Journalism under threat conference, Belfast, 22/11/2003


Jane Winter of British Irish RIGHTS WATCH: Notes

  • relationship between NGOs and journalists is 2-way: each a source for the other
  • impossible to work in Northern Ireland context without noticing the chilling effect of the conflict on journalism and journalists
  • most chilling of all was the murder of Martin O'Hagan, which BIRW continues to monitor
  • BIRW has also become involved in other human rights issues affecting journalists, e.g.:
    • the heavy handed and unnecessary arrests of Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnson
    • the equally heavy-handed and unjustified raid on Anthony McIntyre
    • injunctions against the Sunday Times and UTV for publishing/broadcasting things the state wanted kept secret
  • little wonder that some journalists want to stick to reporting petty crime and road traffic accidents
  • all the more credit that there are still some serious investigative journalists prepared to tackle difficult and dangerous stories such as collusion
  • there are, though, questions raised in terms of human rights in the methods employed by some journalists, for instance:
  • the widespread assumption by the media, based on Irish government briefings, that Michael McKevitt was the leader of the RIRA
  • the willingness or not of some journalists to reveal their sources, e.g.:
    • Nick Martin Clarke's evidence against Clifford McKeown
    • the pressure put on Neil Mullholland and Ed Moloney to testify or give up their notes on against Billy Stobie
    • the issues raised for journalists by the demands for information made by the Bloody Sunday Inquiry
  • the bugging of suspects, such as those accused of the Omagh bombing, or Ken Barrett, bugged by the RUC, by Panorama, and by Stevens 3 in the hopes that he would confess to the murder of Pat Finucane
  • these matters raise questions not just of human rights, but profound ethical questions:
    • which is more important, telling the true story or the right to a fair trial?
    • does a journalist's promise to protect a source extend to someone who has confessed to a murder?
    • if a case would not stand up in court is it alright to brand someone as a murderer via the media?
  • another area of concern is the way that journalists deal with victims
  • in my experience, there is too little understanding in Northern Ireland that victims of the conflict are often forced into seeking publicity and campaigning because they have been let down by the police investigation, the DPP, the trial, and/or the inquest system
  • the very act of seeking that publicity often puts their own lives at risk
  • yet all too often journalists treat victims as fair game because they have sought the limelight
  • final thought: good journalism makes the world a better place, bad journalism just makes matters worse
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