‘Peace journalism’ – does it make sense?



On this morning’s ‘Sunday Sequence’ there was a discussion about the notion of ‘peace journalism’ and the role of the media here. I thought it was good (and courageous – a whole half-hour)that we got to hear a group of people discuss an issue without the crash-bang-wallop that is usually expected on air and is seen as ‘good radio’. Ultimately, though, I thought it shed little light.

William Crawley made the point that conflict is at the heart of media reporting, as it’s at the heart of literature. Without conflict there is little interest – conflict is needed to drive the story along. As someone once said, they don’t send the cameras out to JFK Airport to see the planes land safely.

The notion of ‘peace journalism’ strikes me as plain silly in its ambiguity. Is it saying that this is journalism that’s occurring during peace-time as distinct from conflict-time and so should be different? Or is it saying that journalism is duty bound to support peace? If the former, we hardly need to be told that a journalist reports on different things in peace-time than in war-time. If it’s the latter, a lot would depend on the circumstances, wouldn’t it? Peace journalism during the German occupation of France, peace journalism during the time of the rise of Nazism – no sane person would want violent conflict but sometimes circumstances arise where, except you’re a pacifist, peace will not be the answer. Ask Churchill.

I think journalists here – and everywhere – have a double duty. They have a duty to present the facts  – all of the relevant facts – of a case, in as detached a manner as possible. They also have a duty – and this is where it gets tricky – to be clear when they bring their personal perspective and commitment to bear on an issue.  Because that perspective/commitment may well decide what facts are cited and what facts left out, as well as how the facts cited  are arranged.

Most columnists are honest in this: they’re presenting their  view of the world from a unionist/nationalist/republican/socialist point of view. That view should be in touch with all the relevant facts of any particular case, but the columnist is then entitled to take these and present his/her judgement on them as well.

Speaking personally  (don’t I always?) I believe a major problem in Irish journalism is that for the greater part, it is anti-republican. It’s easy to see how this might be the case. If your loved one or even someone you knew suffered at the hands of republicans, it’s going to be very hard for you to accept them as peace-makers and politicians. But that doesn’t justify the almost-incessant criticism of major Sinn Féin figures and of the party in general. Whatever they may or may not have done in the past, Sinn Féin now are clearly committed to the political path. They deserve from journalists the same treatment as all other parties – but they don’t get it.

Some people say “Be patient. Soon,  ‘new skins’ like Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty will emerge, and then Sinn Féin will be freed from journalistic grudge-bearing”.  I don’t believe that. In today’s Sunday Independent, there’s a man writing in to argue that Mary Lou and Pearse  and others like them chose to join a party they knew had, in the past, links with violence, so they too are stained by this crimson nastiness. Granted, this is a letter-writer and not a columnist or journalist.  But how long do you think before talk of similar guilt-seepage finds its way into journalism’s anti-republican vocabulary? . Sinn Féin must be amenable to criticism as any other political party – but on equal terms with every other party. Let’s skip the peace-journalism thing. Let’s just have fair-journalism

5 Responses to ‘Peace journalism’ – does it make sense?

  1. Taxi Driver December 1, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    My problem with republicans is that if they can’t sweet talk you they’ll either try to bully you, or ignore you.

    • Jim Lynch December 1, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

      Sub republican with unionist and you could be talking of the 50 plus years of mis-rule nationalists had to endure in the north of Ireland.
      Note: Also leave out the “sweet talk” bit and then you’ve got it!

      • browbeaten December 1, 2013 at 11:08 pm #

        Your response to Taxi Driver shows exactly the point he’s making.

  2. Paul December 1, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    Yes Jude one would question the impartiality of BBC spotlight journalists as they go on a manhunt for Gerry Adams and it seems they won’t be satisfied until they’ve used up all the footage they have in their vaults that they presume shows him up the worst light possible. Who need the nio when we have such journos

  3. Taxi Driver December 3, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    Response to Jim, birds of a feather flock together