Belfast Telegraph

We don’t have rats, councillor, just good newshounds

By Paul Connolly

The Belfast Telegraph landed itself in hot water with some politicians this week. For doing its job. And for a story that promoted Belfast in a positive light.

Puzzled? Let me explain.

Reporter Lesley-Anne McKeown obtained a leaked copy of a £150m investment package that includes a £20m extension to the Waterfront Hall, a Lagan Canal Corridor and a host of other fairly visionary proposals to continue the modernisation of the city.

Her story sparked a furious reaction from many councillors. You'll be aware of the details from our News section.

Well done to Lesley-Anne for scooping the pack and bagging an exclusive.

A good news story for a change, too, in these grim economic days. But, of course, the downside of Lesley-Anne's scoop was the pooping, somewhat, of City Hall's grand press conference to unveil the plans.

Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth from politicians of all hues.

To cries of “shame”, councillors railed against the leaker — and against the Telegraph for publishing it.

Ulster Unionist Davy Browne was particularly vitriolic, slamming the paper and its correspondent.

As for the leaker, he or she was a “rat”.

Sorry, councillor, but a “rat”, metaphorically speaking, mugs old ladies and leaves them bleeding in the street.

A “rat” dumps his wife and kids and leaves them penniless.

The leaker might have been misguided, in Councillor Browne's opinion.

I can accept that.

But branding him or her a “rat” was over the top.

It might not apply in this case, but remember that whistleblowers are protected by legislation.

Councillor Browne also demanded “some sort of sanctions” against the Belfast Telegraph.

What kind of sanctions, precisely?

And for what crime?

For the crime of doing its job, presumably.

The toxic nature of the attacks is all a bit worrying. Are politicians beginning to feel, after some of the Leveson hearings, that it's open season on the Press?

I hope not.

As has previously been noted, Leveson is about the sins of the national media.

I'm not saying there has never been a single transgression at regional level, but nothing has emerged yet and the dialogue and lengthy list of crimes and malpractice — horrendous as it is — has all been a witches' brew of Fleet Street's making.

An irreverent and rumbustious Press is a key pillar of democracy — and the price of a few spoiled press conferences is one well worth paying.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com

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