Northern Ireland

Media-government relationship 'misunderstood' - former Julian Smith adviser

Ross easton
Image caption Ross Easton said his approach had always been intended to build relationships with journalists

There is a "misunderstanding" about how the relationship between government and the media should operate, a former special adviser to Julian Smith has said.

Ross Easton worked for the former NI secretary from July 2019 until devolution was restored in January.

Mr Smith was sacked from the cabinet in a government reshuffle last week.

He has been replaced by Brandon Lewis, a former chairman of the Conservative Party.

Mr Easton was one of two special advisers to Mr Smith during his time in the Northern Ireland Office.

The Northern Ireland secretary and his team were regarded as having a more hands-on approach with the media than some other cabinet ministers.

Earlier this month, a group of leading reporters decided not to attend a Downing Street briefing when other journalists - who had not been invited - were turned away.

The government later insisted it was "committed to being open" with the press.

Image copyright Getty Images/Dan Kitwood
Image caption Mr Easton was one of two special advisers to Julian Smith during his time in the Northern Ireland Office

Speaking on BBC News NI's Red Lines podcast, Mr Easton said there appeared to be a different media-government relationship in Northern Ireland than there is at present in Westminster.

"I disagree with the approach that you can't speak to journalists, that's not what people want," said Mr Easton.

"There's a misunderstanding in terms of the thinking that if we've got some fantastic relationship, then you guys [journalists] are duty bound to publish a story we want you to publish - that is absolutely not the case."

He said his approach had always been intended to build relationships.

Mr Easton added there was very much still a case to be made to have special advisers in government.

"There is often a huge amount of detail, the role of the special adviser is making sure their minister has seen everything that's coming in," he said.

"It's a supporting role - but importantly advisers are there to advise - Julian [Smith] would listen to all the advice, but he took the decisions."

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