Putting Politics in Perspective: If I Didn't Tell You the Truth, You Would Stop Reading

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), January 18, 2003 | Go to article overview

Putting Politics in Perspective: If I Didn't Tell You the Truth, You Would Stop Reading


Byline: Alex Kane

MY job is to "put politics into perspective" and every week I deliver a thousand words on an issue which has been in the public domain. I know that there are people who believe that I just pick a subject and then do my best to belittle and undermine those with whom I do not agree.

That is not the case. Indeed, such an approach would ensure that fewer and fewer of you would read the column.

I know from conversations, correspondence, invitations, interviews and the letters page, that this column has a wide audience, including many people who would not be regular or typical readers of this newspaper. As one reader put it earlier this week: "I read Alex Kane's column not because I always agree with it, but because he usually manages to bring a refreshing and frank perspective to important issues."

And that is exactly what my role is. I want to provoke. I want to rattle the cages. I want to irritate. I want my readers to examine their own opinions and to look more closely at the opinions of others.

I don't pretend to be omniscient and nor do I claim that my judgement is infallible. I simply express my views on a subject and hope that it will throw a different type of light upon it.

This means, of course, that I have to tackle sacred cows and risk the wrath of all sorts of interest groups and individuals. But a columnist who plays safe and keeps his true feelings under wraps is a columnist without influence, a columnist who won't play a part in the opinion-forming process of the readership he writes for.

The line between being gratuitously offensive and expressing an opinion which is intended to provoke debate, is usually wide and clear.

Occasionally, however, and always unintentionally, that line is crossed.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about Ulster-Scots, in which I described the language as little more than "rural gibberish". The use of that term was both unfair and inaccurate and I apologise to those of you who thought that I had gone too far.

I know that the overwhelming majority of my readers will be of a unionist/pro- Union disposition. That is why I write about the state of unionism and the policies of the unionist parties. I make no secret of the fact that I am pro-Trimble and pro-Agreement, but that hasn't stopped me from criticising both in the past few years.

Whatever value I have as a columnist stems from my readers' belief that I will be honest with them. I won't praise to curry favour and I won't pillory in the interests of others. What you read represents what I believe. And that, I hope, is why you read it.

Part of this process, this building up of trust between a columnist and his audience, involves me having to bare my soul. In order that people can understand my perspective I have admitted that I am not in the Orange Order, I am not a monarchist and I am an atheist.

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