Senator warns journalists not to be friends with politicians


JOURNALISTS OUGHT to be extremely wary of being part of a cosy consensus with politicians and should not be friends with TDs and Senators, the Parnell Summer School in Co Wicklow heard last night.

Addressing a panel discussion entitled “Reporting Irish Politics – a cosy consensus or a challenging voice?” barrister, former journalist and now Senator Alex White said relations between politicians and the media “should always be fraught; there is something wrong if it is not fraught”.

Should journalists “continue to mouth the words of the elite” he said, they would “not be remotely doing their job”. He said journalists should rail against politicians who complained of “negativity”. Senator White reminded the audience it was just three years since Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s predecessor wondered why those who questioned the economic consensus did not consider suicide.

But he said there was a willingness among quality newspapers – and some summer schools – to accept that “we are where we are” and “there has to be pain” involved in solving the economic crisis. He said former PD leader Michael McDowell believed The Irish Timeswas a left-wing newspaper – yet “Mr McDowell’s picture is on the front page every time he takes a deep breath”.

He also said “performance journalism” was a problem in that “generally questions should be shorter than the answer”. Paraphrasing the late Mr Justice Liam Hamilton’s comment on the Beef Tribunal, he said if politicians had originally answered they way they did at the tribunal, there would have been no need for a tribunal.

The Irish Timespolitical reporter Mary Minihan said writing critical articles was more difficult for a reporter in Leinster House “living and working – almost sleeping – cheek by jowl with politicians” than for a political opinion writer working from home. She recalled how as a “regional” reporter she had been excluded from weekly post-Cabinet briefings by the national media based in Leinster House.

Kevin Rafter, a former full-time journalist and now academic, said “lobby journalism”, the practice of political advisers giving unattributed briefings, “goes against everything that journalism should be, openness and transparency”. While reform had taken place in the UK, he said, it had a way to travel in Ireland.