The phrase “peace journalism” was found wanting by organisers and delegates alike at today’s workshop in Belfast. Partly because the journalistic ethics that apply to conflict equally apply to peace (and every other situation), and also because Northern Ireland may be on a transition between conflict and peace, but it’s definitely not yet altogether post-conflict.
The main speakers (Deaglan de Breadun, Mike Gilson, Jane Morrice and Malachi O’Doherty) and panellists (Laura Haydon, Alex Kane, Lyra McKee and Julia Paul) all had differently nuanced articulations of the role of individual journalists (and media organisations more generally) in covering conflict and peace, and differing notions of what constituted truth, justice and public interest.
Worthy concepts of “impartial” or “unbiased” media as well as just reporting “the facts” are simplistic. Moral judgements on (not so) “absolute” rights and wrongs end up being subjective, but these kind of moral judgements are definitely made in newsrooms across the island. Journalists are clearly conscious of the possibility of censorship, and even self-censorship.
Questions were raised about what a newspaper might feel is its responsibility – or opportunity – to report versus what commercially appeals to readers. Deaglan de Breadun adapted CP Scott’s “comment is free, but facts are sacred” to say “comment is free, but facts are expensive”.
Interesting analysis from Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson about the role of newspaper campaigns and commentary. Despite Peter Robinson and other politicians carping on about the media’s doom and gloom assessment of the Executive, the media can’t merely report progress and stay blind to how far we still have to go. He also made a distinction between the immediacy of online (and app) news versus the more measured approach the physical paper can make (sometimes delaying stories by a day to allow proper fact-checking and reflective analysis).
Discussion about what constitutes hate crime, journalists experiencing post traumatic stress disorder, and the “does my bum look big in this” school of peace journalism.
Late in the panel discussion the observation briefly surfaced that stories about women in conflict are often overlooked. At Monday night’s Platform for Change Haass event someone remarked that we conduct politics in a very masculine way. That could easily extend to say that our media is quite masculine, both in focus and approach.
The various sessions (many of which are available to listen back to) left me wondering whether the main question facing journalism in Northern Ireland is: probably: What is not being covered?
Hannah summed up the day well in her tweet:
Takeaway from #peacejournalism workshop @ Queens: the world is tangled in postmodernist chaos, but it’s seeking truth, justice & morality…
— Hannah Babe (@TheHBabe) November 29, 2013