Editor: wave of support vindicates News Letter RHI coverage

The News Letter front page which Mr Haslett had complained about online
The News Letter front page which Mr Haslett had complained about online

The editor of the News Letter has said that messages of support for the newspaper in the wake of a boycott call from a DUP aide serve as a “vindication” of its news coverage.

Brian Haslett, a DUP assistant in Arlene Foster’s Enniskillen office, had issued a message via Twitter on December 31 following the latest front page story in the News Letter about the RHI scandal; something which has left Mrs Foster facing intense pressure.

He said the story by Sam McBride was “bias tripe” (sic), adding the hashtag “#boycott”.

The posting was then “liked” by other DUP figures – including serving MLAs Gary Middleton and Phillip Logan (representing Foyle and North Antrim, respectively).

After news of the boycott call was posted on the News Letter’s Facebook account, it produced an unusually large number of comments – overwhelmingly supportive of the News Letter.

Among them was one from Samuel Cole (representing Causeway Coast and Glens) who said: “I’m a DUP councillor and I’ll not be boycotting the News Letter!”

Another user noted that Gary Middleton had previously been critical about a call in autumn 2016 by councillors in Derry City and Strabane for a boycott of The Sun newspaper in the region (as well as a call to boycott Israeli goods).

In the wake of that paper boycott call, Mr Middleton had asked Mrs Foster in the Assembly for her thoughts.

She had said: “Can I say, it’s a very retrograde step... Many of us have been the subject of investigations and scrutiny by the press – and that’s what they do, that’s what their job is.

“And I think it’s wrong for us to say that we should boycott one paper or another.”

Alistair Bushe, editor of the News Letter, said: “I have been greatly encouraged by the messages of support we have received over the last few days.

“While it was disappointing to see anyone call for a boycott of our paper the reaction from our readers, and from across the political spectrum, has been a vindication of how we have covered this hugely significant story.

“We have in no way been biased in our coverage but our reporting team, and in particular political editor Sam McBride, have merely been determined in attempting to give our readers the full facts of an issue affecting everyone in Northern Ireland.

“Along with some other media outlets, our team has demonstrated some outstanding journalism.”