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Freedom ofthe Press

Challenging government – whose job is it anyway?

Freedom ofthe Press

Freedom of the Press

Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether politicians are being deliberately incomprehensible when it comes to the media or if they just have no idea whatsoever about how journalism works.

Yet again this week, there’s more “advice” from a politician and accountant who’s also an expert on reporting.

It’s a familiar face, and a familiar criticism. Ramsey MHK Lawrie Hooper wants the media to “press the government” more.

https://www.manxradio.com/news/isle-of-man-news/journalists-dont-go-far-enough-hooper/

That damnable media – disappointing him by allowing him to appear live on a radio programme where he could have raised any issue he liked.

Inevitably, the moment it was reported there was the usual hasty update on social media:

Funny, but the last time somewhere else’s fourth estate pressed the government, there was an awful lot of dismay about it:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-isle-of-man-36255023

It seems you can’t please any of the parliamentarians any of the time.

Pots and kettles

Being hard on the government sounds like a great idea, until you consider who is being paid £41,346.50 per annum plus departmental bonuses to do exactly that.

Isn’t representing the interests of constituents and holding government to account exactly why we vote for our elected representatives? Particularly members of an “opposition” party?

The media can’t force anyone to answer a question, and journalists look on enviously as MHKs get the chance to ask anything they’d like (within reason) during each and every sitting of the House of Keys and Tynwald.

Wouldn’t it be great if perhaps someone with that sort of access could press the government more?

What does a journalist do?

It exposes a basic misunderstanding of the role of a journalist.

Reporters report. We ask questions, someone sometimes answers, we publish the results and people are hopefully able to make their own minds up about an issue. It’s not for the press to influence people’s thinking. That way lies madness.

If a minister gives a poor answer and you read the article and think “what a poor answer”, then you have realised it’s a poor answer. Why expect the reporter to waste time stating the obvious?

No journalist should be pro- or anti-government, as that’s not the job we’re paid to do. Our job is to present facts and inform the public well enough for them to form their own opinion of those facts.

Format’s last theorem

Mr Hooper doesn’t seem to realise there’s also  a question of format. Each news outlet has its own format, dictated by its medium and audience.

If Mr Hooper can come up with a way of putting over facts of an announcement and challenging them in a three-minute interview – making it interesting enough for an audience to listen to – he should feel welcome to try.

Or perhaps in the more tabloid style of an outlet which targets women aged 25 to 35 on Facebook, he’d like to explain the issue (and concerns) in 100 words without using any audio.

Or, just perhaps, when he hears something he disagrees with, he could pick up the phone or write an email or send a message on social media offering an opinion which could form a story.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

It always seems to be Liberal Vannin party representatives who blame the press for being too pro-government.

Consider:

  • The former party leader who said they were going to fundraise to create an “independent” news outlet because all others were controlled by government (nothing ever came of it).
  • The former party chairman who was live on the radio and claimed they couldn’t speak his mind because somehow the live broadcast would be “censored”.
  • The party minister who put the phone down on a reporter, then refused to ever speak to that outlet again after the fact was reported.

It’s as if the party really believes some cabal of journalistic conspirators is determined to keep an administration in place.

Pronouncements and press freedom

The truth, however, is somewhat different.

To begin with, any “suggestion” from a politician about how the media should operate or what it should report on is a direct attack on press freedom. Something that’s become more popular with MHKs who seem caught in the headlights when stories don’t paint flattering pictures of them.

Any time a politician says “the media should be doing this”, the unspoken second clause of that statement is “the media shouldn’t be doing this“. A very slippery slope indeed.

And if you’re a politician asking the media to press the government harder, you’re abdicating your responsibility. You challenge the administration – we’ll write about it.

Journalists report. Politicians pressure the government.

What would be the point of holding those pesky elections otherwise?

If you’re a politician who’d like training about how the media works, what reporters do and how to make the most of your relationship with journalists, contact Chips Cheese Gravy Media. We have years of experience training local authority members, electoral candidates, Tynwald members, companies and statutory boards about local media relations.

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