“Recognition of the contribution to peace made by the media and journalists..”

In the Belfast Telegraph, Maurice Neill argues that “Recognition of the contribution to peace made by the media and journalists in Northern Ireland is long overdue.” I’ve no doubt of the contribution, but the “well-behaved witness” now needs to start asking “stupid” questions. Otherwise false, or partial, narratives will go unchallenged as those witnesses continue to ignore “the bits that do not suit particular prejudices”. And when “agreed truth becomes accepted, the real truth becomes a lie”. You can decide for yourself who’s still playing role of the “well-behaved witness” here on the issue of who’s looking over their shoulder as they calculate the fall-out of promises broken. As Peter Preston correctly identified

Politicians and journalists may work, drink, dine and go on holiday together. Some journalists may even become politicians, or vice-versa. But the roles are separate, and essentially adversarial. Politicians run governments and seek to exercise power in the name of the people. Journalists serve those people directly day by day, for they are their readers and viewers. They do not, if they’re wise, want power for themselves. They do, though, have a direct hand in the workings of democracy. Their stock in trade is information (which, to be frank, the politicians wish to keep under wraps). Information is the lifeblood of freedom. It is also its most contentious commodity. Most battles between press and politics are really information wars.

As an additional point, back in April 2007 Peter Hain revealed an uncomfortable detail about something that, for some, appears to have become the “agreed truth”

Mr Hain: I hope my friends and colleagues on the other side of the border will not take offence at this, “but I think there was some unhelpful spin from some elements in Dublin which hyped up the interpretation of “joint stewardship. Joint stewardship of the process” was a very carefully chosen phrase. It did not imply joint authority, as I said earlier, joint governance: it implied joint stewardship of the process of bringing peace, of putting in concrete the peace and seeking restoration of the devolved institutions. That is what it meant, and that is what it will mean, that and nothing else. I do agree that interpretation seems to have been the reason that, in the case of the UVF at least, they would not do anything until after 24 November. I think that is an excuse, frankly, and now that they know that that has been clarified by myself in particular, there is no reason for them to delay at all. [added emphasis]

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  • aquifer

    I was just thinking that there may be a structural problem with journalism. To get and maintain access journalists have to be courteous, maybe even deferential when dealing with people who sound off forcefully – you are not going to argue back, are you? The problem with this, is that by presenting politicians to the public as people worthy of respect, they may extend the political lives of people who are not up to the job, or whose political ideas are actually very naff.

    Yes, I was thinking of OFMDFM, SFDUP.

    With columnists you generally know where they are coming from, which is maybe more honest in the end. They can speculate as to motive, psychology even, which can sometimes explain a story better than the who what where when as seen through red blue or green tinted glasses.

  • KieranJ

    Face it.

    There will be no peace in the northeastern section of the Island until Ireland is made whole.

    It’s as simple as that.

    Case closed.

  • DR

    Better get a big big JCB Kieran, so we can clain back the isle of Mann and use it to fill in Lough Neagh, Finn MacCool had no right to give it away like that.

  • Scaramoosh

    How exactly did they contribute to the peace, by being tame and compliant and by turning a blind eye when asked by government agencies?

  • DR

    More seriously before we start giving Dunseith the Nobel peace prize (although any of lot have earned it than obama) maybe we should consider changing the statment to “Recognition of the contribution to THE TROUBLES made by the media and journalists in Northern Ireland is long overdue.”
    With the downfall of religion from its pedestal journalists seem more than keen to take its big slabber on radio ulster every morning, and criticism of them is quickly cut down. It has even crept onto Slugger with us being “honoured” to have Eamon Mallie “contribute” but take no part in dicussion or be accounable for what he had written.
    The media has stirred things up over the years on both sides often going for the soundbite out of context, will give two examples from the unionist viewpoint, firstly historically Craigs “Protestant Parliment for a Protestant People” was a retort (a stupid and crass one) to Dev’s “Catholic Country for a Catholic People” and originally should only have been understood in that context, but it stuck and shaped 50yr of unionist government. More recently I listened to the FMs conference speech where he praised up and down the benefits of devoloution, and attacked Jim A for threatening it, but all the press got was three words “I cannot guarntee”, which no one can really, maybe he tipped the media off that that is the message he want to go out, but I suspect its more a case of, the media trying to find evidence of a building crisis.
    There however is one group in the media who I think have truely created a new atmosphere that allowed the unthinkable to take place, “The Folks on The Hill” I believe paved the way for “the chuckle brothers” and all that has occured since, the truely unsung heros of the peace.

  • RepublicanStones

    “Recognition of the contribution to peace made by the media and journalists..”

    If this was referring to those brave souls in Latin America it might be applicable, not sure about the parochial pen pushers here. CPJ is worth a look.

  • DR

    should read “any of our lot

  • Panic, These ones like it up em.

    Journalists would not be that far behind politicians in over valuing their own importance.

    Journalism seems to have become more about keeping their paymasters and the politicians happy rather than any great desire to get the “truth” out to the masses.

  • “has been clarified by myself in particular”

    Has Peter Hain ever brought any clarity to the role played by members of the BIIC Joint Secretariat (and its predecessor) in policy and day-to-day policing and justice decisions? Dick Spring briefly and probably unintentionally shed a little light in this dark corner. The MSM and political bloggers have essentially maintained a discrete and compliant silence.

  • Brian Walker

    Just a few dashed out thoughts… First, how nice to get a few kind words! That’s more than the trade expects and probably deserves. Journalists tend to recoil from any claim of heroism during the Troubles and shuffle uncomfortably at any notion that “they contributed to peace”. A few did but mainly in the pub, in the days when there was a real drinking culture. The instinct is to avoid anything that limits freedom of maneouvre.

    With all their many faults, most try to tell it as they see it, and there’s no uniform view of that, thank God. I suspect if there can be said to be a collective view – and I’m not even sure there is- it might be that they provided choice and diversity. That was a very good thing indeed in a climate of rival extreme often murderous dogmas. How good it was in the round, to question them through evidence-based reporting. Did they “speak out” enough? Well, the storm of events in the early years made it difficult to catch breath and extreme critics tend to have ideological views that dismiss any suggestion of working within the broad parameters of the state. But in time, some great considered work was done- eg Peter Taylor, John Ware, David McKittrick to name just a few. And the hordes who covered the day and daily like Eamonn who has his own special niche, trying to avoid becoming formulaic.

    The relationship with politicians? Remarkably like the relationship between politicians and people, I find. Very varied, but you’re out to get a result. Some probably wanted to keep their paymasters happy as in many employer/employee relationships but it’s seldom a simple master-servant nexus, whatever conspiracy theorists may believe. Newspaper owners are a strange conviction breed like Premiership club owners, willing as much to lose moneyas to make it, and wearing their hearts very obviously on their sleeve, from Capt Henderson to Murdoch.

    Drag it out of them kicking and screaming or at the end of a late session, but under many a cynical hack’s front beats the heart of closet idealist. All the conspiracy theories are overdone, if you study the chaotic record.

    BTW if you like a suitably self-dramatised account of what it was like for a young picaresque, moralising awkward hoor, I couldn’t recommend highly enough Kevin Myer’s “Watching the Door.”

  • Brian Walker

    P.S. I should have added: how good it is today that we have so much interaction om the web and on air, to keep journalists up to the mark. But let’s hope they never become too accountable. The individual voice is the journalist’s USP.

  • latcheeco

    Weren’t a bunch of them for years getting awards monthly from the Theipval press office?