Does no one in the Northern Irish media check the provenance of political stories?

IN the first of a series of posts examining Northern Irish blindspots, Ian Parsley takes last week’s announcement of the effective abandonment (read the detail in Pete’s post if you don’t believe me) of the A5 project (predictable since the downturn of 08, inevitable since the change of government) as a classic dog bites man story with which Northern Ireland media is bursting at the seams.

But, he argues, there is a huge cost to paid for such poor attention to past detail:

As noted earlier, the unwillingness of our media to provide effective challenge and scrutiny to the authorities is extremely alarming in a democracy, particularly one like ours which is struggling to find its feet and lacks a formal, political Opposition. It is the reason that obvious points, such as the lack of investment in water infrastructure or the rapid rise in unemployment, go unreported until people go without water or jobs are actually lost. Such things would be preventable if they were reported honestly sooner, and those raising them were taken seriously.

Our democratic deficit is not caused by Martin McGuinness trying to put a brave face on what, for his party in particular, is a bit of a disaster for all kinds of reasons. It is not even caused by the lack of formal Opposition in the Assembly. It is caused by the unwillingness of large parts of the media to report the facts, as opposed to reporting the slant placed on them by politicians. People genuinely suffer as a result of this failing. We have to find a way to put it right.

A free press is only free to the extent it chooses to exercises its freedom. All too often that freedom shows only in the editorial and comment page, often in its most cynical guise.

It’s much less common in the news, where the journalist is largely expected to notate the words of the politician, rather that give an authoritative view on the significance of what is often merely a single point in a sequence of events.

As well as making the news more readable, it might actually help make government more accountable, and relevant, to the people who elect them.

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