of the situation more succinctly than Prof Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technolgy, one of the most distinguished climatologists in the world, who has done as much as anyone in the past 20 years to expose the emptiness of the IPCC’s claim that its reports represent a “consensus” of the views of “the world’s top climate scientists”.

    In words quoted on the cover of my new book, Prof Lindzen wrote: “Future generations will wonder in bemused amazement that the early 21st century’s developed world went into hysterical panic over a globally averaged temperature increase of a few tenths of a degree and, on the basis of gross exaggerations of highly exaggerated computer predictions combined into implausible chains of inference, proceeded to contemplate a rollback of the industrial age.”

    Such is the truly extraordinary position in which we find ourselves. [/i]

    In Ireland, the role of the state is properly to protect and promote the culture of the nation, not subvert it. It is to defend the fundamental freedoms of the people, not to give their freedoms away to unaccountable regimes. These abject perversions are only possible with a culluding media – much like it was only possible in NI to reward murder gangs with political power over the society they terrorised because a culluding media presented that disgrace as progress.

  • aquifer

    We should pay political parties to do Press if we want to be told how great the government is.

    Can we put economic appraisals and post project reviews on the web?

    The money figures beside the expired wish lists might be large and sad, but we should see those too.

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin


    “Slugger bases itself on mainstream media churnalism…”

    Et tu Pigeon Toes?

  • joeCanuck

    my 9 year old son suggested why don’t they do something radical. and sensible. call it Empathy. He said, ‘Empathy would be a nice place to live’

    This reminds me of a story I heard a few years back.
    Classroom in the “old” USSR. The teacher was telling the class about how wonderful the USSR was. Everyone had all they wished to eat, lived in wonderful apartments, had great schooling and an unbeatable health system etc etc. Little girl started crying. Teacher asked “Why are you crying?”. Little girl says “I want to go and live there”.

  • Dave

    “Et tu Pigeon Toes?”

    I ignored that out of a cowardly sense of virtual self-preservation. The best media propagandists always damn the state to hell and back, thereby creating the impression that they are not its servants. But they always stay on-message for the important messages, and said ‘damning’ adds weight to that.

    Newt doesn’t see conspirarcy (or has the good sense not to be seen wearing a tin-hat) but the state wouldn’t get away with a fraction of this crap (especially the ‘process’) without a servile media, and it knows how to guide them without being seen to do so. The media is just business and journalists are just employees, so relying on the ‘freedom’ of self-serving parties to serve a greater good is an inherently dodgy strategy anyway. But if you were to tell the public about some of the strange ways that a state uses propaganda via a colluding media to control their behaviour, they’d never beleive you.

    David McWilliams almost gets it in yesterday’s SBP:

    [i]”There is an economic choice that countries make. Either you use your exchange rate to become competitive, or you use unemployment to grind down wages, so that you become competitive by putting people out of work who wouldn’t be out of work if you simply changed your exchange rate. In the process, you preside over an internal financial civil war over who is going to make the most sacrifices in order to become competitive again.

    Honahan then said that, because of the euro, “it is crucially important to recognise that the old automatic stabiliser of real wages – depreciation of the exchange rate – has been put out of action (and for good reason)”.

    The good reason is his addition. This idea that devaluations are so obviously redundant as to have no place in discourse has become commonplace in Irish economics.

    The same logic in 1993 argued that a devaluation of the punt would be a disaster. The entire economic establishment (I know, because I was an economist in the Central Bank at the time) said that devaluation would lead to permanently higher interest rates, higher unemployment, lower growth and higher inflation. This, I assume, is the ‘good reason’ the governor is referring to.

    Well, guess what happened after the 1993 devaluation? The economy took off and unemployment fell dramatically.

    Exports exploded, interest rates fell precipitously, capital flooded into our country and inflation fell. It is difficult to see the professor’s ‘good reason’, not least because the devaluation worked perfectly.

    Everything that economic textbooks said would happen, did happen. It ushered in the golden age.

    Honahan refers fondly to the subsequent post-devaluation period from 1993 to 2000 and suggests that he would like to see the economy return to the state it was in 2000. Irish productivity was extremely high and, as he says himself, ‘‘Irish wages were arguably super competitive around 2000’’.

    Honahan implies that, after 2000, it all went wrong, which is why he urges us to get back to 2000.Well, guess what was the big event of 2000?We had just joined the euro.

    Joining the euro marks the beginning of the economic and financial delinquency that has led us to this horrible mess.[/i]

    The “good reason” is not what McWilliams’ thinks it is. The ‘good reason’ that debate about a policy of devaluation is non-existent is because that policy is post-democratic (being post-sovereign) and therefore such debate is totally redundant. That is the same reason why debate about the role that macroeconomic and monetary policies along with EU banking regulations played in the collapse of Ireland’s financial system (which was almost totally under EU governance) has bee simply deleted from the national debate.

  • Greenflag

    Dave ,

    ‘The media is just business and journalists are just employees, so relying on the ‘freedom’ of self-serving parties to serve a greater good is an inherently dodgy strategy anyway.

    Which in another context that of the ‘world economy’ of which Ireland and the UK happen to be a part is exactly why absolute faith in Goldman Sachs the current Kings of Wall St or in the neo conservative economics of Milton Friedman is a bad idea . The emisseration of the American middle and working class since the Reagan Revolution when the ‘financialisation ‘ of the American and later global economy took precedence over the economic , social and political interests of the American people is now laid bare .

    Your use of the year 2000 is informative re Honohan’s comment . For not only did Ireland join the Euro then but that was the exact time that the ‘rottweilers ‘ on Wall St having had the leash taken off their muzzles in 1998 began to have a major impact on the American housing market . The entire derivatives , hedge fund industry came into it’s heyday and in an outpouring of greed and avarice which has never before been seen in the world’s history proceeded to ‘milk’ the American economy for everything that was left !

    Given the choice (not that it will be ) between government by Goldman Sachs or Brussels the vast majority of people in Europe including Ireland and the UK will choose Brussels .

    Goldman Sachs certainly looks after it’s top executives and pays out large bonuses to those of it’s employees who excel in ‘stealing’ via the American deregulated banking system of course .

    The period since 2000 has seen the greatest number of white collar -financial swindlers -gangsters -con men – etc emerge in the history of Wall St . They ARE the main culprits behind this current recession .

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘…then it follows that what is being debated here, is in fact only what is intended for debate.’

    You referring to Chomsky’s ‘Propaganda Model’ PT?

  • civil servant

    Newton is only taking a microscope to a small part of the bureaucratic cancer that is the NICS.
    Duplication of tasks in the NI civil service has now become a growth industry. Highly paid people doing nothing, but striving to empire build.

    Is Stormont prepared to cure this disease?

  • Greenflag

    ‘Is Stormont prepared to cure this disease? ‘

    A case of the doctor having to kill the sick patient who is the ultimate source of his revenue and the future employment prospects of his family and friends .

    Would you ?

    EIS should be properly termed EISS and then the bould Newt could have accused them of being
    ‘Embedded in State Service ‘ to use the terminology preferred in the heroic episodes of ‘live’ journalists in Iraq .

  • Greenflag

    ‘Either you use your exchange rate to become competitive, or you use unemployment to grind down wages, so that you become competitive by putting people out of work who wouldn’t be out of work if you simply changed your exchange rate.’

    McWilliam’s choices are much like Hobson’s . They have been put much to the test by successive British Governments since the 1960’s and even earlier . While it can be claimed that some devaluations have helped the British economy for a brief period , overall and at the end of a 50 year ‘experimentation period’ it’s German manufacturing /engineering industry that’s helping to push Germany and the rest of the EU out of this recession whereas Britian’s ‘sovereignty’ over it’s currency is despite all those previous ‘devaluations’ holding Britain back with the assistance of course of the now ‘besmirched ‘ financial services industry which was to be the flagship of future British economic growth but has instead turned into an anchor which is dragging the SS Britannia to the bottom of the Channel 🙁

    ‘In the process, you preside over an internal financial civil war over who is going to make the most sacrifices in order to become competitive again.’

    Here McWilliams is on better ground and recent economic history particularly that of the USA shows exactly which section of the population have had to make the most sacrifices . And no it was’nt Goldman Sachs or Bank of America or AIG or any of the other behemoths of the American economy . In a democracy one would hope that the ‘pain ‘ of being non competitive would be shared . Not a bit of it . The German conservatives under Merkel have chosen a different approach to the ‘social ‘ side of their economy to the American decades long relative emisseration of the middle and working class . Which just goes to show that in order for a country to be ‘competitive’ it’s not de riguer to enslave one half of the population in order to ensure that a very few can enjoy incomes thousands of times more than the average industrial rage merely because they are adept at leading their countries to financial bankruptcy 🙁

  • noel adams

    Just for a bit of comparison
    how many press officers does Wales
    Employ answer 30

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Wonder how many people the PSNI press office employs. Sometimes it staggers me how useless and incompetent it is.

  • BG, the answer lies in Pete’s post:

    “The PSNI press office, for example, employs 36 staff at an annual cost of £1.3 million”

    The press office used to answer my occasional queries until, presumably, someone in authority put a stop to it. And this was before I entered blogger’s paradise 🙂

  • Morris Gerard Cafferty

    £36 111 a head.

    Interesting that Lothian and Borders have their media relations e-mail address easier to find.

    I guess they will deal with what they are paid to do.