News media being turned into 'purveyors of half-truths'

 

BBC WAR reporter Kate Adie has said some news organisations are being turned into purveyors of half-truths as a result of financial constraints and sheer laziness.

Ms Adie was critical of the growing influence of the public relations industry in today’s media, while addressing the Co-operation Ireland student journalism conference, of which The Irish Timesis a sponsor.

“I have no time for journalists turning around press releases as journalism and putting it out – they should be fired. Press releases are invariably part of the story, they are never the full story,” she said.

“Sheer laziness these days and financial constraints and mean budgets are turning some news organisations into purveyors of half-truths.”

She described covering some of the biggest stories of her career as like having a “ringside seat in history”; however, she said the forces of entertainment were now swamping the media.

Ms Adie said she did not think the media had a role to play in promoting reconciliation. The media should pick up the carpet and find the dirt that had been swept underneath.

“If comment, ideas, opinions, prejudices all get aired, then the possibility of the right outcome is greater. That right outcome is possibly reconciliation.”

She said she had loved coming to Belfast over the last 35 years, because “it’s the only place, and I’ve been in a lot of conflicts, where someone will tell you a joke in the middle of a riot”.

Ms Adie praised students for pursuing professional qualifications in their field, and revealed she had a degree in Swedish and ancient Icelandic.

“Unless the Vikings invade again there won’t be a great deal of use for it,” she added.

She said she came from a generation that might be expected to do a course in “cordon bleu cooking or perhaps a little light nursing or maybe teaching” and work for a few years before marrying “Mr Right” and producing “2.4 children for Britain”.

Ms Adie told the students from the Republic and the North that reporting was and should be a hard job. She said the qualities students needed to become good journalists included integrity, determination and honesty. She said they should be “nosy”, but should always remember people had a right to privacy.

“I’m not asking you to break laws, I’m asking you to butt your head against the door until finally someone lets you in.” She also advised them: “Don’t dress like a diva.”

Belfast-based journalist Eamonn Mallie said there was a growing appetite for instant, immediate news. However, he stressed it must be reliable and well-sourced, as well as speedily produced.

Mr Mallie, who has recently embraced Twitter and uses it to update his followers on political events in the North, said he was in a lot of trouble with his contemporaries who “can’t even pronounce Twitter”.

He added: “My generation is so confused about this technology”.

Mr Mallie said he believed political parties were unnerved by such technologies because they no longer had time to “manage and manipulate” their message before it reached the public.

Reassuring the student journalists about the possibility of finding work in the current economic climate, Gerry Moriarty, northern editor of The Irish Times, said people would always want news.

However, Mr Moriarty said just because someone had a blog did not make them a journalist.

“Journalism is a craft, you have to serve your apprenticeship,” he said.

Referring to the subject of the conference, The Transition from Conflict to Reconciliation, Mr Moriarty said peace had brought new challenges to journalists working in the North.