Journalism Can Never Be At Peace

After Professor John Brewer’s call for more ‘Peace Journalism’ in Northern Ireland, Tyler McNally writes briefly about the dangers of turning an already ineffective press into the propaganda wing of Stormont and its austerity riddled ‘Peace Process’.

You must grow sick and tired of it, you must listen to the radio or read a newspaper and squirm as a variety of different yet strangely similar commentators talk about ‘Peace’, ‘Truth’ and ‘the Past’. I know that I find it very hard to listen to repeated epilogues on Nolan or the seemingly endless reams of print media dedicated to the subjects. If you haven’t guessed it yet, this is a response to Prof John Brewer’s call for more ‘Peace Journalism‘ when it comes to reporting on Northern Ireland.

What is ‘Peace Journalism’ I hear you ask? If we are fortunate, it will soon be relegated to the naughty corner of the Northern Ireland lexicon, right next to ‘Shared Future’ and other terms that must have sounded fantastic after a 48 hour binge session in the office, but are actually just empty and meaningless.

Peace Journalism, as Prof Brewer explains in an article in the Newsletter, is reporting that is “fair and balanced” and sheds light on the politics of ‘hope’ as well as ‘fear.’ Sounds good, sounds worthy of that 48 hour office binge I mentioned earlier. The reality for Journalism in both production and consumption is very different and much more complex.

“In the context of a society like ours emerging out of conflict, peace journalism balances an obligation to deal with the past, with helping us learn to live together in the future. It is about balancing the politics of fear, with the politics of hope.” Prof John Brewer

This idea of Peace Journalism relies very heavily on the idea of Northern Ireland being a society that is moving past conflict and is in fact a ‘Post Conflict’ society. It’s hard to reconcile the utopian idea of NI being post conflict when bombs are still going off and our communities are still deeply divided. There is an element of this that Peace Journalism accepts, but in doing so it presents itself as an idea with a far more insidious conclusion.

The reality is that since the Good Friday Agreement came into being, the role of the press here has been to create a limited but very lively window for debate, whilst at the same time protecting the peace process (and the creeping neo liberal economics at its core) from genuine criticism and analysis. There already is a Peace Journalism in action, rooted in the past and blinded from any real idea of an alternative future that can see past the cacophony of talks, crisis ridden institutions and eye watering inequality.

At the moment, if you were to look at the front pages of our newspapers, the lessons for living together are very clear, we will live together in poverty and shared misery as a small elite shores up its wealth through corporation tax cuts, privatisation, blank cheque subsidies and a cabal of MLAs on the hill who will have you believe that to oppose this wealth grab is to oppose peace itself.

And this is the problem with Peace Journalism, it would inevitably become the propaganda wing of the neo liberal peace process, denying alternative voices a platform for fear of upsetting the balance or allowing the idea that there is another way enter the public consciousness.

Peace Journalism will have you focused on the individual personalities of our esteemed politicians from the big five parties as they throw issue after issue upon the Altar of Peace, and call it progress because the parties who carry out the austerity, do it hand in hand with smiles and a feeling of ‘progress’. What Peace Journalism misses is what happens in the real world, it won’t talk about People Before Profit’s chances of electing two MLAs in May, or the Green Party’s possibility of returning three MLAs. It doesn’t question NIC-ICTU’s support for the so called ‘Fresh Start’ agreement – at the expense of members’ jobs in the public sector.

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If Journalism is to scrutinise the facts and deliver the truth, it will inevitably clash with the established ideas of peace and stability here. Because whilst austerity is woven into many agreements about the past and peace, it is detrimental to peace. What does peace mean to someone on a Zero Hour Contract? Or the victims of Welfare Reform? What does it mean to the school students who are watching Stephen Farry potentially price them out of third level education?

The truth is rarely pure and never simple, but in the inevitability of its subservience to the establishment, Peace Journalism denies us any truth – unless that truth is approved by the very people who offer us no peace and no future.

Tyler McNally is the current Political Editor of ‘The Last Round.’ You can follow him on Twitter.

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