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Clueless – The International Press In Belfast

Journalists at work!
Journalists at work!

With so much of the news from the conflict in Syria being filtered through the International media one is struck once again by questions of reliability when it comes to outside reporting by foreign journalists on faraway troubles. Living in Ireland we became inured to overseas reporters and news crews making forays to the country every time the conflict in the north-east spiked during the four decades of the Northern War. More often than not their reporting was risible, little more than a repetition of the infamous “information packs” handed out to them by the British government officials at the Northern Ireland Office or pumped-up briefings by British Army PR handlers complete with a jaunt over the sprawling Bessbrook military base in a helicopter gunship (though no mention of the outbound and inbound chopper flights using the civilian population below as human shields – that of course did not suit the “agreed narrative” of Britain’s war in Ireland).

Despite the Peace Process, despite the growing interconnectivity of the globe, the paucity of outside reporting on the North of Ireland is as cringeworthy as ever. Take this article from The Atlantic, proof – if proof was needed – that much of the reporting on “Northern Ireland” remains little changed from the 1970s and ’80s when foreign journalists simply got drunk, stoned and laid in Belfast’s old Europa Hotel at the expense of the British tax-payer before filing carbon copy reports helpfully supplied by their British hosts (and yes, that really did happen). In the year 2013 a report on the continuing political divisions in the North of Ireland manages to make hardly one mention of politics, never uses the words “Irish Nationalists” or “Nationalism” or “British Unionists” or “Unionism” and instead references only “Catholics” and “Protestants” and the “religious rift”? Incredible (I won’t even get into Belfast’s Tiger’s Bay area being transformed into somewhere called “Tagger’s Bay”).

Even those who make half an effort at accuracy still produce the most astonishing claims. Take this syndicated piece on Belfast’s so-called Peace Walls from the Associated Press (one of the main Western news agencies reporting the Syrian conflict):

“Belfast’s first peace lines took shape in the opening salvos of Northern Ireland’s conflict in 1969, when impoverished parts of the city suffered an explosion of sectarian mayhem and most Catholics living in chiefly Protestant areas were forced to flee. The British Army, deployed as peacekeepers, erected the first makeshift barricades and naively predicted the barriers would be taken down in months.

Instead, the soldiers’ role supporting the mostly Protestant police soon inspired the rise of a ruthless new outlawed group, the Provisional Irish Republican Army…”

Yes, that’s right. There was no Civil Rights movement in the north-east of Ireland from the late 1960s onwards, no attempt to bring democracy and equality to the Apartheid-state that was  “Northern Ireland”, and no attempt by the old one-party British Unionist government at Stormont to smash both. It was simply a mysterious outbreak of “sectarian mayhem”. Jesus wept…

Thankfully we have some homegrown talent reporting to the world on the situation in the north-east of our island nation or I would give up on the profession of journalism altogether. However, the next time you read or see some reporting from Syria or anywhere else in the world think again. Because if their coverage of Ireland is anything to go by the ladies and gentleman of the International Press are just making it up as they go along.

16 comments on “Clueless – The International Press In Belfast

  1. There was a clear narrative throughout the last 40 years to oversimplify and present a biased narrative regarding the North.
    Nationalists were all baddies,
    Unionists were all victims/ good guys.
    The British army were stuck in the middle keeping the nutters apart
    The RUC were village bobbies caught up in the middle of the whole thing trying to enforce “Law and Order”.
    The press were mostly compliant in presenting this view with notable honourable exceptions, McKittrick and Fisk notably.
    The Dublin based press during this period were, for the most part, a disgrace. A lot of them still are.
    That narrative has now moved on and the emphasis is on promoting the whole “shared future” agenda complete with integrated schools, removal of peace walls and, to quote FJH, “letsgetalongerism” politics. Great. Fine objectives. Except I see little evidence of the reasons for these barriers being removed. The primary barrier being, of course, the creation of the artificial border around 6 counties. Perhaps we should start with removing that particular “Peace Wall”?

    • I agree with all of that, BD.

      Republicans are “terrorists”. Loyalists are “paramilitaries”. Republicans have “godfathers”. Loyalists have “leaders”. Republicans carry out “atrocities”. Loyalists carry out “retaliations”. The Irish Republican Army “murders”. The British Army “kills”. The Irish Republican Army has “out of control nutters”. The British Army has “a few bad apples”. And so on and so forth… 😦

  2. Reblogged this on Occupied Cascadia and commented:
    Do thuairim féin anseo… (más mian leat)

  3. It’s pretty easy for the government to control the media, really: any journalist who bucks the trend – especially 40-plus years ago – simply has their access taken away. And who wants to go back to covering local council meetings and lose the nice expense account when all you have to do is fudge the truth some? Besides, those good folks in government wouldn’t lie to you, would they?

    • That’s true, but it is the journalists who challenge the lines they are fed that are remembered as the great ones. Watergate being an obvious example. We haven’t enough of those. To be honest, I cannot understand why anybody would embark on a career in journalism just to recycle press releases. It’s beyond me.
      We, and I mean the likes of Séamus and myself (and others), are actually amateurs. That frees us to call it as we see it. We have only our own opinions and the facts to guide us. That is liberating. It also means we are not economically or politically inthrall to anyone except ourselves.

      • Journalists are careerists as much as any other profession. It’s “just a job” is the universal attitude of the Irish media (I know – I’ve socialised with the prostituting shower). The Vincent Brownes and Kerrigans stick out because of their very rareness.

        In Ireland bloggers are the voices the media won’t permit to be heard, north or south. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of us are decidedly “anti-establishment” How many Irish bloggers have gone on to mainstream success in the Irish media? Two or three, and all were on the centre-right and essentially echoed the opinions of the Irish media establishment back to itself. The infamous Twenty-Major, one-time blogger celeb, only got to play with the big boys because he wanted to be part of their gang and so spouted the same nonsense they do.

        I’m a Volunteer of the Irish Republican Blogroll 😉

      • Indeed, having no master to serve is liberating. You can pursue what course you choose, tackle what topics you deem significant and publish the truth as best you can determine it. If more “real” journalists followed that methodolgy we’d have a better world. Most people, unfortunately, care more for noteriety and money than justice. And the puppet masters know it.

    • True, though not all that much has changed. In Ireland anyone with an interest in politics and history will have heard of the stories of foreign journos, especially Americans due to the Irish-American lobby, being wined and dined in Belfast at the expenses of the British government during the 1970s, ’80s and 1990s. There are several famous stories of foreign correspondents spending a weekend in the north-east of Ireland for some write-up leaving the country on a Monday morning (usually back to London, Paris or New York) severely hung-over with no memory of filing their pieces and fearing for their job only to find that an article was in the process of being published under “their” byline.

      Some of the stuff the British Army PR guys got up to was incredible, faking bomb attacks or ambushes to titillate their visitors. Then of course you had all those US Army generals and visiting CIA spooks going for helicopter jaunts into what the British media dubbed “bandit country – except in most cases they usually went for a spin around the picturesque countryside of north Down or Antrim, well away from the “warzones”.

      Has anything changed? Accounts of the experiences of journalists in Baghdad’s Green Zone in the early 2000s are just surreal.

      • It really is amazing what you can pull off in terms of hoodwinking people when money is no object. And it’s also amazing what some will do to further their own agendas, or that of those who give them orders.

  4. I’ve just read a book, Star of the Sea, by Joseph O’Connor. It is set in the 1800’s at the height of the famine and tackles difficult things in a very clever way. I recommend it as a good read

    • Will have a look out for it. In a backlog of eight unread books at the moment. Not enough spare time. A day off, some sun and I’ll be sitting in the back garden book in hand 😉

  5. I could be slated for this, but for an alternative viewpoint on world news look no further than Russia Today news[rt.news]. It has some very good documentaries/programmes that have opened my eyes to other cultures in the world that the ‘mainstream media’ tend to ignore. Or if you simply want to avoid news of the great royal parasites then you wont be disappointed. Presstv was another news network the british contrived to ban from the airwaves due to its iranian viewpoint but is available on the net. Again its not to everyones taste but refreshingly it doesnt slobber over obama or the royals and demonise the poor/disadvantaged. My only criticism is that these channels’ dont really know much about the politics in Ireland.

  6. Most sensible people will see through the ‘mixing’ that goes on with news networks but what i like about these alternative networks is their willingness to report from areas of the world that we wouldnt have a hope of hearing on the bbc etc for example, Palestine,Columbia,Venezuela etc. The Keiser report might get a bit exaggerated at times but if you are studying economics you will learn a whole new chapter on the subject after listening to max and stacey! Also you wont hear much on the bbc or sky on how well Libya and Iraq are getting on these days, after the west successfully ‘freed’ their peoples’.

    • Agreed. And Max Keiser for all his flaws has done sterling work in exposing what really happened over the last several years. He has been proved right too many times.

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