Will Robinson’s final day bring forward a genuinely questioning journalism?

Whatever the reasons it seems clear to me since the meeting of senior party officers that Peter Robinson is preparing to leave the Office of First and deputy First Minister today… It is unlikely that he will have been pushed, rather it is likely that Ulster’s most pragmatic and intelligent senior politician has sized his own position up earlier in this crisis and has seen the writing on the wall… What the party need from him now is for the opening of tonight’s Panorama programme to begin with the words “Peter Robinson, leader of the DUP, resigned from his position earlier today…”

Update: Looks like this may be my very own egg on face moment in this crisis… See Miss Fitz’s comments below…It’s a high price to pay for a bit of graft on the part of your mentally ill wife… But politics is a brutal game… A more sympathetic politician might have survived… But this story puts other politicians in other parties that the base standards for examining their public and private affairs has risen… And if the local newspapers are seeing a rise in readership anything near to the equivalent to rise in our readership then, then hopefully lessons will be learnt that the pale imitation of journalism that’s passed for many years of the Peace Process™ doesn’t pay as well as tough investigative probing.

The expenses scandal barely rippled the surface of Northern Irish public opinion… But politicians in all political parties should now be looking to their own backyards and making sure that everything is in order… It should be time to clear out the Augean stables and some of those nasty woodsheds… That’s a matter for editors and producers, as much as for individual journalists…

Time will tell if they have either the will and the resources to press their case home to the bone… And for once begin to tell the public what’s really going on in our politics…

,

  • Miss Fitz

    I have no reason to doubt what you are saying Mick, but the wagons are being circled big time in the DUP. Arlene Foster, Jim Wells, Sammy Wilson all coming out in complete support and Mark Durkan significantly softening his stance.

    Maybe they want to be viewed in better light, after the fact, but it doesnt feel like that right now.

  • TAFKABO

    Glad to see you’re homing in on this aspect of the story Mick, for too long we’ve been ill served with second rate politicians, perhaps if we’d had proper first rate journalists the politicians would have gotten their arses in gear long before now.

  • Critical Alien

    I would sincerely hope that from this journalists would take the courage to speak up and speak out more. It would be unfortunate (and telling) that journalistic bite’s return would come as a result of higher newspaper circulations, but the end would be welcome despite the means. Bad, weak or pandering journalism is often alienating and can lead to frustration and a disconnect between people and the processes of government. Such a disconnect is readily and unreflectively interpreted as ‘voter apathy’. In such a context, then, weak journalism leads to the supposition that the public aren’t interested in what’s going on, which can be taken by the less imaginative in power to be carte blanche to continue in lazy, self-serving politicking.
    A really tuned in media, on the other hand, can play a great role in constituting real accountability that can make the processes function much more effectively. Slugger’s great, for instance. More like this and the world would be a happier place!

    (Excuse the Arslikhan)

  • “And for once begin to tell the public what’s really going on in our politics…”

    But would it make the slightest bit of difference to the electorate? Most of them will have had a fairly shrewd idea of the background of the folks they’ve been voting for. The Grapevine will most likely give them a far better perspective than an MSM than is far too close to people of power and influence ie not just politicians.

  • As somebody else noted, the Spotlight programme (now to be repackaged as Panorama) was handed to the BBC on a plate by a whistleblower. Makes a change from having stories handed to them by government apparatuses I suppose. Hardly the epitome of investigative journalism.

    Moreover, now that I think about it, Spotlight loves to doorstep people, often with heavies in the background who you don’t see on camera, but who were seen for example in a precis of stories which included an extract from an episode where they approached a man in his 70s with several heavies in tow. Had the people accused of dog-fighting approached the journalists with two guards in tow, we would have been hearing a great deal about intimidation. Why wasn’t Iris Robinson doorstepped in this way? Why did she get a polite letter sent to the home?

    The BBC Spotlight team are applying different standards to different people. It demonstrates the extent to which the editorial decisions and stunt value of certain tactics shape the tone and narrative of an individual programme. Simply put, this is akin to the photographers getting the wee lads to throw stones in a peaceful environment. It’s creating conflict where none is necessary. Total and utter hypocrisy.

  • Scaramoosh

    The troubles and the “peace process” combined with the growth of sectarian electoral polarisation, has fostered a tame and compliant school of journalism
    (akin to that which existed in the UK in the run up to the recent financial crisis).

    Eamonn Mallie’s self reflection as regards his questioning of Peter Robinson, represented a rare example of honesty and partially lifted the lid on the unpalatable truth that Ulster was (and still is) a country of untouchables.

    With tame and compliant journalism comes corruption.

  • Ulick

    “Ulster’s most pragmatic and intelligent senior politician”

    lol

    I that a direct quote from DUP press office?

  • Critical Alien

    Garibaldy

    Whatever the merits or otherwise of the Spotlight programme itself, I think the point Mick makes about circulation figures still holds. If ‘the people’ expect biting points and no untouchables in public life, this could well be reflected in a more questioning journalism. An actual journalism, maybe!

  • Miss Fitz

    A comment was made here at the beginning of this saga about the cosiness of the relationship between the press and politicians.

    I know that ‘it was always thus’ to a degree and that there is a neccesary symbiosis. However, one of the things that jumped out at me yesterday and I found quite shocking was a piece in the Sunday Tribune that described Mrs Robinson sending a very personal gift to the journalist in question for a new born baby accompanied by a note from ‘Auntie Iris’.

    Even Liam Clarke, several weeks ago and before the scandal broke was able to talk about a card on the Robinson’s mantlepiece from Gerry Adams, as Gaeilege, as far as I remember.

    What this tells to the ordinary punter is that there is a level of press/politico comfort and understanding that is far removed from our level of comprehension.

    If they remain such comfortable bedfellows, I am not suggesting that it would totally stop any reporting, indeed wew saw that in the ST yesterday, but it involves a personal element that cannot be discounted.

    I feel that it is time to re-evaluate those relationships and re-establish that thin line between the public and press

  • jtwo

    Slugger is extremely fortunate to be blessed with so many commentators who are experts in the theory and practice of investigative journalism.

    However, why these latter-day Woodwards spend all their time spunking across the interwebs rather than tearing down the walls of corruption remains a mystery.

  • Why haven’t they doorstepped the developer at the heart of the financial scandal? Where is the investigative media that goes beyond a story served on a plate? Have to say bought all the papers on Saturday and there was absolutely nothing new in any to have made it worthwhile the purchase.

  • Critical Alien

    Of course Jtwo’s right. This talk is mere decadence and counter to the revolution!

  • TAFKABO

    Jtwo’s comment, though perhaps more robust in its language, is typical of many within the media to the blogosphere. They don’t like it up ’em.

  • thedissenter, sometimes there’s more meat in the material edited out of TV investigative programmes.

  • “tearing down the walls of corruption”

    jtwo, that takes insight, time, money, financial and related forms of independence, whistleblowers – and a lot of luck.

  • JaneJeffers

    @Scaramoosh
    “The troubles and the “peace process” combined with the growth of sectarian electoral polarisation, has fostered a tame and compliant school of journalism”.

    Not just in NI the whole profession worldwide is a disgrace. I recommend Nick Davies’ book “Flat Earth News” for a dismaying account of the why’s and wherefores of churnalism.

  • Mick,

    “investigative probing”

    Wasn’t this story presented to Spotlight by a disgruntled Robinson employee?

    As for the rise in readership, the tabloidesque treatement of this story here on Slugger and elsewhere of the perfectly legal sexual behaviour of a middle aged woman is not evidence of a desire for improved standards in reporting by the public but rather the reverse and the Slugger party line that there was a public service duty to inform readers of the fact that Iris (who we knew to be suffering from suicidal depression) was the subject of general ridicule by actually encouraging readers to join in could at be best described as self serving and I hardly think now is the time for self congratualtion with Iris now consigned to hosptial for treatement.

    Surely a bit of more modest reflection would be more appropriate.

  • Critical Alien

    Moderate Unionist

    One claim has been that massive depression led to some bad judgement in Iris’ personal life that has had massive repurcussions politically. Given that she continued to serve and represent throughout this period, isn’t it public interest that the level, extent and nature of this mental illness be probed? Was she fit to serve? Who might have known if not and what was or ought to have been their response?
    Reflective investigation, yes, of course, but modest? Not sure an investigation can promise in advance to be modest. Surely rigourous investigation is required. And not just of Iris, of course. There are more players in this.
    I’m sure she’s mortified by what’s come out. By all accounts she’s in a bad way. I’d recommend she not read the papers for a bit.
    I can’t see a case for not reporting or laying off when there are outstanding issues, though.

  • Mrazik

    Mick,

    “investigative probing”

    Wasn’t this story presented to Spotlight by a disgruntled Robinson employee?

    As for the rise in readership, the tabloidesque treatement of this story here on Slugger and elsewhere of the perfectly legal sexual behaviour of a middle aged woman is not evidence of a desire for improved standards in reporting by the public but rather the reverse and the Slugger party line that there was a public service duty to inform readers of the fact that Iris (who we knew to be suffering from suicidal depression) was the subject of general ridicule by actually encouraging readers to join in could at be best described as self serving and I hardly think now is the time for self congratualtion with Iris now consigned to hosptial for treatement.

    Surely a bit of more modest reflection would be more appropriate.

    Posted by Moderate Unionist on Jan 11, 2010 @ 10:50 AM

    Your myopia is now beginning to get annoying.

    I have no interest in the titillating aspects of this morality tale but surely you can see the public interest angle in all of this? Is there not a cash for influence aspect to it all? Does it not provide further evidence of the dangers of dynastic politics for the wider public interest? Might it not help shine a light on a whole host of planning and public tendering issues? Might it not provide a vehicle for improving how we are governed?

  • Eleanor Bull

    Miss Fitz,

    If you ever have the time (or opprortunity to charge it against expenses) you might like to book yourself onto the first Belfast-Heathrow flight of the day, which regularly cargoes NI public representatives to London.

    Sit back with your over-priced and already stale by 700am sandwich and coloured water that contravenes the trades description’s definition of ‘tea’, and marvel at the nauseating hands-across-the-divide flirtation taking place between some of these people who, on the media at least, attempt to knock lumps out of one another.

    Up there, they do a good impression of folk who’d like to knock one another off in the Mile High Club.

    As Mick says, there’s laws that prevent me naming names, but I’m confident other early morning travellers have witnessed the same ‘morning glory’ of some of the province’s greatest hypocrites.

  • JaneJeffers

    M U

    Lot’s of perfectly legal activities are deemed newsworthy these days.

    The news is a hybrid of entertainment and information, slugger is part of that, and I, unlike Mrazik, find even the titillating aspects of the story fascinating.

    Slugger’s contributors comment on the story and we comment on the comments, so you are part of that which you criticize.

    Not sure why certain individuals have to remain po-faced and talk of this only in terms public service etc etc. You seem to have a comment on every thread, so I would guess your are as enthralled as the rest of us.

  • ding dong

    but the wagons are being circled big time in the DUP

    This will be seen as self interest – as for journalism in NI one only needs to look at the Newsletter over the past few weeks and its been clear our print media and broadcast media have lost or never had the thirst to challenge or hound our politicians.

    But what has been also clear and damning of our media was the clear attempt and expectation by the Robinsons to manipulate the media, the sycophantic interview of peter robinson by the select journalists was nauseating but Peter believed he could get them on side – with the hope of preventing Spotligt going out!

  • Pigeon Toes

    ” Might it not help shine a light on a whole host of planning and public tendering issues? Might it not provide a vehicle for improving how we are governed?”

    Probably not. Not while they can call the shots over the terms of the “independent investigation”.

  • Neil

    the perfectly legal sexual behaviour of a middle aged woman

    Hmm. Where to start. Is it perfectly legal to attempt to channel 25k into your bank account from a property developer when that property developer is acquiring your support for one of their developments? Is it legal not to disclose a loan as a pecuniary interest? Some people have suggested that this was a minor oversight, yet in Westminster heads have rolled for the exact same thing?

    What then, in your opinion of the homosexuals who Iris so publicly judged, who were also engaging in a perfectly legal sexual relationship? Were they not entitled to the same respect, not to be judged (by Iris) in a society that is generally homophobic as is?

    who we knew to be suffering from suicidal depression

    Why was this? Because she had been caught with her trousers down? From what has been said we can surmise the following:

    Iris got caught out by the discovery of a letter; Iris then attempted [para?]suicide; Peter then left his wife and went to work while the good pastor arrived at Chez Robinson and arranged for an ambulance.

    What subtext do I draw from this? As far as Iris was concerned everything was fine and dandy until she got caught out. So in essence what you are saying is that you can behave dismally, suffer consequences for your behaviour, the consequences can lead swiftly to depression (something everyone feels when they lose their job/partner/gravy train ticket/self respect). So boo fucking hoo, she behaved dismally (pertaining to her adultery & financial dealings) and now there have been consequences. It’s a hard old life, but you reap what you sew (as the big man said along with a few other things like for instance the 2 commandments regarding adultery and that whole judge not lest ye yourself too shall be judged).

    The problem for Iris that in her disregarding of the whole he who is with out sin…/judge not…, yet her moral duty to quote Leviticus to the rest of us, she has set herself up to be the parable that goes with ‘let he who is without sin…’ for she cast judgement on people while she was sinning away like a good ‘un.

    with Iris now consigned to hosptial for treatement.

    To steal TAFKABO’s point from Thursday last, for those gay folks out there who have been on the receiving end of a proper kicking, they will feel little for Iris who dehumanised them, and lent further credibility to the homophobic attackers. They will find it hard to feel any sympathy for a woman who said that homosexuality was worse than paedophilia (even if she corrected herself later to say they were about the same), who due to her adultery, and financial impropriety is now feeling a bit down in the dumps.

    It’s also worth noting that the good lady in question had no need to mention her battle with mental illness (in fact took congratulations from people for her brave decision to admit her mental health issues and raising the issue of mental health) until such times as it was perfectly clear that the Spotlight folks had enough on her to finish her off. Forgive me my cynicism but it smacks badly of trying to generate sympathy when you realise you’re about to be exposed as the person you truly are, not the bible bashing one that you try to present to give yourself cover for attacking homosexuality.

  • Jaggers

    Ding Dong

    “Peter believed he could get them on side – with the hope of preventing Spotligt going out! ” I’m not sure about that but what I found interesting about the Spotlight transmission was the haze surrounding its broadcast on Thursday. If one looked at the BBC website on the Spotlight page on Thursday morning, it indicated there were no plans for a future broadcast and noted the last broadcast was last November! Sometime during the day the site was updated and advertised a 60-minute (not a 30-minute) broadcast at 22:35 which duly went out in a 30-minute transmission.

    Was there uncertainty on the BBC’s part about whether to broadcast the programme and if so why?
    Was it originally going to be 60 minutes but was edited to 30, and if so what was left out?
    Were any injunctions sought to prevent the broadcast?

  • Anarchrist

    The cosy nature of journalism here has concerned me for sometime. Anybody who has access to the Stormont tearooms will know what I mean.The reports to camera from Martina Purdy and the “establishment” press posse could be presented by anyone with the wit to read a party press statement verbatim to camera.
    Good to see some actual insight from Eamonn Mallie and Dennis Murray.

  • Fabianus

    ding dong,

    The Newsletter isn’t alone in this. All the media are at it.

    I have to laugh every time I hear about Peter Robinson being such a “skilled leader” etc.

    Will someone please tell me what he’s done that your average school-leaver couldn’t? In what wonderful way has he contributed to the Assembly? He’s a boring little man with a boring little voice and devoid of anything that could be mistaken for charisma. (And lest we think that charisma isn’t important, check out Blair, Berlusconi and just about every successful US politician of this century and the last.)

    What are Robbo’s qualifications? He was an estate agent FFS. That’s a job? The greatest exertion an estate agent has is nailing up a For Sale sign in somebody’s front garden. You’re a go-between, nothing more. A cleaning agent works harder.

    I’ve more respect for a fishmonger. At least he has to buy his fish, gut them, display them and sell them at a profit.

    Still, I suppose being an estate agent is better than being a typist, like Iris was.

    No, let’s hear it for someone like Nigel Dodds, who I believe has a first in English. He worked for it, and it’s a good edge to have when attempting to communicate.

  • [quote][i]Time will tell if they have either the will and the resources to press their case home to the bone… And for once begin to tell the public what’s really going on in our politics… [/i][/quote]

    Mick, Those that need to rely on a wage being paid will be puppets to the wage payers and editorial/executive line.

    One only needs to hear this morning blind obedient full support statements from some of the lesser gifted DUPers this morning, to realise that the unless independent of such control, will you always have a biased view presented, but the likes of free speech and being able to ask pertinent and impertinent questions online and share them with everybody on the Internet has changed the face of politics for the better, but the politicians within their artificial positions of power/in their delusional ivory towers [politicians who tend to forget or even worse, conspire to ignore that they are elected to server all the people’s wishes and not just their own] are now easily questioned and disagreed with if the view they would present does not tally with the facts as uncovered.

    It is time that they realised that everything has changed and nothing now can be kept a secret, for whistleblowing is as simple as an anonymous note on a blog and the whole sad sorry edifice which may be built upon lies and deceit and spin comes crashing down, and rightly tars all who would be pushing and pimping for the Status Quo Corrupting System to remain as it was, with their dodgy business as usual, unconditional support. Politics is a dirty game and any who say it different are deluding themselves and if politicians think otherwise, then they should not be politicians, for they aint going anywhere fast.

    It just aint good enough any more and if you can’t handle the new paradigm, take a hike and quit stealing from the public purse, just doing your thing, …. which in Northern Ireland presently appears to be precious little in the way of progress, with everything being put in the way of progress, and all for the retention of an old ascendancy which has always caused conflict and division and is not Fit for Future Purpose.

    [quote][i] Slugger is extremely fortunate to be blessed with so many commentators who are experts in the theory and practice of investigative journalism.

    However, why these latter-day Woodwards spend all their time spunking across the interwebs rather than tearing down the walls of corruption remains a mystery.[/i][/quote] …. Posted by jtwo on Jan 11, 2010 @ 10:23 AM

    You think the walls are not breached and the hordes are not opening the gates to the mob, jtwo? You gotta get out more, or lay off the skunk.

    And the Hidden Deep Beauty of the Interwebs is … You can never be Absolutely Certain who it is you may be talking to, sharing your best thoughts ideally, otherwise what is the point, for spouting sub-prime, which would be no better than nonsense, is never ever going to change anything for the Better with a Beta Program, which I realise might still be an alien concept to many but you can be assured that such Programming is Extremely Active in Sublime Steganography for HyperRadioProActive IT Clients and CyberIntelAIgent Security Theatres of Operation, for you surely must now realise that the Internet is THE Intelligence Space to Conquer for Command and Control of Computers and Communications and therefore Earthbound Operating Systems.

    What you may not realise, and there are of course very good security reasons for such ignorance in the Field, is that Northern Ireland leads in ITs Semantic Web Fronted dDevelopments.

    I Kid U Not. Just ask who is in Charge if you cannot/do not believe it.

  • Critical Alien

    Jaggers

    I noticed the lack of Spotlight’s site maintenance and delay in the Iplayer upload too. I contacted Spotlight to ask ‘why the delay?’. No explanation came, but a statement that it would be up by lunch instead. Presumably the Spotlight team believed this. I think it actually went up nearer to 4, after the first News24 repeat.

    I don’t know if this is indicative of anything to do with uncertainty or injunctions. I don’t know about the internal processes at the BBC, but could a 4 hour upload delay imply anything other than simple IT procrastination?

  • Jaggers

    Critical Alien,

    “could a 4 hour upload delay imply anything other than simple IT procrastination”

    Only the BBC could confirm the position but from my own point of view I have used iplayer in the past maybe 20/30 times, mostly the next day when I missed something the previous night but on the few occasions that I have missed the start of a programme on TV and was waiting for it to be posted on the iplayer, I have found the delay to be no more than minutes.

    If there truly were attempts to gag the BBC’s broadcast, then that would be a story in itself would it not? Mick?

  • Lionel Hutz

    One has to assume that the party support is in line with his more honourable resignation. It would politically foolish to stand so rigidly behind him if he may yet have more allegations thrown at him. As I said last night, the ofm press release might just be giving him his escape route.

    Tbh, I think he deserves an honourable dignified exit.

  • sigh

    I’m really sorry, but I can’t help it,

    “Will Robinson’s final day”

    “Danger, Will Robinson!”

    I have contributed nothing to this debate, but I feel so much better now.

  • jtwo

    Yes the BBC put it out on the proper telly and got about 300k viewers followed by blanket coverage across all their outlets.

    But then they got cold feet and delayed putting it up the iplayer because of some dark nefarious reasons.

    The technical clue is in the fact that it went up after the News channel re-run.

  • Jaggers

    It’s tittle tattle I suppose but Paddy Power have opened a book on what Kirk McCambley will do next – at 11/10 is that he will sign an exclusie, tell-all with OK/Hello. I’m not a gambler but don’t those odds indicate a strong assessment of likelihood by Paddy Power?
    Other odds being offered are Release a Cover Version of Mrs Robinson (50/1) and Star in a Hollywood remake of the Graduate (500/1).

    All very amusing though there would surely be politicial consequences of a tell-all expose?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Can I also say that it would be a false dawn to believe that this will represent a change in the tact of journalists. The BBC and UTV are still too cosy, they are commentators more than anything else. The print media are still so tribal. In this case the Irish news was suggesting Robinson was fighting for his political life on Wednesday before spotlight while the newsletter has been tame with regards Peter. All tabloids have indulged in the sex scandal only.

    I think the only reason you’ve seen the media being more aggressive is because it was Iris Robinson, such an alienating figure across the board. She’s fair game so to speak. If it had been anyone else, it would have been business as usual, as the Adams saga shows.

    It will return to the usual malaise soon enough.

  • Jaggers

    jtwo, what do the Moscow Rules say again?

    “Once is happenstance, twice is co-incidence, three times is enemy action.” Of course, it’s completely plausible that IT technical problems prevented the timely display of Spotlight on the iplayer. Just think that there was also a lot of haze in the run-up to the broadcast.

  • Critical Alien

    Jtwo,

    I think the question over the (perceived) Iplayer delay was based in wonder rather than paranoia, and the wonder was at the prospect of challenges from parties other than the Beeb that might be indicative of something in the programme being felt to be too close to the bone. Especially given the 60/30 minute discrepancy.

  • jtwo

    It’s on Panorama tonight so I think we can discount the tinfoil-hattery around the iplayer.

    Consider this on duration- if the Spotlight was due to run in a couple of weeks a one hour edit would have been more than feasible.

    Given that their hand was forced by the sob-story interview which got the rest of the media on the case it’s likely they were doing an up-to-the -wire edit which would not have been do-able on an hour long cut.

    Occam’s razor and all that…

  • Critical Alien

    Yes, that seems plausible. There was a sort of lacuna when it came to the developers, as others have mentioned in the show as aired. Perhaps no need for the foil hats, but there did seem to be gap where their stuff might have been.
    I’d guess the likely complexity of that end of things would make it a challenge to portray accessibly, accurately and legally. The 60 minute Panorama might then fill in the gaps when it comes to FF and KC.
    I’ll keep the bacofoil at the ready in case not!

  • Jaggers

    Now, now jtwo, if you had predicted a week ago the revelations of the past 7 days, accusations of abuse of hallucigens would have been in order.

    If Mick or other journos read the blog they might consider asking the BBC about any difficulties including legal difficulties in getting the programme on air. Just sayin’

  • jtwo

    The Spotlight team were preparing a programme basically accusing an MP of corruption…of course there were legal difficulties.

  • danielmoran

    Jaggers, msg 25 It could be they were planning to show the original within abroadcast which had local commentators discussing the film, as they have done in the past on major events on Spotlight. In this case they must have decided not to have the discussion.

  • danielmoran

    Jaggers, msg 25 It could be they were planning to show the original within abroadcast which had local commentators discussing the film, as they have done in the past on major events on Spotlight. In this case they must have decided not to have the discussion.

  • danielmoran

    So, according to Devenport, the DUP meeting today ended with all standing by him. So, is this the ‘thirty pieces of silver for peter letting iris be expelled to save his job? Talk about ruthless, while she’s down.

  • Driftwood

    Good journalism from the Mail..

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1242090/Iris-Robinson-accused-having-lovers.html

    The picture of the graffiti at Whitewell Church near the end is a cracker!