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.