Two leading political journalists have claimed that “IRA standards of discipline”
are being applied by Sinn FÃ©in, which has “blacklisted” them during the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
The Northern Ireland editor of the Sunday Times, Liam Clarke, and northern editor of the Sunday Tribune, Suzanne Breen, have claimed they have been refused access to candidates as a “punishment”.
Clarke told Press Gazette: “They have always operated a policy of only inviting favoured journalists to press briefings with leadership. They also restrict the media they will issue press statements to. But this blacklisting goes beyond such practices.
“Recently I had arranged to go on a canvass with a candidate who had given me a telephone interview. About an hour later, he rang me back and said he couldn’t speak to me until after the election. When I asked him if he had been ‘ordered from on high”, he confirmed that he had, laughed and said: ‘You don’t seem to be flavour of the month.'”
He added: “I’ve had politicians being annoyed at things I’ve written, but I’ve never known this to happen with a party.”
Breen said: “I have previously written stories about dissent within the movement and Sinn FÃ©in’s response seems to be to punish the journalists. It’s a way to influence journalists.
They’ll say: ‘Don’t go after these stories – we will withdraw co-operation if you do.’
“This behaviour is unprecedented in my experience in Northern Ireland.
“I phoned up asking for access to one of their candidates in Derry and I was told that she was available but wasn’t available to the Sunday Tribune or to myself.
“When looking for access to candidates in another constituency, I was told no candidates were available to me and there would be no co-operation during the election campaign for myself or the Sunday Tribune.
“I feel that this is very much a punishment for writing stories that they don’t like.”
In a comment piece, the Northern Ireland edition of the Sunday Times compared the actions of Sinn FÃ©in during the recent election campaign with the refusal during the 1980s of British and Irish Governments to allow Sinn FÃ©in politicians to appear on TV.
And the Sunday Tribune put an addendum to a recent story about Sinn FÃ©in saying: “Sinn FÃ©in’s viewpoint is absent from this article because it was the only party which refused access to the Sunday Tribune.”
A spokesman for Sinn FÃ©in maintained that the party has an “open door” policy to the media and said of the complaints by Clarke and Breen: “If you go back over the last two or three weeks, two candidates spoke to Liam Clarke – there were quotes in his articles and Martin McGuinness issued a written statement to Liam.
“There’s no blanket ban on the Sunday Times or the Sunday Tribune – there are issues with those two in finding Republicans who are comfortable to talk to them because they are journalists who are historically opposed to our project. We can’t force people to talk to Liam Clarke or Suzanne Breen.”