Here’s something you might have missed last week. In an interestingly timed, if much belated, intervention in the Guardian, professor of journalism at City University, self-declared Sinn Féin supporter and, in the late 1980s, a pseudonymous contributor to An Phoblacht, Roy Greenslade channels his inner Thatcher for a call for media [self] censorship when reporting on still violent dissident republican groups. From the Guardian article
In other words, by referring to “dissidents” – disparate overlapping groups that use IRA or similar in their self-descriptions – media outlets are investing them with an undeserved political raison d’être. The dissident tag imbues them with a spurious legitimacy. It embellishes them with a political veneer.
In fact, their politics – such as they are – are virtually impossible to fathom. I accept that they want a united Ireland, but the route they have chosen to take to secure it – pursuing a war discontinued 20 years ago by the former Provisional IRA – makes no sense whatsoever.
It ignores the political reality of the peace process. It is also undeniable (look at the voting figures) that these groups have no validity in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the nationalist population, let alone the unionist population, in Northern Ireland.
They have killed people. They have sown discord. And it must be conceded that they have managed to recruit alienated, unemployed youth, often by suggesting that Sinn Féin, in sharing power at Stormont and in having eschewed violence, now represents “the establishment.”
This travesty of the truth has been given force by the way in which these groups have been represented in the media as alternative political entities rather than, echoing Byrne, gangsters.
[Defiantly not “the establishment”! – Ed] Definitely… The professor continues, adding a dash of conspiracy theory and a soupçon of party political mopery…
I could take his argument a stage further by suggesting that the references by newspapers and broadcasters to these groups as IRA dissidents or, more usually, “dissident republicans”, has had an insidious consequence.
It has tended to tarnish the standing of, for want of a better phrase, mainstream republicanism. At best, this has been unconscious. At worst, it has been deliberate because Sinn Féin has few friends in the media.
But let’s accept for the purposes of this argument that it has been by accident rather than design and return to the central, substantive point. Media outlets should take a leaf out of the BBC’s book.
I suppose it might make a difference to adopt the BBC formula by renaming these anti-peace groups as “so-called dissidents” or “so-called republicans”. But that would still endow them with an unmerited political dimension. In the circumstances, gangs and gangsters is better. Better to criminalise rather than politicise.