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.)