Cutting Fortnight: a flight from political argument?

Henry McDonald broke the news on Sunday that Fortnight magazine is getting squeezed simultaneously by two separate funding organisations, the Arts Council and the Community Relations Council. Fortnight has been around almost as long as the troubles themselves. Even in the darkest periods it has often been the only sane place were public enemy could converse intelligently and take soundings when there seemed little possibility of finding a lasting solution to Northern Ireland’s apparently intractible problems. Now, the loss of the relatively small amount of subsidy seems certain to threaten the paper’s immediate future.

Declaring my own interest. I’ve been an irregular contributor to Fortnight, and the magazine and its editor, Malachi O’Doherty, have been nothing but supportive of Slugger, right from its early days.

Northern Ireland has developed a habit of undervaluing its genuine public goods. The genuinely politically detached is routinely viewed with suspicion. It still makes me smile when I think of the response I got from one public funder when I asked about the possiblity of Slugger attracting a subsidy. I was told it was ‘too overtly political’.

We don’t know what criteria the funding bodies have used to make this decision. There is no doubt that there is a constant pressure to review and renew such criteria to match the needs of a changing society.

But, given the paucity of such spaces even today, at the very least it might come to be seen as careless inattentiion to have lost such an institution.

  • slug9987

    Perhaps, now the troubles in Ireland are an increasingly distant memory, there is less interest in its output.

  • Davros

    Must admit I have never had a lot of time for it!

  • slug9987

    I was amazed to learn that it was funded by the taxpayer at all, and for so long.

    I cannot see the justification and welcome the removal of these public monies.

    The Arts Council is supposed to fund art. Not provide a platform for the same old commentators.

  • Bob Wilson

    Has it been supplanted by Slugger?

  • Oilbhéar Chromaill

    Henry, poor Henry. He never fails to get his facts wrong when it comes to the details of stories.

    He claims erroneously that Fortnight is getting cut at the same time as the ULTACH Trust is getting ‘thousands of pounds’ from the Arts Council of NI.

    Of course the ULTACH trust isn’t getting any money from the Arts Council as it isn’t promoting the arts. An tUltach, the Irish language arts and culture magazine is getting £48,000 over three years (£16,000 per year) from the ACNI. An tUltach has nothing to with the ULTACH trust.

    It’s a strange argument to make by Fortnight – which was more a political than a cultural beast unde Malachi’s reign – that a magazine such as An tUltach should be deprived of funding – this is the first time in years it’s got decent support from an Arts Council which until recently has failed to begin to recognise that it must also support worthwhile Irish language arts initiatives on the same basis as it does arts iniatives by English language practitioners.

    The Ulster Orchestra got an increase of £150,000 – up from £1.74m to £1.89m – yet Malachi targets the Ultach magazine because it’s in Irish and, sure, it’s not as important as his magazine which is on a mission to cut SF and, especially, Gerry Adams down to size.

    Instead of targeting An tUltach perhaps Malachi should consider the impact that the former ACNI language and literature officer, Robbie Meredith, giving off about bullying etc during his time at the Council that Fortnight published.

    It seems to me that that particular article and the impact it might have had on ACNI decision makers who, I’m guessing, would have been a bit miffed at the artcles lack of objectivity , might be a more honest and, in the end, effective line of attack than the morally reprehensible tactic of picking on the smaller fish as Malachi as doing to bolster his case.

    And it’s also worth pointing out that the story was well covered in Arts Extra on RU the previous Monday night – so Henry was, not for the first time, well scooped.

  • slug9987

    Definitely think the Ulster Orchestra is an EXCELLENT use of money saved.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Maybe the Ulster Orchestra could offer Malachi a turn playing the spoons or a washboard to help him turn a pound.

  • Mick Fealty

    Oilbhear:

    “And it’s also worth pointing out that the story was well covered in Arts Extra on RU the previous Monday night”

    To be fair to Henry, it wasn’t him who claimed it was a scoop. It was me.

    I wonder too if objectivity is the same as independence? I used to like the McNee columns, precisely because they were all written from a very particular point of view.

  • Oilbhéar Chromaill

    Mick,

    It still doesn’t excuse Henry from checking his facts before launching into an ill informed anti Irish language tirade.

    If An tUltach is getting Fortnight’s stipend from ACNI, it should be pointed out that AU is as much about arts and culture and has as long a tradition as Fortnight. It’s just in a different language. Bear in mind that the Irish language arts in the North gets approximately £230,000 out of a total ACNI budget of £10m+. So the comparison being made by Henry and Malachi is perverse – he should pick another target rather than the Irish language if he wants support.

    While I sympathise with those who work for Fortnight, it has to be said that the magazine had lost a great deal of its relevance despite glossy features on lapdancing and the like under Malachi’s editorship. It also became an anti Peace Process and virulently anti Sinn Féin platform for all and sundry to take pot shots at Gerry Adams. It shouldn’t be silenced like this – but there’s no way it’s just an arts and culture magazine. These are mere fig leafs to hide a political agenda.

    Henry makes much of his own generosity in writing for Fortnight free of charge – but wasn’t it Fortnight who published a glowing interview with him in recent editions following the publication of yet another Bargain Books bound tome, Colours. He was described as the bravest journalist in Ireland blah blah blah.

    Perhaps it was felt Fortnight had even lost its political edge – it had become a platform for a small cadre of narrow minded journalists to vent their spleen and puff one another up.

  • Alan

    *Perhaps it was felt Fortnight had even lost its political edge – it had become a platform for a small cadre of narrow minded journalists to vent their spleen and puff one another up.*

    But who in the Arts Council would be qualified to make such an assessment?

    Surely the point of Fortnight was to be disagreeable in pursuit of the truth!

  • Jacko

    Take a look around you at some of the obvious scams that are being funded by public money, and then claim Fortnight doesn’t deserve its few bob.

    Actually Fortnight has always given good coverage to the arts, it’s a bloody disgrace.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I will miss Fortnight.

    I’ve been reading it for a few years, and there were quite a few good thought-provoking articles in it over years.

  • Whatabout

    From reading the above I don’t think it’s gone just yet Gonz!

  • davidbrew

    perhaps former columnist Calvin McNee could spare a few bob from his Alfred Nobel account :0)

    Actually it’s always been a horrible rag which assumed a staggering self importance way beyond its circulation. Good riddance. And I’ll flog all my back issues from 1981-1993 to the highest bidder just as soon as it’s dead and buried and they suddenly all become incredibly valuable mementos of a shining beacon in the politicaland cultural slime that was Our wee Country. Or maybe put them on a bonefire as an expression of my culture, apparently.

  • Robbie Meredith

    Oops … so I’m responsible for Fortnight losing funding because I wrote a balanced article reflecting on my time at ACNI for the magazine.

    I don’t think so – most of the existing staff at ACNI were supportive of the article, and I still keep in touch with them. And I don’t think that their professionalism would be so lacking that they would base funding decisions on the content of one article in a magazine. Besides, Fortnight published a ‘right to reply’ piece from ACNI in the issue following the one which carried my article. As for anti SF, I seem to remember a long interview the mag carried with Gerry Adams half a year back. The writer received angry e-mails accusing him of being too soft on Gerry…

    Fortnight actually received little money from ACNI proportionately, but their support was vital and, despite my respect for ACNI staff, I disagree with the decision to withdraw funding. People should look at the range of organisations funded by ACNI – in Fortnight local literature was always reviewed and local poets published, so, to me, it was a vital resource for NI literature, therefore it made a positive contribution in an under-resourced area, as does An tUltach, which has been run on a shoe-string for years, and has received a very welcome uplift. Funding for both is a drop in the ocean compared to what is given to some less effective arts organisations.

    But, hey, that’s just my (informed) opinion.
    Robbie Meredith

  • Davros

    Off Topic – Have any of you a copy of the Poetry Special Supplement they had a few years ago ? I have lost my copy and would love a poem scanned from it.