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The Challenges of Reporting on Conflict. Anne Cadwallader “Conflict Resolution Journalism and Professional Integrity and Ethics” 14 th Cleraun Media Conference Dublin, Saturday October 20 2012. “The Troubles” – 1969-1998 (?). Causes still hotly-contested

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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

Dublin, Saturday October 20 2012

the troubles 1969 1998
“The Troubles” – 1969-1998 (?)
  • Causes still hotly-contested
  • Unionists say terrorist conspiracy to destroy the state
  • Nationalists (SDLP) say legitimate civil rights campaign for equality hi-jacked by republicans (IRA)
  • Republicans (SF) say state oppression (Bloody Sunday etc) of civil rights movement made violence inevitable
  • British governments have tended to side with unionists
  • Irish governments have tended to side with nationalists
proof just this week
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 change.
human suffering those endless endless funerals
Human Suffering“Those 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
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 doesn’t 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
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 Protestants)
  • That killings were mainly “tit-for-tat”
  • That British role limited to impartial arbiter, peace-keeping
  • That IRA mainly to blame
Exceptions …
  • 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
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
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
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 trusted
  • First experience of (knowingly) being lied-to was a year later, in November 1982
11 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
My Small and Ignoble Part in their Story
  • First solo overnight duty on BBC Northern Ireland news-desk
  • 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
Aftermath …
  • 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, questioned
  • Stalker/Sampson report never published
  • Inquest into deaths never opened – 30 years on – London will not disclose Stalker/Sampson
a hard lesson
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


  • 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
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 “spin”
  • Journalists must be wary
  • How do you tell if a politician is lying?
hearts and minds
“Hearts and Minds”
  • 21st century conflict has moved from battlefield/’No Man’s Land’ into villages, homes, streets
  • 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
Journalism Therefore Even More Central
  • Journalists reporting back to where armies come from
  • 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 agenda
  • Governments tell lies – untruths – spin – just like political parties, companies etc
role of journalism
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
“Alternative” Journalism
  • Non-mainstream – have to search
  • Eg: Robert Fisk/John Pilger (best known)
  • Nick Davies: “Flat Earth News” ( and phone hacking/Leveson)
  • Others: Jonathan Cook on Middle-East: “Disappearing Palestine”
  • Mark Curtis: “Unpeople – Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses” and “Web of Deceit – Britain’s Real Role in the World”
the internet effect
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
Who Watches the Watchers?
  • Media Lens: “News and commentary are ‘filtered’ by the media’s 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
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
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
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 compromised
  • In the end, you’ll still need to be able to live with yourself …
questions to ask
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
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
Should Journalists Ever “Hide” Stories
  • Does the public good ever justify not reporting news?
  • 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 1990’s
protecting sources
Protecting Sources
  • Should journalists’ sources be legally protected?
  • Eibhlin Glenholmes 1984

This woman was once “Britain’s 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
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 escaped
  • 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
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 didn’t go to war. War came to us.”

my part in her story
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 Pollak
  • Interviewed her in, we believe, Tallaght
  • Interview ran Page 1, Irish Times
  • Lead “BBC 9 O’Clock News”
  • Pressure to co-operate with Scotland Yard
  • Offered any job within BBC if agreed to testify
patsy kelly murdered july 1974
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
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
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 journalists wider responsibilities
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 conflict?

what role should journalists play in civil conflict
What Role Should Journalists Play in Civil Conflict
  • 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 responsibilities?
human nature
Human Nature …
  • Do people want to hear distressing news stories from far-flung places?
  • Especially if they feel they can do little to help?
  • 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 Afghanistan?
  • Is it human nature to avoid “distressing” news stories?
  • Is it possible to provide responsible, accurate, news reporting on foreign conflicts in a commercial context?