Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Politicians should quit the power games at Stormont

Stormont was meant to provide more approachable and friendly leadership than the direct rule grandees who previously ruled the roost.

Fat chance - our leaders are surrounded by formidable spin machines and MLAs are often forbidden to talk to the Press without clearance. Even so, they don't hesitate to give journos an uncensored earful when it suits - I was called a "pagan" the other day.

Still, it was a shock when Sammy Wilson (right), the finance minister, told Stormont on Tuesday that he withheld all co-operation from the Press Association for around a year. The news agency's offence was unjustly calling him a "party pooper" in a gossip column item on the MTV awards. They wrongly blamed him for halting a Stormont reception.

That was in October last year and he brought a successful claim to the Press Complaints Commission. PA issued a correction in December, saying he was not involved and apologising for the error. In spite of this, Mr Wilson continued to withhold co-operation, including statements, from the agency until a few weeks ago. The situation was only resolved in a meeting with Deric Henderson, PA's Ireland editor.

The Press should, of course, offer prompt corrections when the public are misinformed. Ministers in a democracy also have an obligation to keep their paymasters - the voters - informed and should not play power-games with information.

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