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The Challenges of Reporting on Conflict


The Challenges of Reporting on Conflict Anne Cadwallader Conflict Resolution Journalism and Professional Integrity and Ethics 14th Cleraun Media Conference – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Challenges of Reporting on Conflict

The Challenges of Reporting on Conflict
  • Anne Cadwallader
  • Conflict Resolution Journalism and Professional
    Integrity and Ethics
  • 14th Cleraun Media Conference
  • Dublin, Saturday October 20 2012

The Troubles 1969-1998 (?)
  • Causes still hotly-contested
  • Unionists say terrorist conspiracy to destroy the
  • Nationalists (SDLP) say legitimate civil rights
    campaign for equality hi-jacked by republicans
  • Republicans (SF) say state oppression (Bloody
    Sunday etc) of civil rights movement made
    violence inevitable
  • British governments have tended to side with
  • Irish governments have tended to side with

Proof Just This Week
  • SDLP Press Release 16 October
  • Foyle MLA, Colum Eastwood complained to the
    Broadcasting Authority of Ireland re RTE website
    contention that the Civil Rights Association in
    the North inadvertently triggered the Troubles.
  • Eastwood To suggest that the thousands involved
    in the Civil Rights Association were somehow
    integral to the source of conflict here,
    inadvertently or not, is an insult to history.
  • The NICRA were in fact the human wall which
    stood in the way of a tide of violence, a human
    wall of peaceful protest advocating democratic

Human SufferingThose endless, endless, funerals

Bobby Sands (27)
Richard (11) Mark (9) and Jason (7) Quinn
Mark Quinsey (23)
Thomas McDonald (16)
Attitudes in Republic to Northern Troubles
  • Young woman on RTÉ Frontline programme during
    October 2011 presidential campaign
  • As a young Irish person, I am curious as to why
    you (Martin McGuinness) have come down here to
    this country, with all your baggage, your
    history, your controversy?
  • And how do you feel you can represent me, as a
    young Irish person, who knows nothing of the
    Troubles and who doesnt want to know anything
    about it?
  • Evidence of an abject failure by Irish press and
    broadcasting to explain the Northern conflict
  • Mirrored by a parallel failure of British media
    to do the same

Attitudes in Britain The Troubles
  • Indifference
  • Wish Northern Ireland could be towed out into
    the Atlantic and sunk
  • It was a religious conflict (Catholics versus
  • That killings were mainly tit-for-tat
  • That British role limited to impartial arbiter,
  • That IRA mainly to blame

  • British media campaigned for Birmingham Six,
    Guildford Four
  • Panorama/UTV revealed Pat Finucane collusion
  • Yorkshire TV on Dublin/Monaghan
  • Many fine articles, and responsible and dedicated
    journalists, did their best over 35 years
  • But overall, I contend, day-by-day, the
    mainstream British and Irish media failed to get
    the story across in a compelling way

Cost of the Troubles
  • Over 3,700 dead - equivalent in US 600,000 -
    Britain 150,000
  • Over 30,000 injured (1 in 50) - equivalent in US
    5,000,000, Britain 1,000,000
  • Aged under 5 23, Aged 6-11 24, Aged 12-17 210,
    Aged 18-23 898
  • 37 under 24, 53 under 29 and 74 under the age
    of 39

Who Killed and Was Killed?
  • 91 were men
  • Civilians (no affiliation to the security
    forces/paramilitaries) - 53.
  • 48 of the dead killed in North and West Belfast,
    Derry and South Armagh.
  • Republican groups killed almost 59 of the total
  • Loyalist groups killed almost 28
  • Police/British Army killed just over 11

Personal Background - 1981
  • Came to work in NI for BBC as a young,
    inexperienced journalist
  • Intended to stay six months-a year
  • Believed British justice was beyond reproach
  • Believed the police could, almost invariably, be
  • First experience of (knowingly) being lied-to was
    a year later, in November 1982

11 November 1982
  • Gervaise McKerr, Eugene Toman, Sean Burns
  • RUC said their car had broken through a roadblock
  • Officers had opened fire in fear of their lives
  • Over a hundred shots fired all three killed

My Small and Ignoble Part in their Story
  • First solo overnight duty on BBC Northern Ireland
  • Phoned by RUC press office
  • Told car had broken through a roadblock
  • Wrote story up for morning radio news bulletins
  • Later read Irish Times report
  • Local people said no roadblock
  • I had reported a lie

  • Three policemen charged with murder
  • Acquitted by Lord Justice Gibson, who said he
    found them "absolutely blameless (June 1984)
  • John Stalker (former Deputy Chief Constable,
    Greater Manchester) integrity, wrongfully,
  • Stalker/Sampson report never published
  • Inquest into deaths never opened 30 years on
    London will not disclose Stalker/Sampson

A Hard Lesson
  • A lie gets halfway around the world before truth
    gets its pants on Winston Churchill
  • Rosemary Nelson Tribunal found
  • RUC officers had legitimised her as a
  • target by abusing and assaulting her in
  • public
  • Could not rule out the possibility that
  • rogue members of the security forces
  • had been involved
  • BUT British government had report before others
    and put story out first
  • That tribunal had cleared members of the
  • security forces of collusion in her murder

Civil Conflicts Telling/Selling The Story
  • Usually more than two sides to every conflict
  • Each side sees media as another arena of war and
    hearts and minds are key
  • ALL sides prepared to lie, manipulate facts and
  • Journalists must be wary
  • How do you tell if a politician is lying?

Hearts and Minds
  • 21st century conflict has moved from
    battlefield/No Mans Land into villages, homes,
  • Phrase believed based on John Adams, 2nd
    president of the US (in a letter dated 13
    February 1818) "The Revolution was in the minds
    and hearts of the people .
  • US President Lyndon B. Johnson (of the Vietnam
    War) The ultimate victory will depend on the
    hearts and minds of the people who actually live
    out there.
  • Hearts and Minds then became known as WHAM
    (Win Hearts and Minds) US policy to win over the
    Vietnamese people.

Journalism Therefore Even More Central
  • Journalists reporting back to where armies come
  • Can influence whether a war is popular or not
  • Battle over WMD prior to invasion of Iraq
  • Journalism lost that battle?
  • Lesson Governments can still control the news
  • Governments tell lies untruths spin just
    like political parties, companies etc

Role of Journalism
  • To give the audience an impartial summary of
    both sides of the story so they can make their
    own minds up
  • Does this make journalists mere paid technicians?
  • To listen to both sides, analyse, decide who is
    good/bad or speaking the truth and convey that to
    the audience?
  • A mixture of both?
  • If you have 5,000 words of facts and can only use
    200 how do you choose?
  • Does this choosing make the theory of
    objective journalism a myth?

Alternative Journalism
  • Non-mainstream have to search
  • Eg Robert Fisk/John Pilger (best known)
  • Nick Davies Flat Earth News ( and phone
  • Others Jonathan Cook on Middle-East
    Disappearing Palestine
  • Mark Curtis Unpeople Britains Secret Human
    Rights Abuses and Web of Deceit Britains
    Real Role in the World

The Internet Effect
  • Internet challenging traditional journalism
  • 24 rolling news no time to analyse or write
    considered pieces
  • Citizen journalism can be positive/immediate
    prevents journalists being the only gate-keepers
    to news
  • But who moderates?
  • Who are the alternative gate-keepers?
  • Not entirely negative

Who Watches the Watchers?
  • Media Lens News and commentary are filtered
    by the medias profit-orientation, by its
    dependence on advertisers, parent companies,
    wealthy owners and official news sources
  • The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom
    To challenge the myth that press freedom is best
    served by current forms of ownership and control,
    and by 'self-regulation' on the part of the Press
    Complaints Commission
  • Glasgow University Media Group
  • Spinwatch Monitors the role of public relations
    and spin promotes greater understanding of the
    role of PR, propaganda and lobbying

Journalists As Participants
  • Under Fire and The Year of Living Dangerously
  • Should journalists even vote?
  • In NI a long-standing TV presenter during the
    Troubles is now leader of the Ulster Unionists
  • Another TV journalist is now SDLP Westminster
    candidate for Fermanagh/South Tyrone
  • I am now a human rights activist some would
    say I have declared a position

Change of Tack
  • Those are the big issues of the future
  • Here are some factors as I have experienced them
    in the North
  • Now seen from my new role as a Case Worker with
    The Pat Finucane Centre
  • Now able to investigate human rights abuses
  • Realise now how suspicious both officialdom and
    ordinary people are of journalists!

Covering Violent Events
  • Inevitably means witnessing pain and death
  • Intruding into the most personal moments of
    victims lives
  • Only justification is the public interest
  • Most journalists ambitious but should retain an
    ethical focus
  • Guard against allowing your humanity being
  • In the end, youll still need to be able to live
    with yourself

Questions to Ask
  • Does my story portray victims of violence with
    accuracy, insight and sensitivity?
  • Does it inform readers about more than the
    individual story?
  • Is it representative of the wider conflict?
  • Does it avoid sensationalism and melodrama?
  • Does it portrays victims as more than just tragic
    or pathetic?
  • In the NI conflict, this meant getting MORE than
    writing/filming dramatic scenes of riots or the
    aftermath of shootings/bombings

Interviewing the Recently Bereaved
  • Standard practice in NI
  • Witnesses/bereaved often too shocked to say no
  • Difficult for reporters also
  • Justified on grounds that death was part of a
    continuing civil conflict
  • Better to cover the death than ignore it
  • Bereaved/witnesses often (usually) were grateful
    in retrospect for speaking

Should Journalists Ever Hide Stories
  • Does the public good ever justify not reporting
  • Admit to this twice
  • 1. Loyalists tipping maggots into the
    deep-freezes at Dunnes Stores, Portadown,
    Drumcree 1998
  • 2. Cross-Community meetings involving lay people
    and priests/ministers Falls/Shankill early 1990s

Protecting Sources
  • Should journalists sources be legally protected?
  • Eibhlin Glenholmes 1984

This woman was once Britains Most Wanted. She
was chased through the streets of Dublin by armed
Gardai. She was said to have bombed London.
Metropolitan Police sought her extradition. Nine
extradition warrants accused her of murder and
other crimes. Should a journalist who interviewed
her be protected from giving evidence?
Journalists The Pack Instinct
  • Pressure to come up with a story
  • Example Holiday Inn, Gibraltar, 1988, after the
    shooting of three unarmed IRA members
  • Speculation about a fourth gang member who had
  • Journalists talking, one asked where the theory
    of the fourth man came from?
  • Oh, it's a woman and we are saying it's Evelyn
    Glenholmes we have a nice picture of her and she
    won't sue' "
  • Amongst her other soubriquets Blonde Bomber,
    Angel of Death, Terror Blonde in Jeans

Eibhlin Glenholmes Now
Shot and wounded by loyalists in Short Strand,
aged 16. Strong advocate within republicanism
for the Peace Process. Member of the Northern
Ireland Victims Forum. We didnt go to war.
War came to us.
My Part in Her Story
  • Invited to come to an interview by man I knew to
    be IRA
  • Taken by car with Irish Times reporter, Andy
  • Interviewed her in, we believe, Tallaght
  • Interview ran Page 1, Irish Times
  • Lead BBC 9 OClock News
  • Pressure to co-operate with Scotland Yard
  • Offered any job within BBC if agreed to testify

Patsy Kelly Murdered July 1974
  • Anonymous contact
  • Two anonymous witnesses evidence of a named
    witness to murder
  • Account of UDR and current MLA involvement
  • Witness to murder now dead
  • Refused PSNI demand for names
  • Was I correct?

The Worthy But Dull Story
  • SF documents
  • Scenario For Peace 1987
  • Towards a Lasting Peace in Ireland 1992
  • Only three journalists at Dundalk ard fheis for
    discussions in 1992
  • The press missed the story of growth in support
    for ending the IRA campaign
  • More interested in covering day-to-day killings
  • Did this prolong the violence?

Compare to Lawyers
  • Lawyers had to decide their relationships with an
    emerging civil rights movement
  • Answer ethical questions on taking part in the
    courts under emergency/repressive laws
  • Respond when other lawyers became victims of
    paramilitary and state inspired violence
  • Whether to challenge long-held views on what
    constituted a neutral legal system.

Lawyers and JournalistsWider Responsibilities?
  • Are both neutral professionals?
  • Responsibilities restricted to competence?
  • Or should both lawyers and journalists face, head
    on, broader social, political
  • and moral responsibilities in a society in

What Role Should Journalists Play in Civil
  • Adapted from Kieran McEvoy What Did Lawyers Do
    During the War? Neutrality, Conflict and the
    Culture of Quietism, Modern Law Review, 2011
  • Did journalists do their jobs in very difficult
    circumstances? Is doing a competent job enough?
  • Were public stances beyond their remit?
  • What exactly are our expectations from
    journalists in conflicted societies?
  • Should we view journalists simply as apolitical
    people who make necessary accommodations to
    sustain their own status/income?
  • Is it fair to burden them with more pressing

Human Nature
  • Do people want to hear distressing news stories
    from far-flung places?
  • Especially if they feel they can do little to
  • Do they prefer travelogues (Michael Palin etc) to
    complex and difficult questions?
  • Are human beings, in short, ostriches?

  • Can Irish journalists consider their coverage of
    the North was a job well done?
  • Can the British media do the same?
  • Do newspapers, television and radio provide a
    global audience with enough information about
    current conflicts in, for example, Iraq and
  • Is it human nature to avoid distressing news
  • Is it possible to provide responsible, accurate,
    news reporting on foreign conflicts in a
    commercial context?