Do nationalists have fears? If so, why can’t our journalists report on them?

2014 has arrived, and we’ve come through yet another of our hothouse political negotiation moments. This time, a deal wasn’t struck, and indeed the mood music and content of the final Haass draft confirms that many of the key issues of division were to be pushed further down the road anyway, as opposed to being resolved at this time.

But, in one area, this negotiation was like the many others that have preceded it in the post-ceasefires era.

Throughout the run up to, during and following on from the Haass Talks, there has been a typically narrow media focus on the desires or demands of unionists- though you won’t have heard the words ‘desires’ or ‘demands’ used. Instead, it will have been substituted for ‘fears’, ‘concerns’ or ‘sensitivities.’

I vividly recall reporting the findings of an informal ad hoc study I’d conducted during the lead in to the Good Friday negotiations to fellow postgrad students at Queens University where I was able to count just under fifty references to unionist fears, concerns, sensitivities or worries in the three local papers over a two week period.

15 years on, listen to Gareth Gordon’s BBC Evening Extra report last night here.

  • Unionists ‘feared’ nationalists rewriting history (2min 33 sec in)
  • Unionists ‘feared’ a force within a force being set up through HIU (8min 55 sec)
  • Unionists ‘worried’ people compelled to give evidence, ‘fearing’ that could apply to former police officers. (9 min 15 sec)

Naturally, nationalists and republicans did not have any ‘fears’ in this report. Perhaps nationalists collectively suffer from Urbach-Wiethe disease.

Every discussion regarding the three issues under negotiation reported that I have heard on either BBC or UTV has begun by reporting what unionists believe, want or ‘fear.’ Not once have I heard a journalist or broadcaster refer to nationalist/ republican ‘fears’ in the past couple of weeks. (I haven’t heard every bulletin obviously, so perhaps I missed a reference somewhere along the way. I doubt it though.)

Now, let me clearly state that I believe Gareth Gordon to be one of our most professional and astute political commentators. It isn’t an issue specific to one commentator or journalist, but rather a cultural bias in our mainstream media which is a legacy of our past.

However, it feeds the self obsession of unionism and inability of both the unionist political elite and grassroots to recognize the wants, needs and ‘fears’ of the Other, a real problem manifesting itself through the flags and parades protests so effectively exposed and parodied by the Loyalists Against Democracy site over the past year.

Personally, I believe the whole notion of either unionist or nationalist politicians having ‘fears’, ‘concerns’ or ‘anxieties’ over issues being negotiated regarding flags and parades is absurd. Obviously, discussions pertinent to relatives of those deceased during the conflict will give rise to a broader range of emotions, though, again, these would apply universally to not only unionists but also nationalists, republicans and others.

Unionists don’t ‘fear’ not being able to march loyalist paramilitary aligned bands through working class republican communities any more than they are ‘sensitive’ about being able to erect the Union Flag on town halls or lamp posts in predominantly nationalist town centres. These are demands and desires.

So why is it important?

Well, if people have ‘fears’ then, naturally, there is an onus on others to examine if they are indeed causing this condition to arise, acting in an inappropriate manner which has a detrimental effect on others.

The inaccurate and indeed loaded (intentional or otherwise) use of the term to describe unionist attitudes to items for discussion discourages analysis of the motivation of unionist political leaders and puts the onus on others (namely nationalists) to examine if they are acting in a manner which creates or exacerbates unionist fears.

Again, were the media to be consistent with the use of the ‘fear’ term, applying it to describe nationalist and republican sentiment, then this would be less of an issue.

I can see a New Year’s resolution in there for many members of the media……;)

Happy New Year.

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