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September 18, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:21am

NUJ condemns Northern Irish MP over attack on political editor

By James Walker

The National Union of Journalists has condemned a Northern Irish MP after he attacked the Belfast News Letter’s political editor in a post on Facebook.

Ian Paisley Jr (pictured), a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, targeted Sam McBride over an article suggesting the party had decided to allow abortion in Northern Ireland to avoid an Irish Language Act.

In his 750-word attack on McBride, Paisley said the journalist was “incredibly immature, intellectually weak and a simplistic fellow” and accused him of having an “agenda” against the DUP.

He appears to have since deleted his post, which was described as “egregious and defamatory” by News Letter editor Alistair Bushe in a letter to Paisley, a copy of which was also sent to DUP leader Arlene Foster.

Bushe added: “Your statements are plainly false, and although I am not a lawyer, I have no doubt they are highly defamatory of him.”

The editor also called on the MP to remove the Facebook post and publish a retraction, saying attacks on his journalists would not be tolerated.

An apology or retraction does not appear to have been published on Paisley’s Facebook page at the time of writing.

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Speaking to Press Gazette, McBride said: “I’ve never experienced anything like this before.

“I’ve been working as a political journalist for over a decade, and politics in Northern Ireland can be pretty tribal, it can be pretty intense and sometimes the messenger necessarily gets caught in the middle there.

“But even in that situation I’ve never had anything come close to this.”

Asked if he had received abuse on social media, McBride noted that most journalists received abuse on social media from anonymous accounts, saying it was “water off a duck’s back” to a certain extent.

He said he was “disappointed” that Paisley has not published a retraction or apology following the removal of his statement.

NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley described the tirade as a “clear attempt to smear the professional reputation of a conscientious journalist”, adding that it was behaviour “unwarranted and unworthy of an MP”.

He continued: “The tone and tenor of Paisley’s comments were unacceptable and completely misrepresent the position of McBride.

“Paisley is not entitled to impute political motives to the political editor of the News Letter in a manner which is designed to undermine his professional reputation.

“Paisley has gone beyond the bounds of acceptable political discourse and has engaged in a deeply personal attack which is extremely damaging…

“In considering Paisley’s comment I hope the DUP leadership and members will recognise the integrity of McBride and his track record as a journalist of long standing.”

McBride thanked the NUJ for its condemnation in a tweet yesterday, later adding that he was “humbled” and “deeply appreciate” of messages of support he had received following the attack.

In a statement on Paisley’s attack, a DUP spokesperson criticised McBride’s article but distanced the party from the Facebook post, saying: “Concentration should be on the analysis rather than the author.”

Paisley is the son of the former DUP leader of the same name.

Picture: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne

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