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EXPRESS OPINION: The role of the media when political debate gets heated

EXPRESS OPINION: The role of the media when political debate gets heated

Monday 07 March 2022

EXPRESS OPINION: The role of the media when political debate gets heated

Monday 07 March 2022

A healthy democracy relies on robust political debate.

Our elected representatives should be allowed to have a ‘full and frank’ exchange of views in public, so that voters can observe, assimilate and be better informed as to the people wanting to represent them, next time the polling stations open their doors.

The media need to facilitate that. It is part of our role in fostering free speech.

But making a judgement as to what is ‘full and frank’, and what is an unnecessary insult, is not always easy, often depending on context, or nuance.

It’s against that backdrop that we have reported two political stories in recent weeks, both of which involved strong personal allegations between well-known local politicians.


Pictured: Deputy Mark Helyar's recent comments about Deputy Charles Parkinson and his company tax ideas were certainly an example of robust political debate.

In the first, Deputy Mark Helyar questioned the veracity of Deputy Charles Parkinson - a long-term political opponent - over a potential new sales tax, labelling his counter ideas as "snake oil". Needless to say, Deputy Parkinson rejects that characterisation.

In the second, Deputy Parkinson retaliated by linking Deputy Helyar’s alleged views on discrimination to a more extreme end of the political spectrum. Once again, that is firmly rejected by Deputy Helyar.

Both men are senior local politicians and more than capable of standing up for themselves in public.

The views they expressed are not shared by Bailiwick Express, but we reported them accurately as we believe voters have the right to see clearly how their elected representatives discharge the mandate they have been given - and because they added context to important stories which really matter to islanders.

To do otherwise would be to push robust political debate in Guernsey over the line from a healthy exchange of strong views which add important texture to key issues into something more petty and febrile - and in which the news media censor robust views from public figures for fear of censure.


Pictured: Serving in the States is not only a privilege - it also means having a considerable influence on the lives of islanders and the future of the island.

Governments, and those who serve in them, have considerable powers over our lives and our islands’ future, and so it is inevitable that politics will be an arena of passion, of vigorous and robust differences of opinion and, yes, of criticism which sometimes hurts.

In that sense, both statements are simply robust political sparring from well-known opponents, and islanders are able to judge for themselves how much weight to give each of the strong views expressed.

Equally, it is important that voters see that if someone gives out the 'hits' in public, then they can also take them 'on the chin', if they are returned.

To do so shows the sort of strength and courage which will surely be vital as the island navigates through the difficult post-pandemic waters ahead. 

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