BY CHRIS MCNULTY
IN AN unprecedented step, there will be no media presence at Sunday’s Donegal county convention after members of the local media declined an invite to attend.
The local media has refused to agree to a condition on the invite that would allow the Chairman, Sean Dunnion, to call discussion on an item ‘in camera’ at any time, even in retrospect.
The invite was circulated to media outlets late on Sunday night. Representatives from the media liaised on Monday morning before a response was submitted to the County Board.
The response read: “Thank you for you invitation to Co. Convention on Sunday. It is with regret that we cannot attend due to the conditions laid down, in particular condition that meeting can go in camera ‘retrospectively’.”
This was signed by representatives from the Donegal News, Donegal Democrat, RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta, Donegal Post, Inishowen Independet and Highland Radio, as well as a Donegal-based freelance reporter, who has covered meetings for national media outlets.
The invite’s stipulation was: “An Cathaoirleach can call at any time, or during any part of the meeting, that the meeting is going in camera, either in advance or retrospectively. I trust this is to your satisfaction.”
However, it has been met with anger by the local media.
“What the County Board are effectively asking the local press to do it attend the meeting and take notes but hand in their finished article for clearance by the ‘top table’ before it is published,” said Harry Walsh, Sports Editor of the Donegal News.
“That’s an insult on the integrity of those who have been covering meeting of the Association, in an unbiased, even-handed way over many, many years.
“It’s an unprecedented step and similar to one, taken earlier this year by the Donegal County Board, which led to the local media from no longer covering County Committee meetings of the GAA. You can’t have it both ways.
“Trying to muzzle the press in the ‘tweeter age’ doesn’t make any sense. At least if the press are in attendance there might be some balance to what’s actually been said rather than a constant drip feed of information with a particular slant on it.”
This is the latest impasse between the local press and the county board. Media has not been present at county committee meetings since May, when Jim McGuinness was addressing to the committee. McGuinness claimed that he was being ‘misled by the CCC’ at one point when he was talking about club fixtures and the Central Council delegate, Niall Erskine, called for the discussion to go in-camera.
“There will be no in-camera,” McGuinness blasted.
After McGuinness left the room, Erskine again proposed that the discussion be put in-camera and this was both seconded and supported. However, a lengthy period had gone and, as it is not common practice for items to go in-camera retrospectively, the item was reported. This led to an instruction that the June meeting would be in-camera for its duration.
A subsequent meeting took place between representatives of the local media and the county executive’s chairman, Sean Dunnion, secretary Aodh Máirtín Ó Fearraigh and PRO Jim Quinn, but this failed to broker an agreement. While an invite for the press to return was circulated, it was declined, as this week’s was, because of the attached conditions.