Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

The Irish political journalist’s problem with partial disclosure…

Fri 23 September 2011, 12:05pm

The nod and wink politics of Ireland’s last two or three decades as practised par excellence by Bertie, Albert and Charlie is ultimately what has the Republic in the stew it’s in. Don’t get me wrong, the effective monitoring of those exercising of power does not demand full disclosure of everything all the time. But the absence of any meaningful disclosure comes at a high price for any developed nation.

A senior English commentator I know spoke to the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis back about 2008/9. Afterwards in the bar he was shocked at the degree of complacency amongst even amongst the more senior ranks of the party. At that stage they knew there was a crisis, but seemed unaware of its scale.

To some extent, the media had been complicit. A few years earlier, I spoke to Fergus Finlay for a review (the tiny residue of which was published here) of John Lloyd’s lengthy essay What the media is doing to our politics, he noted then that the Irish media seemed programmed to grab a government spokesman, often to the exclusion of any oppositional voice. Dissent was not required.

To, erm, quote my 2004 self:

…there have been profound changes in the values of journalism itself. Journalist Richard Reeves describes the Watergate scandal as “the signal point in the self-destructive journalistic hubris of the Seventies and afterwards”, arguing that the journalist took on a priest-like role, and simply presumed the axiomatic sinfulness of politicians.

The epitome of this increasingly sterile relationship is the modern political interview in which the journalist serially challenges the politician on specific issues, which he knows his ‘opponent’ to be most touchy with the aim of scoring points or a knock-out blow. The growing fear and distrust amongst politicians does nothing to disrupt the much-publicised cycle of spin and evasion.

It is not the job of the journalist to take up an oppositionalist relationship to politicians. But it is their job to respectfully scrutinise the credentials and the proposed programme of any politician, whether elected, or as in the current case with Martin McGuinness’s Presidential candidature, as a candidate for public office.

That said, not all of the problems in this difficult relationship are generated out of animus on the journalistic side. In particular, Sinn Fein’s reluctance to disclose the precise details of it’s complicated past throw up a number of ethical problems for any journalists charged with reporting accurately on the fitness of any single candidate.

There’s much we can say about the artlessness of the blunt question. But the fact that senior politicians cannot be open and honest about their past has real implications for their reliability as witnesses in the unfolding of which political dramas they happen to be involved in. As Nevin has helpfully pointed out in the comment zone, Mr McGuinness is left with a bottom line defence, which more or less states given the compromising nature of my past, I cannot answer any questions about it:

“Asked if he had ever shot anyone or at anyone, he replied: “Why should I stand here now and begin the process of saying, ‘here’s what I did in the IRA?’ What would it be tomorrow morning? It would be a headline, so let’s not be silly.”

The answer you might say is ask him about something else. Immunity over the past has almost become the norm in Northern Ireland. Such that even with regard to non troubles related stories, like that which followed the broadcast of UTV’s Liam Adams documentary, his brother Gerry took three weeks to get the details of his story more or less straight.

This has clearly been the source of some considerable frustration within the media. That’s surely what goes to explain Gay Byrne’s extraordinary outburst on TV3 last night..

“I’ve interviewed Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams and they are so well disciplined and so well honed that no interviewer gets anywhere with them.

“You get nowhere with them because they lie. They lie all the time. They don’t mind lying and they’ve rehearsed their lies and they’ve been trained to lie, and that’s what they’re doing.”

Pretty uncool stuff for a man who perhaps was within a hair’s breadth from becoming the nation’s elder statesman. But neither is it too far of the mark. The truth is we do not know for sure that we whether Martin McGuinness did or did not kill anyone during the Troubles since he refuses to answer any direct questions on the matter.

Although it falls to Martin’s own local bete noir, Gregory Campbell who points out the bleedin obvious this morning of the IRA’s former second in command in Derry:

They weren’t the Boy Scouts. If you joined the Boy Scouts and became the second most senior person in the movement it was because you were good at scouting.

Everyone else gets the picture but Sinn Fein seems to be trying to get the Republic’s voters, like Alice, to believe six impossible things before breakfast. If this were not so serious it would be laughable.

Either he is telling the most unbelievable story imaginable or he was the most incompetent, inadequate yet best promoted recruit the IRA ever had.

It may not be a straightforward choice between the Red and Blue pills of science fiction.. For a state born out of conflict and lengthy bloody bouts of the killing of both military and civilians, it seems implausible (and unreasonable) to object to Mr McGuinness as President simply because of his paramilitary past.

But it is not unreasonable to expect any candidate for the Republic’s foremost public office to answer questions about his past and the nature of his current relationship with that past. Otherwise we may as well ask the Irish press corps to repair to the Dail Bar and resume their collusive practices of old…

And it’s Pink Gins all round again, whilst the parties write their copy for them…

There surely has to be a middle way between due respect and robust and honest exchange that seeks to enhance the health of public institutions rather than continuously seek to undermine them?

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Comments (44)

  1. There’s a good reason why the South Africans had a “Truth and Reconciliation” commission. If Martin wants reconciliation, it has to go hand in hand with truth. He asks us all to move on for the sake of the future, but the past has not yet been dealt with. We have not yet had the necessary catharsis.

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  2. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    The problem is much more basic Andrew. In fact the people of the Republic with some tragic exceptions do not need reconciliation. What they do need is an honest and truthful relationship between their politicians and their media…

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  3. Henry94 (profile) says:

    The media in the south like everywhere else are part of the political equation. They don’t ask questions to get the truth they do it to set the agenda. What annoys them is when people don’t go along with their agenda.

    The point of continually asking Martin McGuinness questions about the IRA is not to put the matter to rest but to keep it going until the election is over. then they will forget all about it until the next election. Journalists pose as the representatives of the people but they are not. They represent their owners who have a political agenda and a marketing agenda.

    In dealing with the press you need to decide in advance what you want to say and say only that irrespective of the question.

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  4. Henry,

    Who acts in place of the people if “journalists” (do you meant MSM journalists here?) are just feeding their own agenda? Bloggers? Everyone has an agenda. Surely the more important question is: does the system allow these conflicting agendas to average out to some semblance of objectivity given enough agents? And do we have enough variety of agents to do that?

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  5. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Obviously I would take issue with that Henry, but will come back to it later.

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  6. keano10 (profile) says:

    Mick,

    Surely you defeat your own argument there?

    “For a state born out of conflict and lengthy bloody bouts of the killing of both military and civilians, it seems implausible (and unreasonable) to object to Mr McGuinness as President simply because of his paramilitary past.”

    That statement is undeniably true. And it essentially it simply highlights the unbalanced media coverage that is going on here (even some decent neutral hacks are now alluding to that).

    And as for quoting Gregory Campbell, Gay Byrne and Nevin(!!) as the main sources for your argument, well enough said really…

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  7. sonofstrongbow (profile) says:

    In the aftermath of the Republic’s financial meltdown there was much talk of things needing to be different in the future. There were many calls for an end to ‘gombeen’ politics.

    The media’s relationships with the political class were rightly called into question in the examination of how the catastrophe had been allowed to happen. Things it was said needed to be very different in the ‘Second Republic’.

    Sinn Fein promoted its USP as leading the way into the ‘New Republic’. Yet what do we see unfolding in Martin McGuinness’ race for the Presidency? Anger at and abuse towards a questioning media.

    Are we to assume that a history of armed gombeenism should remain off-limits to examination? Is Sinn Fein only comfortable with the new broom so long as only its hands are on the shaft directing which corners are to be sept clean?

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  8. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Keano,

    I respectfully submit that you’ve not followed my argument if you think that’s the case.

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  9. Greenflag (profile) says:

    @ Henry 94,

    ‘They represent their owners who have a political agenda and a marketing agenda.’

    For the most part that’s understood and even if on a few occasions the truth about individuals is eventually bared then it’s only because it has been either leaked or somebody has blown a whistle -either a disgruntled former journalist or somebody with an axe to grind .

    Murdoch , Maxwell, Fox News , the Examiner , Indo , Telegraph and many more may pretend to be upholders of journalistic freedom but for many people they are spinners of an ideology . When Mr Blair was garbed in ‘white’ and watching Murdoch’s daughter being dunked in the Jordan did it make headlines in the NOTW of the time ?

    And in Ireland we know that for decades many journalists kept a very stiff upper lip when it came to matters involving the ‘indiscretions ‘ of Catholic clergy and Irish politicians .

    As it’s Friday I’ll end with an unreported at the time ‘embarrassment ‘ re the moon landing .

    Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and following his one small leap for man etc he hopped over to the rim of a small crater and to his amazement therein he saw an Irishman wearing a shamrock in green spacesuit drinking a pint of guinness .

    ‘What’s this ‘ asked Neil
    ‘How the hell did you get here ‘?

    The Irishman continued his drink.

    ‘Now look her I demand an answer ‘
    The Irishman continued to sup his guinness .

    As this was very much in pre Tiger days Neil then stated the obvious ‘

    ‘You’re just a small island with no industry so you can’t be here ‘

    ‘Very true ‘ said the irishman ‘ But we’ve got plenty of priests and politicians and journalists ‘

    ‘Priests and politicians and journalists ? What’s that got to do with it ?

    ‘Simple ‘ says the Irishman . One climbs on the others back and so it goes -one priest , one policeman, one journalist , one priest , one politician ———–.

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  10. DC (profile) says:

    Well said Gay Byrne.

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  11. Greenflag (profile) says:

    sonofstrongbow ,

    ‘Yet what do we see unfolding in Martin McGuinness’ race for the Presidency? Anger at and abuse towards a questioning media.’

    Not that’s a better angle . I suspect that MMcG’s handlers will be appraising him of the ‘pitfalls ‘ in dealing with the Republic’s meeja but will the ‘meeja ‘s desire for a whipping boy in this election end up providing a lash for their own backs ?

    I guess we’ll soon find out . Has Mr Drennan of the Indo made any predictions yet as to McGuinness struggling to become second last in first preferences ?

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  12. Mick,

    Go meta. If the politicians don’t answer your questions, quiz them about their views on the importance of transparency and disclosure. In your specific example of MMcG, it is he who promotes himself as a reconciliator. It is the exposure of hypocrisy that is the journalist’s most damaging weapon.

    Of course, that’s assuming the public are less tolerant of official hypocrisy now than they were during the good times…

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  13. I think Richard Reeves was absolutely correct.
    Journalists do take on a priest-like quality.
    Priests are told things (indeed about the Troubles) under the seal of the confessional. Journalists have discovered things under the seal of “off the record interviews”.
    I think most reasonable people feel that the seal of the confessional can and should be broken. in certain circumstances.
    And most reasonable people would probably say the same about “off the record” briefings if there is knowledge of a serious crime.

    Either way resonable people would not argue FOR one position and AGAINST the other position.
    The unfortunate thing is that over the past fifteen years or so Churches have been shown to be corrupt….possibly beyond change.
    And over the past three years, Journalism is struggling with its own credibility……surely full disclosure of the things they know would be of benefit to us……and themselves.

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  14. Into the west (profile) black spot says:

    ideas:
    ask McGuiness what were the day to day challenges
    of being an IRA commander?
    draw him in, then try and fish (tease ) something out .
    Then go for the absurd, if you’re not getting anywhere?

    Recall the Bremenr Bird Fortune sketches:
    an interviewer could try something like this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVDKcutZENM&feature=related

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  15. keano10 (profile) says:

    Mick,

    I do understand your point about the supposed need to disclose everything, but isnt that simply ludicrous? Even Jackie McDonald conceded that it would be bizarre for McGuinness to stand in isolation and confess everything while the other main protagonists say nothing.

    I think the vast majority of voters in the South are way above this sort of stuff. They are well aware of who he was then, and they are well aware of who he is now. This is the baby of certain media outlets and ‘interested’ parties. The majority of the public dont care. Simple as.

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  16. Into the west (profile) black spot says:

    Mick,
    could I save you time with your divergence with Henry.?
    simply put, you’re not being paid by a media outlet.
    so you’re not working for an agenda as such.

    In that sense the questions you pose are purist
    they’re beautiful and philosophical, we need them.

    T’other journos are,”whores”.

    as henry says, the IRA stuff will be all over,
    post election, till the next time.

    Mick you’re the orchid in the dung-heap ;)

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  17. Skeg oneill (profile) says:

    Following Into the west post here are some other ideas:

    1.If you did not kill or direct killing what was your purpose in the IRA?

    2. Were you not ashamed to give the oration at funeral services for members killed in action when you were, by your own admission, inept in the firearms department?

    3.Like Gerry were you happy for others to do the nasty killing stuff?

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  18. Into the west (profile) black spot says:

    Skeg, too direct mate:

    You might try ringing” the Sun” newspaper:
    “£10,000 to anyone to can get into MMG re his IRA past”

    This is better though:

    Hamlet: Polonius act 2 , scence 1,

    See you now;
    60 Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth:
    61 And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
    62 With windlasses and with assays of bias,
    63 By indirections find directions out:

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  19. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Keano,

    I said the opposite of your opening statement. Go and read it again?

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  20. Nevin (profile) says:

    Keano, you ought to develop your close-reading skills! I merely linked on another thread to an item in the Examiner and posted a quote from it, a quote which Mick has reposted in the thread opening.

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  21. Rory Carr (profile) says:

    “I think most reasonable people feel that the seal of the confessional can and should be broken. in certain circumstances.”

    Ah yes! FJH, “Most reasonable people”, meaning those who would agree with you, which leaves a hell of a lot of most unreasonable people in the world indeed, including, it must be admitted on this issue of the confessional seal, yours truly.

    But, not to worry, I am only unreasonable when we clash, when we are in harmony, I become the most reasonable fellow on the planet.

    I also happen to disagree with you on maintaining confidentiality ” in off-the-record” briefings. Not that I do not think that there is something altogether too cosy that has developed in the relationship between press and politicians of which the easy use of “off-the-record” briefings to manipulate opinion is one more sympton but I do not agree with the the William Holden character, Pike, in Sam Peckinpah’s, The Wild Bunch that, “It’s not what you give your word for that counts – it’s who you give your word to !”.

    When we give our word, we really give it, not to the other fellow, but to ourselves. We promise to ourselves to hold true to our word. To break that is to break faith with ourselves. What requires reform is the breaking of faith, the breaking of the contract, between journalist and his readership – that cannot be solved by breaking faith with one’s word.
    .

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  22. Henry94 (profile) says:

    When did journalists stop finding stuff out for themselves anyway? Would “All The President’s Men” have been such a good film if Woodward and Bernstein has just constantly demanded that Nixon tell them what had happened? If you can’t make a case unless your target gives you the story then how are you even a journalist?

    If a cop has no evidence he can try a beat a confession out of you journalists try to make the question itself the story and that is actually politics.

    The trouble with the “West-Brit” media is that they don’t do any real work on the issues they claim to be concerned about between elections so they have nothing to offer except the usual bash bash agenda. Then when Sinn Fein thwart them they think like Gay Byrne that they party are somehow master manipulators.

    The question is how good do you really have to be to get the better of the journalists and newspapers who have such a lousy record.

    I just deleted a list of the stuff they had missed or got wrong because it was too long from Haughey’s money to the ex- Bishop of Cloyne (who still benefits from their silence)

    So where’s to good side? What story did an Irish journalist break in the last 20 or 30 years that required work and courage? I can’t think of one. Susan O’Keefee’s investigation into Goodman stands out but that was for World in action. No Irish outlet would have done it.

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  23. Rory Carr,
    Ive read your post twice and not sure that I “got” it. Or you mine.
    You know me long enough to know that when I say “most reasonable people” I am not necessarily referring to myself. but rather those who flatter themselves on being reasonable.
    The point that I am clumsily making is that there are people(including perhaps journalists) who would prosecute a priest for not breaking the seal of confession.

    And paradoxically the same people (including journalists) who would stand outside the Law Courts waving placards to protest the prosecution of a journalist for not revealing a source.

    Are they entitled to same levels of “protection”.
    Or required to give the same levels of disclosure.
    Or is there a different standard.

    It seems bizarre for journalists to expect any former paramilitary to say something incriminating……..especially if they themselves would be seemingly good witnesses for the prosecution.

    But rather like a priest going into a police station to report a serious crime discovered via confession would find himself discharged from the priesthood…..a journo going into a police station to hand over the notes of his interview with Whoever in 1973 would quickly find himself/herself drummed out of Journalism.

    Neither Priest or Journalist feels they owe something to broader “society”. I make no judgement but rather say many reasonable people think that they do owe such a duty. Perhaps other reasonable people think that they dont.
    But Id be surprised if a reasonable person made a distinction……..between priestly goose and journalistic gander.

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  24. Into the west (profile) black spot says:

    Henry, you dropped something —- a clanger .

    “What story did an Irish journalist break in the last
    20 or 30 years that required work and courage?”

    —- Veronica Guerrin !

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  25. Rory Carr (profile) says:

    It seems that I may indeed have misread you, Fitzjameshorse, if it was not your intention to imply that you also (along with all other reasonable people) oppose the sanctity of the confessional seal. Indeed I was a little taken aback and apologise for misjudging your intention. You are not in favour of impossible attempts to use the law to break the inviolability of the confessional seal are you?

    In any case, I genuinely did not realise that your intent was to compare and contrast attitudes to the confessional seal and journalistic protection of sources. Of course the latter does not enjoy protection in law which is why, when it comes under attack from the state, there tends to be some public resistance.

    But I agree that it is more than somewhat contradictory to oppose prosecution of journalists in order to force them to reveal that which they gave their word not to and then to demand that priests violate their silence and spill the beans.

    The reason that a journalist who is worth his salt will endure imprisonment rather than comply is because he knows that his own reputation is on the line and that if he does not stay schtum on this matter he may not be trusted to stay schtum on the next revelation ,and suddenly all worthwhile information will cease to come his way. The odd journalist here and there (Guardian editors of yore may now feel free to blush) may comply with court orders to peach but so long as one or two cause celebres</i grab the public imagination by holding the line and spending a few days in durance vile, the perception of journalistic integrity is not seriously damaged.

    It would be a different story once a priest had complied with a court order to break a confessional seal – the whole institution of confession would be fatally devalued. Trust and faith would be irrevocably undermined and a great source of solace and comfort and aid to the troubled soul and the rightful application of remorse would be lost to those who may most be in need of it.
    I read a passage in a decent little novel,
    A Map of Ireland ,recently, where events are located in South Boston during the busing riots of the 1970′s. The protagonaist, a teenage girl – red hair, freckles – her face ” a map of Ireland”, hence the title, recalls one of her teachers, Sister Gabriel, saying that the real importance of confession was not forgiveness but rather a coming to self-awareness. That is worth its weight in …Gold ? Pshaw ! Something much, much, more valuable, something impossible to assay.

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  26. Mark (profile) says:

    I don’t know about Veronica Guerin breaking any big story . The story was drugs and crime in Dublin . She was a very brave women who paid the ultimate price ……. but you need only have walked down the Quays in the 80′s / 90′s to see that Dublin was / is riddled with drugs .

    There was a story about Eamon Dunphy ( with photos ) that did the rounds a few years ago but no editor would publish it .

    The press are too cosy down here .

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  27. Henry94 (profile) says:

    Into the west

    Henry, you dropped something —- a clanger .

    “What story did an Irish journalist break in the last
    20 or 30 years that required work and courage?”

    —Veronica Guerrin !

    Thank you for reminding me and I accept the point. She was indeed an outstanding journalist.

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  28. Into the west (profile) black spot says:

    Mark that’s unfair,the impact is the thing.
    The point is the police weren’t doing anything about the drug problem.
    After her death,the Oireachtas enacted the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and the Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996.
    In pursuit of John Gilligan and other drug lords, after her murder, the Gardaí would at one point have over 100 officers on the case, which led to 214 arrests, 39 convictions, 100 confiscated guns as well as £5m worth of drugs and £6.5m worth of confiscated property.

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  29. Mark (profile) says:

    Into the West ,

    You’re right , the police were doing nothing about the problem . The fact that she was murdered in broad daylight on the M50 shocked the Govt into creating CAB .

    As I said , she was a very brave woman and Gilligan not being convicted of her murder is a stain on her memory .

    It saddens me that Dublin has become such a toilet .

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  30. Greenflag (profile) says:

    @ keano,

    ‘I think the vast majority of voters in the South are way above this sort of stuff. They are well aware of who he was then, and they are well aware of who he is now. This is the baby of certain media outlets and ‘interested’ parties. The majority of the public dont care. Simple as.’

    That’s about the sum of it . Some of these media outlets will flog a dead horse up to and until such time as it wins the race which is what they might yet achieve .

    It’s not that the majority of people don’t care it’s that they want to look forward not back which as they survey the economic shambles around them -has more to do with the established parties of FG/Lab and FF and the banksters in Galway races tents than anything SF have done.

    Veronica Guerin gave her life for her ‘profession’ . Not many others would have gone to the lengths she did to reveal a side of life that the powers that were did’nt want to know existed much less do anything about at the time.

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  31. Mark (profile) says:

    Here’s a real story ….

    Two hundred yards from where the next president of this country will reside , there are 14/15 year old boys and girls selling themselves for the price of a bag of smack .

    You won’t see that on the front of the Indo ..

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  32. Blissett (profile) says:

    Political types are often desperate for not being able to see the wood for the trees.

    For the sake of the argument, we will pre suppose that he played a part in the killing of a person.
    Lets say he admits that, and is, legally speaking, admitted guilt to section whatever of the offences against the state act 19whatever..

    How on earth could the Gardaí or PSNI not question him on the basis of that statement?

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  33. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Good point Blisseett. In other words, the Belfast Agreement offers no form of immunity for any crimes committed in the past.

    So what’s an ethical journalistic response to such a scenario?

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  34. Ah Creative Ambiguity…..what crimes have happened in thy name…..and what injustices have been allowed to fester.
    But would an ethical journalist wait 13 years to satisfy his/her thirst for Justice. And is it ethical to be motivated by political and personal malice…….13 years later.?

    Im still waiting for the first journalist to walk into Store Street Garda Station or Castlereagh PSNI with some tapes and notepads……….and if he does how many other ethical journalists could be charged with witholding information?

    Funny thing that……..if I know something about a crime, I am obliged by law to report it.
    But an “ethical journalist” has more rights than me.
    Doesnt seem fair.

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  35. sonofstrongbow (profile) says:

    So what is being said here?

    If Marty outs himself to ‘appease’ the ravenous meedja pack the police must become involved and that would be messy because Marty is somehow special? That’s very very close to some folks being considered above the law.

    If the NYPD had applied that standard DSK would have been allowed to continue his flight to Paris because he was ‘important’. Perhaps Senator Norris’ letter once discovered should have been swept under the carpet?

    As I’ve noted before it’s a matter for the Republic’s electorate; but what’s worse, letting sleeping dogs lie and hope that a Kurt Waldheim hound isn’t found yawning awake on the Aras front porch sometime in the future or prodding it with a stick in the here and now to check if it’s a Poodle or a Rottweiler?

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  36. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Surely you could have found a much less contrived way of avoiding the question than that FJH?

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  37. Nevin (profile) says:

    “So what’s an ethical journalistic response to such a scenario?”

    Don’t the various forms of media have ethical codes to which journalists and their superiors subscribe?

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  38. Mark (profile) says:

    Martin O Hagan was shot and killed by the Red Hand Defenders / LVF ten years ago for writing about the activities of prominent Loyalists .

    Instead of going to the relevant authorities , The Sunday World published the name of his killer in their newspaper . Surely if they had approached the police with this information before going to print , there would have more chance of a conviction .

    I would imagine personal safety is at the forefront of any journalists mind when considering what action to take in relation to a hot story .

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  39. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Concentrate people!

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  40. John Ó Néill (profile) says:

    I think you can go much further back with nod and wink politics than 20-30 years. The underlying patrician forebearance of the civic and political establishment that facilitated the industrial schools, laundries and worse in the Catholic church has never received a meaningful critique from the media. As well deserved as the damage is to the church, the political class on whose recurring watches this happened have never been held accountable. Two years into the investigation and no-one from Anglo has been charged, suggesting there is still infinite tolerance of crime if it is perpetrated from the centre.

    To take the well worn theme of Saville, British resistance to disclosure can be quantified in hundreds of millions of pounds.

    Like good horror fiction, a lot of the commentary is inviting the imagination to populate silences with the worst you can conjure up. So lets not confuse political writing as writing on politics.

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  41. Mr Fealty,
    I have been much more direct and less nuanced on another forum.
    But just to elaborate, it strikes me that on the one occasion I was a victim/witness to a (with hindsight) minor terrorist incident, I was subject to a “good cop bad cop routine” by the RUC. I suppose thats pretty standard practice.
    My problem back in 1974 was that a) I knew my responsibility b) didnt want to make the situation of self and family worse and c) wanted revenge/justice on those who had put my personal safety in jeopardy.
    A common enough dilemna perhaps shared by many thousands but the RUC were chivying me along to prompt me to make the right decision.
    I suppose deep down I feel its common enough practice to make witnesses occasionally fear the Counter-Terrorists more than they fear the Terrorists.
    And thats a dilemna a journalist did not have in 1974 in Crossmaglen or Rathcoole. All they did was get a phone call to the Europa Hotel to meet an intermediary to bring them to an interview with the local IRA or UVF.
    As at this minute I can only recall one journalist………Bernard Falk………who spent three days in Crumlin Road unable to comply with the legal requirement we all have to help bring “criminals” to Justice.
    Certainly its an ethical dilemna for a journalist (and I say that sincerely) if he holds information which might save lives……..if the information is forwarded to the Police.
    Thats a genuine ethical dilemna.
    But it is not by any stretch of the imagination an ethical dilemna……..to withold such evidence for 20,25 and 30 years and then reveal it ……for largely political effect.

    The time to have the crisis of conscience was in 1974.
    Nor is it ethical to have “bigged up” paramiliaries in the years 1994-1998 for the Greater Good of the Peace Process and then decide in 2011 that it didnt quite end up as was promised…………so the narrative has to be changed.
    Its many things.
    But the idea of it having anything to do with Ethics…….

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  42. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Those are both very useful contributions John and Fitzy!

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  43. Nevin (profile) says:

    “reporting accurately on the fitness of any single candidate”

    The MSM also has to carry out risk assessments. For example, should a paper publish evidence against a parapolitician following ‘advice’ given by supporters that it would not be advisable for the victim to pursue the matter? Despite what was agreed to back in 1998 these problems still persist.

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  44. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Henry,

    I think we can allow a little room for the natural enmity that occurs between journalists and politicians, before admitting that your ‘agenda’ plea bargain holds not an inconsiderable amount of water.

    But presuming you are a journalist, when a politician tells you (or the wider world) something that directly conflicts with documented fact, you have a problem.

    Depending on the significance of the discrepancy (and to be honest, if you are not doing the actual leg work it can be very easy to get the significance the discrepancy out of proportion) you may have a big one or a small one.

    Sonce FJH has mentioned it, let me resile to 1974.

    That was the year Nixon resigned in the face of threat by Congress to impeach him (the only recourse the legislature has to bring the US Federal Executive to account). Here’s John Dean, a Whitehouse Counsel giving evidence to Congress in the Watergate inquiry:

    “At one point in the conversation, I recall the President telling me to keep a good list of the press people giving us trouble because we will make life difficult for them after the election.”

    No doubt the enmity was justifiably felt on both sides of the divide.

    But the unease has eaten into the generation and a half of journalists who have followed Watergate case (folk who can sometimes be marked by their quickness to append the suffix ‘-gate’ to whatever controversial story they happen to be working on).

    But that began with a famous attempt by a certain class of US politicians to mislead by telling lies for the ‘greater good’. A case famous in literature, film and contemporary television.

    Time, perhaps, to go back to John Lloyd, briefly, again. Towards the end of his long essay on ‘what the media do to our politics’, he puts television back in an old familiar dock:

    …television images are more effective at presenting consequences than exploring intentions, more adept at pointing at corpses than in explaining why violence may, in certain places play so well.

    As a result television news bears some responsibility for that generalised misanthropy, that irritable resignation towards the criminal folly of fanatics and assassins, which legitimises on of the dangerous cultural moods of the time – the feeling that the world has become too crazy to deserve serious reflection.

    The problems facing Ireland (north and south) deserve a considerable amount of serious reflection, regardless of who gets to the Aras. Martin McGuinness has many serious reasons not to be straight with the country.

    This should be of no surprise from a man who has held senior rank in the IRA and is now seeking public support to gain the highest office in the current Irish Republic.

    But journalists, whatever, or whomever they may have been back in 1974, now have a credibility problem. Do they rely upon their word (and authority) as a credible observer of the game of politics

    Or cede to Martin’s, as a player with all to gain by encouraging such credulity?

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