“This has been custom and practice, I have just put it in writing.”

Apparently, 161 publicly-funded press officers are not sufficient to keep Northern Ireland’s troublesome press pack in check…  The Belfast Telegraph has gotten hold of a “confidential memo” [not yet online] from the NI Minister of Culture, Sinn Féin’s Carál Ní Chuilín, to the various arms-length bodies (ALBs) within the department’s remit setting out “a proposed media communications protocol”.  From the BBC report

DCAL said the objective was to promote best practice in communication and to ensure that the media and the public were fully informed about DCAL and the work of the arms length bodies (ALBs).

These include organisations such as the Arts Council, the Armagh Planetarium and Sport Northern Ireland.

Among the “protocols” outlined by the paper was the requirement that bodies consult the department of culture about any approach from the media.

It said the minister should be offered the opportunity to lead in any publicity event.

The Belfast Telegraph also claimed the memo warned that if there was a disagreement between the department and ALBs, DCAL would have the final say.

Earlier the BBC report included a comment from the Department stating that any problems could be worked out in a “communications forum” that was being set up.  Now, however, we only have the comments from the Minister.

Ms Ni Chuilin said the protocols had been in place for decades, “even through direct rule”.

“This has been custom and practice, I have just put it in writing,” she said.

The minister said 84% of her department’s budget went to arms length bodies.

“It’s just a question of autonomy and responsibility for public money,” she said.

Ms Ni Chuilin said she met regularly with the bodies and none had raised the issue.

That doesn’t exactly tally with the additional comments in the BBC report from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

A spokesperson for the Arts Council, one of the arms length bodies, said: “The Arts Council confirms that it received from DCAL a proposed media communications protocol between DCAL and its arms length bodies.

“The protocol will be considered by the Arts Council at its next board meeting at the end of March.

“We can’t make any further comment until the council has had the opportunity to discuss the protocol.”

And from the Belfast Telegraph editorial

The document went to eight so-called arms-length bodies, although, obviously, Ms ni Chuilin doesn’t believe that they are beyond her reach. Her attempt to gag the bodies – one part of the document says her department must be called in if any issue is likely to result in negative publicity – is more akin to old Soviet-style control than the behaviour expected of a politician in a democratic society. There is no sense of irony in her statement that the new protocols will not encroach on any organisation’s independence. Is she serious?

Update  In today’s Belfast Telegraph Liam Clarke has some details from the “confidential memo”

One key item in the three-page protocol speaks of the organisations “working in partnership with DCAL” on media matters but adds “in circumstances where agreement cannot be reached the department will decide how an issue/event will be handled”.

DCAL must be called in if any issue is likely to result in “negative publicity” and if the media make a Freedom of Information (FoI) request which could be sensitive.

The minister must be offered the opportunity to lead in any publicity event. The document concludes: “DCAL’s contribution to the funding of ALBs and the organisations they support should be appropriately recognised through a variety of mediums.

“This includes press releases, speeches, publications, banners and advertisements. DCAL’s brand should be prominently displayed and given equal billing to the ALB brand.”

The memo from the minister also states: “The key consideration for all media handling is that the implementation of an early warning system is to ensure there are no surprises.”

It continues: “ALBs will receive a request via their sponsoring branch for forthcoming proposed PR events. This is to facilitate the development of a PR programme focused on the minister’s key areas of interest. The minister has a particular interest in community-based work in disadvantaged areas.” [added emphasis]

And, apparently, in an accompanying letter

Ms Ni Chuilin states: “The protocol, and the work my officials are undertaking on branding, will not encroach upon your organisation’s independence.”
“Is she serious?”

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  • Well what do you expect from a Spin Féin minister, a representative of a party which is part of an administration obsessed with photo-ops and positive stories. They’re even trying to spin the Titanic positively.

  • ranger1640

    Carol Cullen’s fascist party politics are starting to come to fruition. “Control the media you control the people”!

    As the Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne said “I’ve interviewed Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams and they are so well disciplined and so well honed that no interviewer gets anywhere with them.

    “You get nowhere with them because they lie.

    “They lie all the time. They don’t mind lying and they’ve rehearsed their lies and they’ve been trained to lie, and that’s what they’re doing.”

    “like so many other Irish people”, he had lost interest in the presidential election.

    He said that when he looks at Mr McGuinness, he does not think “statesman and politician”, but rather “former IRA man and former gunman”.

    He went on: “Do the Irish people want this guy to be head of the armed forces and all those connotations?

    “And under the Constitution there are many, many different things about which Sinn Fein, and he will wriggle, and weasel words as usual, because they’re very, very good at doing that.”

    I’ll not argue with that Gay.

    Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/republic-of-ireland/gay-byrne-fires-astonishing-broadside-at-mcguinness-in-tv-rant-16053993.html#ixzz1ovwdoruc

  • cynic2

    What is the problem?

    She is simply giving directions to the serfs on how the glorious successes of the Mandatory Coalition Reich are to be communicated to the masses.

    Stormont Stormont Uber Alles
    Stormont will best presented be
    Ministers are Omni – Competent
    They can cope with all you see

    Under brave, courageous Leaders
    For Pete and Marty, we all sing
    Sing the praises of Departments
    In officially endorsed witterrings

    Yes, Sing the praises of Departments
    But only in officially endorsed witterrings

  • Jim Allister has put down a question on Monday for answer by March 28:

    AQW 9567/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what media communications protocol exists between her Department and each of its arm’s-length bodies; and to publish these protocols.

    There’s a related ‘control of information’ issue that I mentioned on Slugger a few months ago; it was brought to my attention by a retired middle-ranking civil servant. The previous custom for FoI requests was to, say, despatch the request down to the relevant division level for an answer re. a local matter and for the reply to come back to Belfast HQ and on to the requestor, possibly via the ministerial office. I’m told that in more recent times in some departments replies from division are filtered by SpAds prior to ratification by Belfast HQ.

    This looks like political micro-management whereas just over a year ago Conor Murphy was keen to stress: “My role as a Minister carries responsibility for the policy and legislative framework and, as shareholder for appointing the NIW board, I have to ensure that NIW delivers water and sewerage services.”

    This ‘control of information’ process has also been presented in other settings as a need for ‘corporacy’.

  • Pete Baker

    Update In today’s Belfast Telegraph Liam Clarke has some details from the “confidential memo”

    One key item in the three-page protocol speaks of the organisations “working in partnership with DCAL” on media matters but adds “in circumstances where agreement cannot be reached the department will decide how an issue/event will be handled”.

    DCAL must be called in if any issue is likely to result in “negative publicity” and if the media make a Freedom of Information (FoI) request which could be sensitive.

    The minister must be offered the opportunity to lead in any publicity event. The document concludes: “DCAL’s contribution to the funding of ALBs and the organisations they support should be appropriately recognised through a variety of mediums.

    “This includes press releases, speeches, publications, banners and advertisements. DCAL’s brand should be prominently displayed and given equal billing to the ALB brand.”

    The memo from the minister also states: “The key consideration for all media handling is that the implementation of an early warning system is to ensure there are no surprises.”

    It continues: “ALBs will receive a request via their sponsoring branch for forthcoming proposed PR events. This is to facilitate the development of a PR programme focused on the minister’s key areas of interest. The minister has a particular interest in community-based work in disadvantaged areas.” [added emphasis]

    And, apparently, in an accompanying letter

    Ms Ni Chuilin states: “The protocol, and the work my officials are undertaking on branding, will not encroach upon your organisation’s independence.”

    “Is she serious?”

  • streetlegal

    The Stormont ministers all take there direction on day to day business from their deparmental officials. There letters and statements are drafted by these senior civil servants. In reality the ministers themselves have very little knowledge of what their departments are doing from one day to the next.