Page last updated at 11:58 GMT, Wednesday, 15 April 2009 12:58 UK

Leaders criticise paper coverage

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson
The ministers have written a letter to the paper's owner

The first and deputy first ministers have met the Belfast Telegraph's editor to express concerns about its reporting of the executive's economic policy.

Last month's meeting followed a letter from Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to the newspaper's proprietor, Sir Anthony O'Reilly.

The letter, sent on 2 March, accused the Telegraph of "demonstrating relentless negativity".

The paper's editor said he was proud of the paper's high standards.

Martin Lindsay said: "We are proud of the standard of journalism maintained by the Belfast Telegraph.

"The recent clutch of awards and nominations received by our staff is testament to this."

However, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness said the paper was "putting a negative twist on the executive's handling of the economy".

"It does seem to us that the Telegraph has been going out of its way not just to highlight negative stories, but to create them and give a negative twist to issues and give them a significantly greater prominence than any of its competitors," the letter said.

Listing a series of complaints, the letter expressly complained about the newspaper's coverage of job losses.

'Lurid'

The letter, which came to light on the Slugger O'Toole political website, said headlines which appeared in the paper on 16 February "were lurid" and "did not demonstrate an even-handed approach".

Belfast Telegraph
The leaders said the newspaper was "negative"

"The leading article in the same edition accused the executive of dithering and making excuses and covered quotes from stakeholders calling on the executive to take steps we had already announced we were doing," it said.

Later, they said the Telegraph "had attempted to claim credit for a speech" by Finance Minister Nigel Dodds to the assembly "just hours" after the newspaper had called on the executive to focus on job creation.

"Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of how the executive and the assembly operated could see how ridiculous such a contention was," the two ministers said.

They added: "We do not seek to fetter in any way the freedom of the press, but by the same token we do not expect to see a campaign ostensibly about creating jobs being used to denigrate and undermine the executive and the assembly."

A spokesman for Sir Anthony said the letter had been "sent to a non-existent" address and was not received by him "for some weeks".

He said it was then was passed on to the paper's Northern Ireland management, including the editor, and dealt with from there.

The spokesman added that all issues regarding the editorial content of the paper were a matter for the editor and not Sir Anthony.

He said: "If Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness wish to meet in relation to other matters, Sir Anthony would be more than happy to do so."



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