Would a more honest journalism make a difference?

Well, it hasn’t gone away you know. Ed Moloney, author of a useful essay on the peace process and what he believes to be a kind of Stockholm syndrome effect it has had on Northern Irish journalism wrote to the paper on Saturday:

Are we to take it from Ms O’Connor’s confident assertion that the cat is now out of the bag, as it were – that Tommie Gorman has rescinded his denial or at least allowed it to wither on the vine?

He argues:

This, he argues, would have far reaching implications for Irish journalism:

The traditional and valued principle that underlies all journalism everywhere is that reporters must never cross the line between observers and players; if that line is crossed, then the inevitable consequence is that reporting becomes fatally suspect, all the more so when the line-crossing is crossed secret and kept hidden from the public. The public needs to have trust in the integrity and independence of the media and their professionals, or civil society is undermined. In the country where I now reside and work, a journalist who crossed that line would face instant dismissal and the censure of his peers.

The Troubles in Northern Ireland have had, I believe, a terribly corrosive effect on Irish journalism, with reporters under constant pressure to take sides in the conflict and to shape their coverage according to the diktats of official, unofficial or self-censorship. The peace now enjoyed by Northern Ireland is to be cherished; but how ironic if its arrival has been heralded by an acceptance of the idea that journalists could and should be players as well.

The traditional standard needs to be protected and re-asserted. A debate about all this would be certainly healthy, but in the meantime RTÉ and Tommie Gorman badly need to clear the air.

In his essay, Moloney declares that his is a “purist journalistic stance on censorship. It is perhaps a Utopian view, but a good yardstick nonetheless. But there is another more civic-based reason why in general, and in the particular case of the Northern Ireland Troubles, censorship should be resisted. In the long term it doesn’t work. It can actually be counter-productive.”

The residual point behind his thesis is that journalists should have more confidence in the latent power of their craft, and resist the temptation to be drawn into fix what politicians, not journalists, are mandated to fix:

It is impossible to say whether more honest journalism would have made a difference, but it might have. Is it possible that a better informed Unionist electorate, one made aware by the media of the huge compromises that Adams was making, might have been more ready to temper demands for IRA decommissioning, and more willing to believe that the war had ended on terms they previously could only have dreamed about? Would it have made any difference if the Provos had been put under greater scrutiny and their more flagrant lying exposed? And if all that had happened, would the power-sharing executive at Stormont have survived, and with it the centre ground of Northern Ireland politics?

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