Paul Connolly, the Readers' Editor at the Belfast Telegraph commented recently (19 October) on the arrival of the Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast. He acknowledged the overwhelming public support for the current legal position in Northern Ireland but my attention was taken by a few short paragraphs near the end of the article:
I think the answer to the question about how newspapers should report highly-charged issues is quite simply to be professional. Avoid defamation, cut through the spin and, above all, follow the industry Code of Practice.
Clauses 1 (Accuracy and 2 (Opprotunity to Reply) of the Editor's Code are key. Taking care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information is critical Correcting inaccuracies and distortions is also essential. An opportunity to reply must be offered to wronged individuals.
Newspapers must dintinguish clearly between 'comment, conjecture and fact'. however, unlike TV and radio, the Press is free to be partisan.
So editors do not have to junp through hoops to be absolutely even-handed to both sides.
They are free, provided they follow the rules, to campaign, interrogate, criticise and question; even on this most emotional of subjects.
Unlike television and radio, which are supposed to be impartial,'the press is free to be partisan'. It is important that we keep that fact in mind. We should always read newspapers keeping in mind the fact that they are partisan and are not impartial. The NewsLetter is a unionist newspaper, the Irish News is a nationalist newspaper, 'pro fide et patria', and becoming increasingly 'green', while the Belfast Telegraph has become more and more liberal and cosmopolitan.
However newspapers 'must distinguish chearly between comment, conjecture and fact' and that is an area where newspapers often fall short.