Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Anti-Censorship Series, Vol.7: True to Their Words

The seventh article in this series originally published on the Pensive Quill examines the Irish News coverage of the complaint made to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) by its journalist Allison Morris against Anthony McIntyre.

When I was suspended from the NUJ in March this year the 
Irish News featured a substantial enough report on the matter. That is not difficult to understand.

The paper was not, nor did it pretend to be, a disinterested party to the affair. It had a dog in the fight. One of its own journalists, Allison Morris, who along with another journalist not employed by the paper, had brought the initial charge of breaching ethics to my door.

The Irish News considered it a victory and proclaimed it as such, leading those who read its coverage  – not easily overlooked given the amount of space allocated complete with photo of me  – to probably judge me the villain of the piece.

That’s life, even if it does not seem fair. There is, after all, no compelling reason that I can think of to hide that news and deny Ms Morris her achievement in putting manners on a supposed scallywag. Ms Morris was quoted in the paper as saying:
At a time when the industry is under scrutiny, this case is an example of how bloggers and online commentators ... must be willing to abide by the same code of conduct and standards of practice as colleagues in the print media.
And that was fair comment at the time I guess, even though the basis for it later came to acquire all the material substance of last year’s snow on a ditch.

The paper also gave cover to Kenny Archer, who was described as the Irish News NUJ rep:

Allison Morris is a valued colleague and a strong motion in support of her and condemning Mr McIntyre's treatment of her was passed unanimously by fellow members of the Irish News NUJ chapel and forwarded to both the Irish and British executives of the NUJ.
Strong stuff indeed but in terms of newsworthiness it makes the grade even if it obviously aimed to put a dent in my reputation.

The Irish News would, presumably, claim to be interested in fairness and balance in its coverage of the news. So when the case against me faltered and came off the rails I fully expected the paper’s editor, with whom I have always had an amiable relationship, to present coverage of the findings of the Appeals Tribunal with the same degree of prominence that had been accorded the findings of the Ethics Council.

It would only be restorative justice, ensuring that I would have restored to me any standing I may have lost as a result of the paper's broadcasting of my gratuitous unworthy status. I did not imagine that the editor would be either vindictive or infantile and just ignore it. 

Failure to report in equal measure might not be illegal but it sure as hell would smell unethical. And given that the Irish News was beating the ethics Lambeg in my ear, unethical behaviour would surely constitute an impropriety the paper would be loathe to seek the company of. 

Indeed, the Irish News had been extremely quick to phone me for a comment in the wake of my suspension, to which I responded positively despite the fact that I had grave misgivings about what I regarded as its own less than wholesome role in matters that led to the issuing of the Boston College subpoena.

But, like the dog that did not bark, this time the phone did not ring.

In my statement announcing my London vindication I made the following appeal.

"While extremely satisfied with the outcome, it is my sincere hope and expectation that those news outlets which announced the flawed Ethics Council verdict against me in March will have the professional courtesy to provide the same level of coverage to this indisputable and unalloyed vindication."
So what did I get in the interests of fairness and balance?


Balance? Fairness? Equal coverage? 

If ever a paper seemed to frame a contest as one of David and Goliath it was this. The sheer act of marginalising coverage of the Appeals Tribunal hearing to the bottom corner of page 10 displayed a laughable desire to push it off the page altogether.

The Irish News has for some time sought to suppress discussion of an issue which in my view is a matter of public interest. Perhaps that the public would be interested was the very reason for wanting to suppress it. 

It seems to me we are dealing with a story that the Irish News does not want heard but which has been amplified by the attempts to silence it.

The Irish News is free to challenge that account and if through remorseless logic and evidence it ruptures the narrative that has been presented in these pages and elsewhere, it is entitled to do so.

But it can never be allowed to impose the dead hand of censorship which seems to be the institutional instinct it has exhibited by the nature of its own reporting or lack of it. 

The financial power and influence of the paper might lead it think it can play the pauper and the prince, where it can lay claim to palatial rights for its own narrative and pauperise the narrative of its critics.

Fortunately, the internet is a very pluralistic and democratic society where the writ of the censor more often stumbles than it runs. On the World Wide Web, getting the oil back into the bottle is not so easy once it is out. And there are some in the world of journalism who simply do not want to take their oil.

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