Executive planning to cut the ties that bind the NI press to government revenue spend?

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

, ,

  • SethS

    I think the report says 20% rather than 20 (through that’s still 12 newspapers).

    Nevertheless, it’s hard to judge if this is a good thing or a bad thing. 60 newspapers for such a small place seems an awful lot. If a city the size of London can’t even sustain one paid for newspaper its hard to see how 60 papers can survive in NI.

    Of course with no effective opposition at present, one can argue that the press are the only people holding the government to account, and that a loss of regional papers with in the long run reduce the numbers of journalists and their quality.

    At the same time I find it hard to beleive that all 60 of these are doing much if any serious investigative journalism that would have any impact on Stormont at all. The majority are likely to be local papers of the weddings and agricultural show variety. That’s not to say there isn’t a role for these, but the number does not seem sustainable with or without what effectively amounts to public subsidy.

    Obviously the hope is that a consolidated sector less dependent on public funding will be better able to do its job in holding the government to account. As you say though, the question is – is there enough cash to do this?

  • Mick Fealty

    You’re right. That was a mistype on my part…

    I don’t think there is enough money, at least in the model that’s currently available. Politics has become an impossible burden for a few high quality pols corrs left in Northern Ireland.

    Despite the criticism people make they are incredibly productive for the few resources already at their disposal. it begs a new model.

  • Framer

    Fewer newspapers puts the BBC in an ever more dominant, even monopoly position. Their ‘free’ websites are destroying the national and Belfast press while their ceaseless unsubtle attempts to see off Murdoch will leave the field clear of any real competition.
    You can test my thesis by seeing if anyone could get on the BBC to suggest a compulsory newspaper reading licence fee of perhaps a paltry £50 a head, the proceeds to be shared by all our papers.

  • Drumlins Rock

    a few high quality pols corrs ?????

  • FuturePhysicist

    Oh no! If not the public sector money being thrown at them to be “positive”, and the syphoned money coming from foundations and trusts of selected third party donors (actually just ignore third) who would fund our local journalist’s attacks on the “bloated” size of the public sector?

    Sales? Advertising? Private Investment?


  • FuturePhysicist

    Apparently the local administration has threatened not to advertise public sector jobs, with the devastating effect that might have on 70% of newspapers.

    Do we really have a free press or are these free newspapers just propaganda leaflets for the status quo.

  • “The FM and dFM have not been above a little bit of media manipulation.”

    Is this another part of the manipulation: “Stormont’s huge bills for PR work”?

    STORMONT ministers have been accused of massaging their egos with taxpayers’ money after signing PR contracts which include £400,000 for members of the Executive to get their photographs taken. ..

    When asked why ministers believe it is important that they are photographed, a spokesman for the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister said: “Photography is a key component of the Executive’s communication strategy and is an important tool in promoting and explaining the work of government.

    As a media friend put it to me recently, “If the DUP and Sinn Fein were serious about saving money they might look at cutting the photographer who accompanies them on all overseas trips before removing advertising from newspapers.”