One of the most obvious absences in the PSA’s Northern Irish sessions is a serious consideration of the precarious position the mainstream media finds itself in viz a viz the proverbial speaking of truth to power (as opposed to confidence building).
And, as the The Detail notes that position, for print media at least, is just about to get even more precarious.
Mr Robinson and McGuinness provide their own take on the link between cuts and the journalism of the papers concerned – suggesting that the danger could be that papers could start sniping because of the new regime: “In the past editorial decisions were not influenced by the level of government advertising and as we enter a new period of significant pressures on public expenditure, it would be disappointing if this principle was disregarded.”
In previous years newspapers have successfully resisted attempts by the government to withdraw advertising from them, relying on legal requirements for public authorities to advertise in a wide range of printed press.
But it’s thought they’ll be unable to do so this time round; the review has recommended a phased approach: continuing to place notices with newspapers where there is a legal obligation to – such as planning notices, but this is only until it changes the legislation involved, a process it estimates will take 18 months.
The shift has already occurred with government procurement where there is no obligation to advertise in the press; a single government ad in papers already directs viewers towards the civil service website – www.nidirect.gov.uk – when fresh tenders have been put up; it’s known as the “New to View” ad.
Important as it is, much of what’s going on at Leveson is a distraction from the biggest problem facing the newspaper industry, and regional papers more than most. The FM and dFM have not been above a little bit of media manipulation.
The message here is effectively, “we are going to cut what decent resources you still retain, but we don’t what you to complain about it or criticise us for it”.
In a marketplace like Northern Ireland where the bulk of employment is firmly rooted in the public sector, newspaper advertising is disproportionately dependent upon government for its revenue. If the cuts are implement The Detail cites research suggesting that 20% of Northern Ireland’s 60 titles could go under.
Ironically, a press less dependent on government advertising should make for a freer one. It remains to be seen whether Northern Ireland has the capacity to develop a model that can afford to get to the truth of what’s happening inside government, and pay wages…
But go read all of it…
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