“This isn’t objective journalism but covert propaganda”

Eamon McCann’s in column yesterday Derry Journal picks up on the sponsorship of a heavily weighted political media project: the controversial petition against three illegal organisations in the city and puts it in the context of Ed Moloney’s call for a debate on the subject of politics and journalism.By Eamon McCann

There was an intriguing letter from the journalist Ed Maloney in yesterday’s Irish Times which throws some reflected light on recent controversy in Derry.

Ed drew attention to a reference in the Times two days earlier to the role of RTE Northern Editor Tommie Gorman in the talks which led to DUP-Sinn Fein agreement on forming a new Executive. The reference had come in a piece which suggested that Gorman’s involvement as a go-between had subsequently helped sooth relations between RTE and the DUP.

When the suggestion was first made that Gorman had been a participant in the talks, rather than, or as well as, a reporter, the RTE man rejected the claim. But now it seems, as Maloney put it, “the cat is out of the bag.” This raises a number of questions which deserve discussion, including in our own city.

Journalists have as much right as any other category of citizen to hold and to express and pursue political opinions. In this column and elsewhere, I have the luxury of exercising this right. Problems arise when journalism is put at the service of a political project or campaign without readers or viewers or listeners being alerted to this ingredient of the material they are absorbing.

If it is the case—every journalist I know believes it to be so and no politician I have talked to denies it—that Tommy Gorman was actively engaged in the discussions with led to the DUP-Sinn Fein agreement while at the same time reporting on these discussions for the Irish national broadcaster, then a line was crossed which journalistic ethics demand should not have been crossed. As Maloney remarks, “RTE and Tommie Gorman badly need to clear the air.”

One of the reasons there has, so far, been no heated controversy arising from Gorman’s alleged dual role is that the achievement of the deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein was widely welcomed, including in the media, as a good thing. If Gorman had been involved behind the scenes in a political project which did not have widespread support, and this became known, there would have been controversy and, possibly, other implications for the journalist. It was because his actions conformed to prevailing political opinion that his role was given implicit sanction.

The same considerations arise in relation to the dual role of some in the local media in relation to the petition presented in the Journal on Friday calling on three named Nationalist organisations to disarm. Individual newspapers and individual journalists are, as said, perfectly at liberty to take a line on this or any other issue. What they are not entitled to do is to take a political line while pretending that they are doing no such thing.

They are certainly not entitled to suggest or imply that people who have not been involved in political violence but who take a different view of how best to ensure there will be no repetition of murder such as that of Emmet Shiels are somehow less than wholly opposed to such cruel and senseless killing.

Having assisted in generating a wave of moral fervour behind one particular response to the murder, sections of the media then contrived to suggest that this response is the only acceptable response and that any other response indicated a lack of concern for the family of the young man. http://www.derryjournal.com/

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty