News media should not be bound by Border, says Brady

 

BOTH PARTS of Ireland are looking into a decade of important anniversaries which will demand thoughtful and committed journalism, former Irish Timeseditor Conor Brady has said.

Addressing the John Hewitt Summer School in Armagh yesterday, he warned the Dublin-based media against treating Northern Ireland as not important enough to bother with anymore.

“Personally, I regret that with the ending of the large-scale conflict within Northern Ireland, so many of the Southern news media have also lost or reduced their interest in what goes on.”

Mr Brady, who is a member of the Garda Ombudsman Commission, said: “If the decades of violence on this island and the decades that preceded them taught us anything about living together it should be that we need to know about each other. If we don’t know about each other we become prey to suspicion, to stereotyping, to mistrust and ultimately to hostility.”

He regretted that when he read the entertainment or cultural listings of most of the Dublin papers that events in Northern Ireland were not listed: “Very little seems to happen north of a line from Newry to Sligo,” he said.

Those who run the media in both states in Ireland ought to have what he called “an active vision that is not bound by the winding twisting line on the map that we used to call the Border”.

Citing valuable but largely unseen cross-Border groups, Mr Brady singled out for praise President Mary McAleese and her husband. Terrific work was being done by community groups, by school exchanges, by professional bodies, by politicians in building networks, he said.

However, he said that much of the good work done to date by journalists in reporting all facets of life in Ireland to readers throughout the island could be put at risk.

“There is always the danger that in the news media the urgent drives out the important. And there is the growing danger that with the pressure on budgets and dwindling revenues, news editors and programme makers will simply not look as much as they should beyond their own immediate, local constituencies.”

Looking ahead to the centenaries of the Home Rule Bill, the signing of the Ulster Covenant, the 1913 Dublin lockout, the landing of weapons North and South, the Battles of the Somme and Gallipoli, the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, and the Civil War and Partition, he urged journalists to take caution.

“The way that this period of commemoration and these events are reported and narrated and explained across the community divide, and across two political units that make up the island, will be crucially important,” he said.

Broadcasters and writers had a “heavy responsibility” to help foster mutual understanding, to deepen awareness and respect across all communities and to help dispel, suspicion, fear and mistrust. “There is the potential for a considerable regression in cross-community trust if the news media don’t do this well,” he warned.

“If there is pandering to sectarian or racist bias, if the news media fail to challenge those who would wish to revert to stereotyping or to the raking up of old shibboleths, the news media will fail in their duty to the people they serve.”