OLIVER QuintinConflict transition media an opportunity to reframe debates
by Quintin OLIVER for Northern Ireland Foundation
29 November 2013

Recently in Belfast there was a day conference on peace journalism, organised by the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice (Queen’s University of Belfast). Professional and amateur journalists discussed the role of the media in periods of conflict transformation, especially in Northern Ireland.

Conference highlights were published in the blogosphere by the familiar Alan in Belfast (Alan Mebain) as well as the mainstream channel, BBC Radio Ulster, where presenter Seamus McKee invited veteran journalist Chris Ryder and me to discuss the topic for an evening drive commuting audience.

When asked whether the media has a role in promoting a positive vision of the society it operates in, I replied that it doesn’t. The media, however, always has the responsibility to find, develop and cover the newsworthy. Instead, much of what we get these days is shallow, short and soundbite driven, void of context, not allowing recipients to place meaning in what they hear, see or read.

Chris Ryder, among others who should know better, quickly fall into a trap of believing nothing really has changed since the peace agreement of 15 years ago. Far from it! The changes have been dramatic, and we are still transforming our values and how we live, work and generally get along with each other in this contested space of so many centuries.

Of course Northern Ireland is not so rosy at times. What place of transformation is? But what are we learning of other such places? What of Libya post-revolution? Increasing sectarianism in Iraq? Contested elections in Kosovo?

Back home, yes we have political gridlock and suspicions of corruption. And we need not personalised scandals, but investigations to unravel they whys and wheres. This is not helped by the hollowing out of Northern Ireland newsrooms that we are witnessing.

But there remains a vital role for robust and hard-biting journalism, to make sure that press statements by public bodies don’t go unchallenged.

Let’s have a debate whether or not there has been sufficient progress in our society. Let’s recognise what we have achieved, and how we’ve done so, while getting serious about where progress still needs to be made.

We need to move beyond headlines.

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