Northern Ireland news

Newspaper 'faced advertising threat over DUP coverage'

The issue was raised during a discussion of attempts by political parties behind the scenes to exert pressure on the media
Brendan Hughes

A PROMINENT newspaper journalist has told of threats he faced that government advertising would be pulled if the DUP received unfavourable coverage.

Sam McBride, political editor of the News Letter, condemned the threats as an "abuse of taxpayers' money".

He stressed that they happened some years ago and did not occur during First Minister Arlene Foster's time as DUP leader.

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Mr McBride, who last year released the popular book Burned which chronicled the RHI scandal, was speaking yesterday on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.

The programme was discussing attempts by political parties behind the scenes to control news stories and exert pressure on the media.

Mr McBride said: "In my case I have experience of threats that government advertising in the News Letter would be pulled if the DUP weren't happy with our coverage.

"I'm going back several years here, quite a few years. It was not something that in my case, I think anybody that has followed my journalism, would say has worked – quite the opposite.

"It didn't impress me and it doesn't impress me."

News Letter journalist Sam McBride with his book Burned. Picture by Laura Davison/Pacemaker

He added: "It was not just made to me, it was made to senior colleagues. My understanding is that we're not the only newspaper that has faced that.

"I should make very clear this did not happen during Arlene Foster's time as DUP leader. Nothing of that nature has happened at all during her tenure as leader."

He said that "going back quite some years that was something which absolutely happened and it was appalling".

Mr McBride said "appropriate pressure", such as querying media lines of questioning in news reports, can be a "healthy and important aspect of political discourse between politicians and the media".

But on the threats he experienced, he said: "That is an example of inappropriate pressure where there is absolutely no public interest justification for that."

A DUP spokesman said: “Public sector advertising is a matter for executive departments, not political parties.

"The DUP has made representations to HMG [Her Majesty's Government] in recent weeks for financial assistance for the newspaper industry.”

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