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Have a happy Christmas and a very merry silly season

By Paul Connolly

Published 18/12/2015

Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury

Silly season (noun): "A time of year, usually in mid-summer or during a holiday period, characterised by exaggerated news stories, frivolous entertainments, outlandish publicity stunts and so on. Example: The Shroud (of Turin) is generally lumped in with silly season subjects, such as Atlantis, yetis and UFOs." (Source:

Yes, it's that time of the year again when news editors are sometimes stuck for ideas to fill pages and so need to get creative.

And it's not just the editors - public relations people know the value and opportunity of a good holiday slow spot, too. Expect some obvious space-fillers in coming weeks then, particularly in the national Press. You see, the funny thing about Northern Ireland is that it's a very newsy place for its small size.

You'd almost think we invented the annual July parades crises to fill in the gaps in what should be the summer silly season - because Northern Ireland's news agenda continues to churn all during July and August.

The rule holds less true over Christmas, but even then there is generally enough happening to keep the local news agenda well stoked.

There are probably a number of reasons why our silly season isn't as long as it should be - and unfortunately the sectarianism and racism endemic in our society is part of the answer.

However, almost conversely, perhaps this vibrant news agenda is also actually due to our small size and the strong sense of community that exists in many areas.

People, and therefore newsdesks, are very well-informed about what is going on locally.

It's still pretty amazing that a place of some 1.7 million people supports more than 20 paid-for local weekly newspapers, three dailies, two Sundays, all the London, Dublin and Scottish dailies and Sundays, plus 10 commercial radio stations, BBC NI, UTV and a local TV channel for Belfast, plus all the digital assets associated with these brands.

How long all of this can be sustained is, of course, another matter, but so far the signs are positive - and that's because you, the great Northern Ireland public, likes to be kept informed.

The whole Tyson Fury and Sports Personality of the Year saga neatly ties up two of the key issues of 2015: freedom of speech and the BBC's influence and funding.

On Fury, I am in the freedom of expression camp.

Unless someone knowingly incites others to violence, people should be free to hold and vigorously impart their opinions, no matter how repugnant they may be to others.

Sunlight, as this column has long argued, is the best disinfectant.

It is no coincidence that the world's most powerful and successful country was also the one that first incorporated freedom of speech into its constitution; all other laws flow from the basic freedom to be able to propose them.

Incidentally, Fury denies sending his tweet that gay people should be shot, claiming he was very busy and let others operate his Twitter feed.

He has apologised for that remark and says he doesn't hate gay people.

He should be given the benefit of the doubt. Once.

The other Sports Personality of the Year controversy is the £239,000 paid by Belfast City Council and Tourism NI for, as this newspaper revealed, a single mention of "Belfast" in the show. This is taxpayer-funded sponsorship.

The honest and transparent thing for the BBC to do is to reflect in the end credits that the show is sponsored by Tourism NI and Belfast City Council.

I'm not holding my breath on that one, though. Even if it is silly season.

Belfast Telegraph

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