Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Minister's memo control freakery

The memorandum on media protocols sent out by Culture Minister Caral ni Chuilin to a number of arts and sporting bodies is truly an astonishing document.

Strip away the civil service style language and the nice sounding caveats and the message is crystal clear - the organisations are not to say anything publicly that the minister would disapprove of. It is quite blatant control freakery. The irony of course is that her confidential memo was immediately leaked.

The document went to eight so-called arms-length bodies, although, obviously, Ms ni Chuilin doesn't believe that they are beyond her reach. Her attempt to gag the bodies - one part of the document says her department must be called in if any issue is likely to result in negative publicity - is more akin to old Soviet-style control than the behaviour expected of a politician in a democratic society. There is no sense of irony in her statement that the new protocols will not encroach on any organisation's independence. Is she serious?

Although it is astonishing to see her control ambitions so clearly documented, there should be no surprise that they exist. Leaving aside her own political background - Sinn Fein doesn't allow members to go off-message - she is also part of a power bloc at Stormont which is almost paranoid about criticism. Not so long ago First Minister Peter Robinson was complaining about the media highlighting negative stories about the province.

At Stormont there are an incredible 161 press officers whose jobs are to spin the news in the most favourable way possible for the Executive. But, obviously, Ms ni Chuilin believes the spinning should not stop there. Other bodies which rely on the department for funding should also be forced to toe the line. Her desire for control has been laid bare but, fortunately, this newspaper, like the rest of the media here, is independent and will not be forced to swallow propaganda.

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