Paul Connolly, left, readers editor at the Belfast Telegraph, has claimed some Northern Irish politicians would “love to emasculate” the BBC after the release of the Government’s White Paper on the corporation’s future earlier this month.
The BBC is pledging £8m a year to fund 150 public service journalists who would be employed by local newspapers to boost coverage of local councils and devolved bodies.
Paul believes this would lead to four such journalists being employed in Northern Ireland if funding is shared out proportionately across the United Kingdom.
The White Paper, in a section headed ‘Increasing Accountability to the Nations’, mandates the BBC to develop a “memoranda of understanding agreed with each of the devolved administrations”.
In his column, Paul wrote that BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme was the “last big investigative force left locally”.
He added: “I sense trouble ahead. It’s perfectly reasonable that BBC NI director Peter Johnston and his execs are held to account by Stormont on strategy and spending.
“But I know from conversations with some local politicians that many loathe the BBC and perceive it to be biased against them. They would love to emasculate its probing, investigative journalism.
“The Assembly and Executive are, in effect, controlled by the very two parties – DUP and Sinn Fein – that issue the majority of solicitor’s letters to the local media. And Spotlight is the last big investigative force left locally.
“So, by all means let Stormont hold the BBC to account over its financial and strategic decisions. And we must make sure that BBC NI fulfils its White Paper obligations.
“But, equally, we should stand guard against any attempts to neuter its editorial independence.”