Is ‘peace journalism’ largely about sustaining the ‘right’ kind of propaganda?

Jamie Bryson is a Unionist political activist interested in law, human rights and writing. He is author of My Only Crime Was Loyalty and banned Nama book ‘The Three Headed Dog’. Currently a political advisor and campaign manager for Cllr Ruth Patterson.

I have been following the debate – mostly in the Newsletter Letters page – around the call by Professor John Brewer for more “peace journalism”. It’s a term that catches my interest because I sense a deeper, and darker (to my mind), underlying purpose.

In Professor Brewer’s letter of clarity carried in the Newsletter on March 18 he says the following:

In the context of a society like ours emerging out of conflict, peace journalism balances an obligation to deal with the past, with helping us learn to live together in the future. It is about balancing the politics of fear, with the politics of hope.”

But how exactly does Professor Brewer imagine journalists might balance their obligation (I’m unsure who actually imposes this obligation) to deal with the past with helping us to learn to live together in the future?

It appears to me that this methodology really means that certain uncomfortable truths, that may unbalance the political situation, should be sacrificed on the altar of the ‘peace process’.

Certainly much that investigative journalism uncovers is not helpful in terms of building the peace and “helping us learn to live together in the future”.

The alternative, surely, is to bury the truth in order to sustain a false narrative around our past which helpful in propping up the ‘peace process’.

If journalists were to start measuring the public interest in their stories by using a ‘Brewer balancing test’, then I dare say that many of the uncomfortable truths about the past will remain hidden.

The core of this proposed ‘peace journalism’ balance would require journalists to measure their stories upon whether what they publish will have a positive or negative impact on the political process.

In such an approach victims would inevitably be denied truth and perpetrators would be able to hide their actions under the veil of ‘protecting the process’.

There is little doubt that some journalists appear to have embraced a form of ‘peace journalism’ by devoting all their energies to trying to find the ‘balance’.

The “Unfinished Peace” brand being promoted by Brian Rowan at times appears to be more like an auditioning process for the role of truth commissioner and a ‘kite flying ‘ exercise for such a commission.

I question whether such a proactive approach does not cross an important line by becoming more concerned with sustaining the ‘right’ kind of propaganda by conflating journalism and politics, and blurring the lines between the two?

Investigative journalism should seek to expose the truth- regardless of the consequences for the peace process- without fear or favour. The only test for journalism should be to differentiate between truth and lies.

Journalism’s job should not be to protect the peace process. A media that becomes merely an instrument of the political institutions which decide what is in the public interest purely with regard to the impact it might have politically is an erosion of a free press.