Is BBC Newsline doing enough to hold the Executive to account?

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For years we have been accustomed to the constant presence on BBC’s Newsline screen the familiar faces, Monday to Friday, of Noel Thompson and Donna Traynor.

Suddenly they have disappeared.

Journalists like myself always held to the view that the true worth of Thompson was not harnessed on Newsline. His forensic interviewing skills were confined to the now obsolete ‘Hearts and Minds’ TV programme broadcast weekly.

Donna Traynor and Noel Thompson – together no more


The era of the late Barry Cowan has long gone where politicians were regularly put on the spit and nightly challenged by the talented Cowan.

Instead of Noel Thompson we now have presenting, sports reporter/presenter Stephen Watson, Business Editor Jim Fitzpatrick and the sometimes Stormont presenter Tara Mills. All of these are holding the programme together and are all competent. I ask however, are you sometimes confused?

If ever there was a time for an adversarial, interrogatory style of television news, is it not now given that we have our own administration at Parliament Buildings?

Surely there is a cogent case for sharpening the focus on the rôle being played by this Executive.

Daniel Libeskind(left) and newly appointed Development Corporation Terence Brannigan pictured on site at the old Maze prison.


Witness the handling of the appointment of the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation. This was one of the biggest decisions taken by the Office of First and Deputy First minister determining how £350m will be spent.

It was a cock up.

Critical details and backgrounds to the appointees were omitted by the First and Deputy First ministers resultant in a further statement of clarification when hauled before the bar of public opinion.

Can you imagine how already disgruntled members of the Assembly must have felt not to talk about members of the DETI committee?

Some members of the Maze/Long Kesh Corporation are now under further scrutiny over their business and private behaviour.

More details will emerge.

On July 18, OFMDFM released a statement of intent for this new Parliamentary term. Any normal administration would call a press conference at the most appropriate time to win maximum coverage and exposition for the proposed centrepiece of the Executive’s term.

Not this administration.

In this case an OFMDFM statement emerged in the middle of the annual July holidays when I doubt, a single BBC political correspondent was on duty.

There are no signs that this poor line of communication from the office of OFMDFM is going to change in a hurry.

The first task of Malcolm McKibbin, successor to Bruce Robinson, as Head of the Civil Service was, we were advised, to sort out Executive Information Service – that is the office charged with getting the thinking of government across to the public.

That did not happen.

The flow of information remains, to put it mildly – hopeless, as highlighted by the News Letter’s Political Correspondent Sam McBride last week.

The Head of the Civil Service has not sorted out the rôle of EIS and guess what- an  independent panel will now scope this whole area. What is this going to cost? Why was this necessary?

How many times must the office of OFMDFM be told this area of government is not functioning properly?

When will we hear an outcome to this probe into EIS? Is this another case of  ‘appoint a committee’ if no one is prepared to shoot the fox or take a decision?


Last week too we learned that two  members of the Assembly Health Committee are expected to visit Cuba to examine the Health system there.

Should that happen – what is the competence of any member of the Health Committee to evaluate the merits and demerits of the Health Service in Cuba?

What clinical or management skills have they got in carrying out an audit of the pluses and minuses of the Cuban Health care system? This is not to cast aspersions on the genuine commitment of any Committee member to health care.

Should the Executive send Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride to Cuba, people would have some sympathy with such a decision. He is a clinician and is across how Health is managed or mismanaged here.

I would contend for the above reasons there is now a greater need than ever for a fresh look at how we interrogate news.

BBC Newsline is best placed resources-wise and personnel-wise to lead the charge in challenging live, this administration’s guardianship of power.

This is not a time for ‘dumbing down’ news. Au contraire – it is a time for greater vigilance of government, more than ever, particularly because there are increasing signs that London is leaving this administration to its own devices.

History speaks for itself. The last last time London left a local administration to run Northern Ireland we know what happened.



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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. Eamonn,totally agree with you,A mutual veto in Stormont is wrong and this morning,s so called debate was and is a further charade of pretence in what should be a proper governing institution,Supporting your piece,a person of intellect,politically experienced with a forensic analytical strength should be a Paxman like N.Ireland television host.I would also expand the programme not only in holding N Ireland Ministers/Mla,s but also Southern TDs in areas of mutual interest to account.
    So therefore my suggestion for such a person is the only person I believe could do it and could most certainly create great interest ,namely one Eamonn Mallie.
    Such a show could be a major cataylist to engaging people to seriousely consider or re-consider an active interest in their and their country,s political future

  2. Great the media complaining about the media complaining about the stagnation of the Political System here. When will the local media look forward beyond petty nitpicking to have genuine opinions rather than snark?

    Does anyone in the local media really understand the purpose of the media or is it simply a dumping zone for inconsequential moping and moaning from a drama deprived middle-classed and middle aged group who cut their cloth in the Troubles but are not fit for modern times or normal politics.

    I doubt many in the public think our current media and current politicians have any real effectual capacity in the current climate. You’d get the impression that if a local politician wanted to talk about a bread and butter issue, someone from the local media would try to derail it to making institutional change, or the border question, or Catholics vs. Protestants again. The media here is addicted to its own benign sectarianism it’s in complete denial to the fact that it can’t move on.

    The sooner the likes of Brendan McDaid and Newton Emerton ascend more into the spotlight the sooner we’ll have a media that can really put our politicians to shame.

    No matter how bad our politicians get, there are many in the local media sinking to and sometimes even below their level.

  3. Let’s recall it was the BBC under the direction of the Conservatives that have put the likes of Noel Thompson onto the radio. Perhaps they think “serious debate” is part and parcel of Northern Ireland’s problem.

    Are they right?

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