Is ‘peace journalism’ largely about sustaining the ‘right’ kind of propaganda?

Jamie Bryson is a Unionist political activist interested in law, human rights and writing. He is author of My Only Crime Was Loyalty and banned Nama book ‘The Three Headed Dog’. Currently a political advisor and campaign manager for Cllr Ruth Patterson.

I have been following the debate – mostly in the Newsletter Letters page – around the call by Professor John Brewer for more “peace journalism”. It’s a term that catches my interest because I sense a deeper, and darker (to my mind), underlying purpose.

In Professor Brewer’s letter of clarity carried in the Newsletter on March 18 he says the following:

In the context of a society like ours emerging out of conflict, peace journalism balances an obligation to deal with the past, with helping us learn to live together in the future. It is about balancing the politics of fear, with the politics of hope.”

But how exactly does Professor Brewer imagine journalists might balance their obligation (I’m unsure who actually imposes this obligation) to deal with the past with helping us to learn to live together in the future?

It appears to me that this methodology really means that certain uncomfortable truths, that may unbalance the political situation, should be sacrificed on the altar of the ‘peace process’.

Certainly much that investigative journalism uncovers is not helpful in terms of building the peace and “helping us learn to live together in the future”.

The alternative, surely, is to bury the truth in order to sustain a false narrative around our past which helpful in propping up the ‘peace process’.

If journalists were to start measuring the public interest in their stories by using a ‘Brewer balancing test’, then I dare say that many of the uncomfortable truths about the past will remain hidden.

The core of this proposed ‘peace journalism’ balance would require journalists to measure their stories upon whether what they publish will have a positive or negative impact on the political process.

In such an approach victims would inevitably be denied truth and perpetrators would be able to hide their actions under the veil of ‘protecting the process’.

There is little doubt that some journalists appear to have embraced a form of ‘peace journalism’ by devoting all their energies to trying to find the ‘balance’.

The “Unfinished Peace” brand being promoted by Brian Rowan at times appears to be more like an auditioning process for the role of truth commissioner and a ‘kite flying ‘ exercise for such a commission.

I question whether such a proactive approach does not cross an important line by becoming more concerned with sustaining the ‘right’ kind of propaganda by conflating journalism and politics, and blurring the lines between the two?

Investigative journalism should seek to expose the truth- regardless of the consequences for the peace process- without fear or favour. The only test for journalism should be to differentiate between truth and lies.

Journalism’s job should not be to protect the peace process. A media that becomes merely an instrument of the political institutions which decide what is in the public interest purely with regard to the impact it might have politically is an erosion of a free press.



  • doopa

    Love that the author suggests that wanting to sustain the peace is the dark purpose, says a lot about the author.

    More generally though there seems to be a misplaced faith in the role of the press. They don’t exist to tell the truth or serve the public interest – journalists exist to sell papers (with adverts in them). Everything else is secondary.

  • Msiegnaro

    Jamie is becoming a confused paradigm, completely lacking in vision or strategy. Whilst not a member of the Orange institution he took to media outlets to condemn them for considering challenging Sinn Fein and residents groups via dialogue, opting instead for boycotts and well that’s it. The complete calamity of the flag protests resulted in Jamie becoming a figure lampooned by most not least due to his attempt at a 24 hour hunger strike and causing innumerable destruction across Northern Ireland.

    I predict his representation of Councillor Patterson will again lack strategy and leadership which should bring to an end any political aspirations he may have.

  • aquifer

    When too many journalists and commentators keep recycling the same old sectarian split we need some rebalancing. We have plenty of dog whistling headlines still.

  • Thomas Barber

    Is Jamie Bryson not a loyalist political activist rather than a unionist political activist, there is a difference.

  • Msiegnaro

    I believe he also designates himself as a Unionist.

  • Thomas Barber

    “He also designates himself as a unionist”

    You can be a unionist but not a loyalist but I dont think you can be a loyalist and not believe in maintaining the status quo with Britain.

  • Ryan

    Jamie is in the process now of trying to “lighten up” his image since the disaster that was the Loyalist “fleg” protests. I think we can all safely assume the tag team that were Jamie Bryson and nutty Willie Frazer thought hundreds of thousands of Protestants would’ve been flooding out at their call, just like in the old days of Ian Paisley and “Ulster Says No” campaign. Indeed in one video Jamie says “Sorry lads (Sinn Fein) Ulsters Back!” to cheers of “No Surrender”. Ulster was back….but then Ulster ended up walking away. No fleg back up. No repeat of Carson usurping Democracy. Just a lot of young protestants with life changing criminal records for rioting and preach of the peace. Well done Jamie and Willie. I think Jamies issue is that he doesn’t understand the Northern Ireland state is a very different place to what it was in the 1960’s or even the 1980’s. The demographics are changing. British Government has changed. The Irish Government has changed. There’s a settlement, which he obviously wants to undo, that’s backed by most people on both sides of the border, this was shown in the GFA referendums on both sides of the border. The Stormont days of old are gone, long gone and they simply wont be returning. Regardless of what Thatcher said, Northern Ireland isn’t as British as Finchley. Its as British as a back street Beijing Noodle bar. Many British people from Britain report being intimidated by the likes of the Shankill Road where….ermm…their flag is papered nearly everywhere and where the very kerbs are painted in its colours. That doesn’t show a pride of being British, it shows insecurity of ones own identity. Jamie, along with other Loyalists, have to accept times have changed. The DUP have been dragged kicking and screaming but are learning to accept it. Sammy Wilson once said as DUP Mayor of Belfast “There will never be a Sinn Fein Mayor of Belfast”. Now look what happened, Sinn Fein are now the biggest party on the council and them and the SDLP will be the majority soon enough. That’s called change and we all now have to learn to live with that, including Jamie.

  • Mary Anna Quigley

    Excellent well said Jamie-honesty is the only policy! Those in denial hang your heads in shame. Those who deny history doomed to repeat it.

  • Jollyraj

    “Many British people from Britain report being intimidated by the likes of the Shankill Road”

    Presumably you have examples of this?

  • Nevin

    “Professor Brewer’s letter of clarity”

    Alex Kane is not impressed:

    John’s problem isn’t actually with old media and so-called ‘conflict journalism’. His problem is that the very people he thinks want to build and support his post-conflict society aren’t listening to him, either. They aren’t listening to worthy panels and would-be do-gooders. They have opted out. They’re as deaf to him as they are to me.

    So yes, he can continue to complain about individual newspapers and journalists here, but it’s mostly a waste of time: because, as with most people who attack the media, he has actually picked the wrong battle with the wrong people.

    Meanwhile John and Martin will be dunking biscuits in the ivory tower today. Should be quare crack!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Ryan doesn’t seem to allow for the UK being a deeply regionally and culturally diverse place. This idea of Northern Ireland somehow not fitting into some monoglot UK model is absurd and only makes sense if we fail to look at the rest of the country. This country can live with, indeed embrace, people of all races, creeds and languages; and it includes places as far flung as the Shetlands and the Scillies. It would be odd indeed if it excluded Northern Irish people because of relatively small strip of sea and a few of them expressing their patriotism in a particular way.

    I can’t help but think this is just another backdoor way of not accepting the British identity of people who have it in NI. That’s directly contrary to the Good Friday Agreement, which requires us not just to respect it but to *accept it*.

    There is insecurity among Ulster British people, but the big mistake of our detractors is to think we are insecure about our identity. We are really not – not any more than any other national group, in my experience. We are actually rather firm in our identity on the whole – comfortable with it taking different forms at different times, but with a solid anchor there. We know who we are. The failure of Irish nationalism to persuade us, on the whole, into a separatist form of Irish identity has been consistent over many, many decades. I’m not sure what further evidence is needed. None, after 1998 – we have it in stone now.

    The insecurity there is, as a tribe (as it were), is a perfectly rational one: we know our British strand of identity does not necessarily equate to the region being guaranteed a place in the UK forever. We are subject to other factors: demographic changes; the whims of our own national parliament in Westminster, manoeuvres in Dublin and Washington. NI remains in the UK by an act of will, in defiance of a powerful range of people and interests who would prefer it otherwise. It’s been a strong will, but it is just will – ethereal and invisible. Who knows whether the will is still there? And who knows what new scheme is afoot to get around it? There have been plenty, both violent and direct like the Republican “armed struggle”, and cloak-and-dagger political like the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement has stymied those manoeuvres for the foreseeable future so gives us and the province some stability. But we’re also aware even this isn’t forever.

    This is why the 12th has the role it has in Ulster British culture – it’s an annual check we’re all still here and most importantly, a physical manifestation of that will. If it wasn’t there, we’d need something else that was physical and visual, some evidence we can reassure ourselves with. I’m not saying it plays that role for me personally, by the way, but I think that’s its social function more generally within the P/U/L community. Flags can be important too for that same reason, though I want to see de-escalation generally in their use (it actually shouldn’t take many flags on many days to give P/U/L people the reassurance needed).

    Every time a nationalist talks of the GFA as a stepping stone to something else, it resonates deeply in the P/U/L psyche: we are protected now but we are not safe forever, we need to be ready to see off the next move. Only if the GFA is genuinely treated as a final settlement by mainstream nationalism can it deliver long term security and change the mood in NI for the better. It’s in nationalism’s hands now – will it choose the fair deal it already has? Or will it risk it all by pushing for an all-out victory? Because currently it’s verging towards the latter and it’s not without consequences for community relations. Because it’s hardly going to go down well with the P/U/L community, is it? Rather than pillorying them for “insecurity”, nationalist politics could start to look at itself and its role in fostering that insecurity, both historically and in the present.

    It doesn’t have to be that way. The GFA was a fair deal overall – if we actually stuck to it in letter and spirit, we might be surprised how transformative it could still be.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I don’t think the flags protests were a complete calamity. They made a point and we’re still talking about them now. A major report on the way forward on flags and designated days came out against the issue being decided council by council in a non-consensual way as Belfast CC did. Not, I know, Bryson’s goal overall, but the protests did show that moves like Belfast CC’s are not the way to go on procedure. The result, designated days, is actually fair enough. Good report:

  • Greenflag 2

    And also to keep their jobs /careers . While there have a few notable exceptions among the fourth estate in endeavouring to tell the truth there are many who are just establishment mouthpieces or the voice of their corporation .

  • chrisjones2

    The ‘peace processor’ funding is drying up so they need something to keep them (lucratively employed

  • chrisjones2

    You seem desperately focused on labels

  • chrisjones2

    Does he know that he is a paradigm?

  • A Morris

    I was intrigued by Prof Brewer’s letter and ideas about ‘peace journalism’ but agree with Alex Kane, what he’s suggesting is not journalism but propaganda. Stormont, British and Irish governments have enough press officers, SPADs and spin doctors without me doing their job for them as well. The harsh fact is there was state collusion there were also informers on both sides who were protected. Without an open, free and probing press these injustices would be kept hidden and while that might help the peace process it certainly doesn’t help the victims’ families.

  • Thomas Barber

    It all starts when your born or did you choose the name Chris yourself ?

  • Thomas Barber

    Obviously you sweep under the carpet MU the fact that unionists on BCC were offered designated days just like what happens in Lisburn but refused opting instead to use the manufactured crisis as a means to bolster the DUP support base in East Belfast at the expense of Alliance.

    By the way what was non consensual about the majority verdict taken by Belfast City councillors to change the flag policy. Were unionist councillors not allowed to vote ?

    “I don’t think the flags protests were a complete calamity”

    Surly you remember the widespread rioting and violent scenes where an attempt was made by those same fleggers to burn Police officers to death in their police car. Do you believe that even one single life is worth a flag ?

  • Ryan

  • submariner
  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I hope you posted this ‘shouty’ Englishman and his blank statements as a joke.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Yeah, I don’t get what the point that MU claims was made either. Is it one of those ‘means not justifying the end’ even when the end ended up being the same end that he now seems to accept … or something?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    While not disagreeing with you on the security of unionist identity, your posts often highlight the disconnect between ‘middle class’ unionism and ‘working class’ unionism. Middle class unionism has proved itself to be more effective in seeing off the next move which shows its sure footedness.
    But I’m not sure taking to the streets and letting public protest tip over into life threatening violence is indicative of anything but a belief in mob mentality & brute force: something the middle classes tend to eschew of course. UDA flags in Kilcooley et al show nothing more than confidence in intimidatory powers particularly when it’s bizzarely intended for those you claim to be your own.
    Feeling secure in your own identity (if relevant) is not entirely compatible with being so scared you’d prefer not to speak out with an independent and cogent voice. But then I guess your unionism has been exposed to more positive experience. Lucky you.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m not underplaying the difference between the experiences and feelings of working class vs middle class unionism. But my comments about ‘insecurity’ apply to working class unionism too – it’s not their identity they’re insecure about, it’s about being politically and socially marginalised such that they have things imposed upon them they don’t buy into and didn’t feel consulted about. In that context, the flags protests were always going to happen, as the way in which the city council’s decision was reached was another example of working class unionists being politically and socially marginalised. The Nolan and Bryan report implicitly agrees – it recommends that these decisions on flags not in future be taken at a council level but through higher level negotiations and an over-arching deal representing a consensus across parties:

    I’m not of course defending the descent of some of the protests into violence. But I think we also have to think carefully about the implications of condemning the flag protests, particularly in being even-handed between the two main ethnicities on how their street protests are treated. I agree, mass street protest has big potential to boil over into something dangerous and we shouldn’t be seeking to have more of it. But it’s an important right – something I’ve come to accept through looking at my own attitude to nationalist street demonstrations in the late 60s. Now, those certainly frequently spilled over into violence – but it would be wrong surely to shape our whole attitude towards the protests on that basis. It’s quite possible to see both great social damage in the effects of protests, as happened with nationalist protesting in the 60s and 70s, and that some of the protestors at least had a point. They are not inconsistent. We need to deal very seriously with the violence that springs from some street protests, but we shouldn’t use that as an excuse to ignore the issues of peaceful protestors (who are usually the majority). The vitriol poured upon “fleggers” – much of it characterised by being condescending and by focussing on the worst aspects of the protests – has been in my view an easy get-out for too many of the bien pensants. It also represents a panic response – ‘what can we do with these people?’ – when actually this is an issue that can be worked through. Their wider concerns, of which their take on the Belfast CC non-consensus decision on flags was just one, are not just valid but essential to take account of in any designing of a healthy society going forward. Fingers in the ears is the easy response – and the violence of some “fleggers” gave the opportunity for the rest of society to take that approach – but it is not the right one.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    no, it’s that in our fragile ethnic block politics, cross-community process matters, not just the end result. I have no problem with designated days as a result, but I have a huge issue with such a decision being arrived at by simple majority vote, rather than cross-community consensus.

    This isn’t some eccentric opinion, it is where the recent academic report into flags and designated days ended up also – I agree with them:

    The point being, if such a result is arrived at in the context of one community voting for it and the other not, it undermines any chance of it gaining the acceptance of people on the ground. There are some times you do have to just get on with decisions and you can’t expect everyone to agree everything all the time. But this one was too brimming with symbolism and charged with meaning to be simply glossed over as the council wanted. And so it proved.