The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade blogged again this morning about “the failure of the British press to cover Northern Ireland properly” and the consequential “absence of knowledge among [Great] British people about the realities of life there”.
I doubt that many of you have ever heard of the Reverend David Latimer, a Presbyterian minister and former British army chaplain. And it would appear that Britain’s national newspapers are determined to ensure that he remains unknown to you.
Yet Latimer made history last Friday evening by becoming the first ordained Protestant minister to give an address to the annual Sinn Féin ard fheis (conference). In so doing, he called Martin McGuinness one of the “true great leaders of modern times”. It brought the republican audience to its feet.
Indeed, the party was also making history of its own by staging the event in Belfast, the first time its ard fheis has taken place in Northern Ireland. And another first – the Prince’s Trust charity, founded by Prince Charles, had a stand in the lobby at the Waterfront Hall.
I would call that trio of firsts a news story of no little significance. Even if we accept the cynical tabloid view that “Ulster doesn’t sell”, we should surely expect the serious end of our press to report such a turn of events.
So why did “The Times, the Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian and the Financial Times” fail to cover the story (that was well covered by the Irish press)?
Greenslade argues that when it comes to Northern Irish news, “good news is ignored in favour of bad news” and the readers of the London-based papers are under-served and under-educated.
If a bomb had gone off in Belfast on Friday you can bet that would have been covered.
Are we to imagine that editors believe positive political news from Northern Ireland is of no consequence? Or is it due to an absence of correspondents in Ulster’s six disputed counties? Even if that was the case, the Press Association reported the speech, so it certainly passed across the screens of the nationals.
Whatever opinion people hold of Latimer’s 20-minute speech at a Sinn Féin conference, it has to be seen as a landmark moment in the bridge-building exercise between Catholics and Protestants.
The comment thread under the post has a range of reactions.
Ruth Gledhill asks “do you think the story should have been covered by religious affairs or political staff?” before going on to suggest that Sinn Fein’s press office should have more proactive: “it is rather up to [Sinn Fein’s press office] to make themselves known to newspapers if they care about their activities being covered or not”.
The bottom line here is that the British national press don’t view a story in Northern Ireland as a domestic story because of the wider view in Britain that Northern Ireland is an overseas territory, a colony or something covered in mist and distant, akin to the Isle of Man. There’s also a huge lack of interest in clarifying this.