Mar 9th, 2007 | By | Category: Ireland

A veteran left wing English Labour MP is said to have expressed the opinion on one occasion that everyone should read the Financial Times, because, he suggested, the rich and the powerful did not tell each other lies. (Well, he didn’t use precisely those words, but that was the gist of it). Maybe their journalists are not as lazy as some who write the headlines on this island.

Take two news stories, firstly, the 1998 referendum on the Good Friday Agreement in the North. The vehement opposition to the agreement was led by Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist Party. The result of the referendum was reported as an overwhelming victory for those who believed in power sharing and a numbing defeat for the opponents of the Agreement.

Secondly, the election result after the completion of the count in the North today. “The people have spoken”, roared Dr Paisley, as only he can. The media reported a crushing victory for the DUP.

Now take the statistics.

In the 1998 referendum, the opponents of the Agreement gained 29.8% of the vote, as against 71.1% in favour.

In the Assembly election this week, the DUP gained 30.1 of the vote, as against 69.9% who voted against them.

How can 29.8% be a crushing defeat and 30.1% be a great victory?

It’s much easier to paint a simple black and white picture than one with a thousand shades of grey, but bad news reporting isn’t just laziness, it’s dangerous in communities that watch such stories and believe they have cause for triumphalism or alienation.

Jesus said once “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Let’s report things as they are. Spinning stories might make easy news; they make for bad community relations. It’s not just the Evil One we need to look out for, it also lazy journalists.

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