Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Telegraph balanced in EU debate, but papers free to be partisan

By Paul Connolly

Easter is early this year, meaning there will be a long run-up to the summer. What will make it even longer, for some anyway, is the sheer amount of politics - local and national - to be endured in the meantime.

There are, as you'll not need to be reminded, two political events standing in the way of you and your summer holiday: the Stormont election and the EU membership referendum. Both will generate much heat and less light; of that we can all be sure.

The next election to the Northern Ireland Assembly is on Thursday May 5. And then there is the EU Referendum, also known as #EuroRef on social media, on June 23.

Much is at stake in the latter, so expect the squabbling to reach fever pitch in June.

Belfast Telegraph readers, never shy about sharing their views, have been writing in various forums to express their support or dissatisfaction about various Europe-related topics.

Ivor Armstrong emailed Letters to the Editor to complain about the coverage of the EuroRef: "As a frequent reader of your paper, I am disappointed that your coverage to date of the EU referendum has not been balanced, but very biased to the "stay-in" side. Surely all of the media needs to give equal coverage to both sides? For example, rarely does it mention that the UK pays in some £18bn per year to the EU, but only gets out some £9bn."

It is, of course, early days, but currently I see no evidence of undue Belfast Telegraph bias against the Brexit side.

If there was, the paper would not, for example, have published a thunderous missive from reader Harry Stephenson, that ended by stating that Turkey was metaphorically "blackmailing" the EU over migrants.

"Ironically, this debacle of EU government is what Messrs Cameron & Co want the people of Britain to vote to remain in," he wrote.

"It displays an arrogance beyond belief and incredulity if they think the people of Britain are that stupid."

It may well be that someone will produce a ruler and 'prove' that the Remain side has had more column centimetres than its opponents so far.

That is possible. But both arguments have been given adequate space in print and online.

Even if the Telegraph's coverage did become unbalanced, this is not in itself a breach of the rules as there is no requirement for "equal coverage", contrary to what many may believe. Clause 1 (iv) of the Editor's Code of Practice permits the Press to be partisan, although it must "distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact".

Other clauses require editors not to publish "inaccurate, misleading or distorted" information or images, including headlines not supported by the text, the latter being the crux of the Queen's current complaint against The Sun.

This will be a key case for IPSO, the new Press watchdog. On the evidence currently available it seems to me the paper is on a sticky wicket as the Queen's views were reportedly expressed long before the referendum was called.

Meanwhile, some grammatical errors are, for some reason, more toe-curling than others. Especially if they are on the front page.

The abuse of the word 'seen' seems particularly prevalent on these shores, so thanks to Fiona McNeill for taking the time to upbraid us on the difference between past tense and past participle in this sentence from an article about Lord Molyneaux: "Jeffrey Donaldson MP, a friend of the peer, said he never seen them together."

It should, of course, have read, "he never saw them together". Apologies.

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