Andytown News checks wind, blows in opposite direction…

LAST week the Andytown News ran a leader strongly urging nationalists not to take part in a demonstration against the army’s homecoming parade. In case you’ve forgotten, the head was ‘It didn’t work for Paisley, and it isn’t going to work for us today’. But yesterday’s front page headline read: See you on Sunday. Last week, the ATN was all about defusing tension, today it’s about ratcheting things up. Over its six pages of coverage yesterday – seven articles, one opinion piece and all four letters in Mala Poist – not one single voice backed last week’s Andytown News editorial. Surely it wasn’t leaned on – again?The justification for the change in heart was helpfully provided by some local squaddies posing with guns and a Northern Ireland flag with the loyalist slogan ‘No Surrender’ on it. Not smart, not unusual, but very convenient. There are many more things provocative to republicanism than photos on a website, no matter how offensive, stupid or sectarian they may be.

As for balance, not a single non-republican (nor even SDLP) voice heard. The exception was shit-stirring loyalist Willie Frazer’s, who’s hardly representative of normality, and was raising the temperature on the loyalist side.

Completely absent was any voice of moderation. Willie was the only person to deviate from the new editorial line the newspaper now shares with Sinn Fein.

It is hard to believe one soldier’s Bebo site caused the change in heart, so has the paper bowed to popular pressure or caved in to the Sinn Fein line again? The former is perhaps understandable – a local paper wouldn’t survive by alienating readers – but past form doesn’t preclude the latter.

Remember the great Squinter climbdown? This latest U-turn reminds me of it. A lot. There seems little point in the paper expressing views if they are going to be thrown away within days. The point of a newspaper’s leader column is to lead opinion, not slavishly follow it. The ATN has now, twice this year, buckled and ran away from defending its own stance.

The weather has been bad over the last week, but you’ll never see the wind change direction quite so quickly as it does in the ATN.