November 25, 2013

If the press is accountable to Peter Robinson, then Peter Robinson is no longer accountable to the press

Andrew Sullivan at the Harvard University JFK School of Government here

Peter Robinson has got this very wrong. The role of the press, the media and journalists is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The newspapers are not the government's pet to control, or in any way influence. The newspaper is there to hold government to account. Not the other way around. Andrew Sullivan said of the role of the journalist in his Theodore H. White lecture to Harvard's JFK School of Government here:
"I think our job is to say things that no-one else will say and to find out things that make people very uncomfortable. The powerful and the powerless. I think our job is not to worry about the impact of what we find out and say but to say what we think and to report what we see."
George Orwell famously said:
"Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations." 
Mick Fealty wrote of the Stormont all-party, power-sharing coalition here:
"This also goes some way to explain why the Stormont administration has, even after six years, failed to produce anything (beyond copious amounts of PR) resembling a partnership government." 
What Peter Robinson is effectively calling for, is for the press to laud and applaud ineffectual government. He wants Orwell's PR. He wants more PR to go on-top of the "coprious amounts of PR" that flows from the sectarian machine. This a perversion of the western, democratic model. His charge and call is an inversion of a healthy, functioning press. As Boris Johnson said in The Telegraph:
"It's a vigorous, voracious press that keeps our country honest."
As the November 3 2013 Sunday Times editorial said:
"It is the job of the press to keep the politicians honest. It is not the job of politicians to to decide what the press can print." 
Newton Emerson spoke in March 2012 on BBC NI's Hearts and Minds on the First Minister's complaint about the predominance of negative publicity in the media here. He said:
"Peter Robinson now sits at the top of a vast and cynical scare-story machine, instead of shooting the messenger, he should take aim at the negativity his government funds and his party humours." 
If the press is accountable to Peter Robinson, then Peter Robinson is no longer accountable to the press. These claims should concern any committed democrat. Peter Robinson has already defended the veto of Northern Ireland's archaic libel regime, see here. A law slammed by British journalists as a “national embarrassment” and by the American media as “repugnant to U.S. constitutional principles.” See also my article on Eamonn, I’ll see you in court – the new DUP war cry here.

I've also posted here on the need for Great Britain to adopt speech laws like those protected in the United States under the First Amendment.

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