“There is always the danger that in the news media the urgent drives out the important”

Saturday’s Irish Times noted its former editor Conor Brady’s call for ‘thoughtful and committed journalism’, particularly in news reports on Northern Ireland, despite “the pressure on budgets and dwindling revenues”.

Addressing the John Hewitt Summer School in Armagh yesterday, he warned the Dublin-based media against treating Northern Ireland as not important enough to bother with anymore.

“Personally, I regret that with the ending of the large-scale conflict within Northern Ireland, so many of the Southern news media have also lost or reduced their interest in what goes on.”

Mr Brady, who is a member of the Garda Ombudsman Commission, said: “If the decades of violence on this island and the decades that preceded them taught us anything about living together it should be that we need to know about each other. If we don’t know about each other we become prey to suspicion, to stereotyping, to mistrust and ultimately to hostility.”

The report continues

“There is always the danger that in the news media the urgent drives out the important. And there is the growing danger that with the pressure on budgets and dwindling revenues, news editors and programme makers will simply not look as much as they should beyond their own immediate, local constituencies.”

…….

Broadcasters and writers had a “heavy responsibility” to help foster mutual understanding, to deepen awareness and respect across all communities and to help dispel, suspicion, fear and mistrust. “There is the potential for a considerable regression in cross-community trust if the news media don’t do this well,” he warned.

“If there is pandering to sectarian or racist bias, if the news media fail to challenge those who would wish to revert to stereotyping or to the raking up of old shibboleths, the news media will fail in their duty to the people they serve.”

And in today’s Irish Times, Gerry Moriarty follows up by mapping the “media retreat” here

Journalists in Belfast have not been short of stories this year: the “Irisgate” affair, the battle to strike an agreement over policing and justice, the Westminster election, the Saville report on Bloody Sunday, the dissident threat, street disorder such as at Ardoyne, and much more besides.

“A Chinese curse is that you may live in interesting times, but it’s not a curse for journalists because we thrive on mayhem,” observes the Sunday Times ’s former Northern Ireland editor Liam Clarke. But as far as the Sunday Times head office in London was concerned there wasn’t sufficient mayhem in the North in recent years, which accounted for his early standing down as a staffman three years ago, although he still writes a weekly column for the Irish edition of the newspaper.

And that is mainly behind the journalistic retreat from Northern Ireland: the relative peace.

It has led a number of Irish and British news organisations to reassess their involvement in Northern Ireland. The Irish Times and RTÉ have maintained their commitment to covering the North but the Irish Independent , Sunday Independent and Evening Herald have no staff reporters based in Belfast while organisations such as the Sunday Times , the London Daily Telegraph, Reuters and Sky have closed their Belfast offices.

There is another worrying aspect to this media retreat which also works against any desire or need for thoughtful and committed journalism here.  And that is the apparent growth industry of government press officers.