The role of NI media

The Electoral Commission has published its report on the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly election. This coincides with the published research, The Media Election, conducted by Democratic Dialogue last January. DD’s report challenges the role that the media in NI played in the election.

The executive summary of The Media Election concludes:

In a democratic society, the media play a critical role as a fourth estate, ‘speaking truth to power’. With honourable individual and organisation exceptions, it cannot objectively be said that the media adequately played such a role in the assembly election of 2003.

Ouch. But about time. My blood boils whenever I hear a local journalist say, “But we’re neutral and have no effect on the election campaign.” Yeah, right. Of course, the job of a party communication officer is to try to influence what the media reports.

The report provides a contrast with Ms Atkinson of BBC Scotland has said (March 2003):

Our view is that this is the people’s election. We are not going to pursue the politicians’ agenda but the people’s agenda. It is our job to explain what the political parties’ policies are and what they mean.

One could beg the question, is the communal divide the people’s agenda in Northern Ireland? What is the role of the media in its reportage in such an environment? Does acting neutral actually contribute to perpetuating the divide? (I had hoped the DD report would contextualise its report more in this way.)

About Allan Leonard

Working for a cohesive Northern Ireland society My special interest is Northern Ireland affairs, arriving from America at the time of the 1994 ceasefires. Currently serve as Director, Northern Ireland Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation based in Belfast. Previous posts include Policy Officer at the Northern Ireland Assembly, General Secretary of the Alliance Party, and Operations Manager at the Ulster Historical Foundation. Previously, I was responsible for the development and launch of the Troubled Images project at the Northern Ireland Political Collection, Linen Hall Library; this exhibit travelled worldwide. My professional background includes marketing, communications, exhibition and event management, policy development, and senior management. Received a MA degree in Irish Political Studies from University College Dublin, and a BA degree (with Distinction) in International Relations from Boston University. Views expressed here may not represent those of current or previous employers or associations.

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