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12 January 2014 Edition

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MTV freed Mandela

Robbie Smyth looks at the Irish media’s slant on the funeral of Madiba

If only Martin McGuinness had taken a ‘selfie’ like Barack Obama, David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt he might have got noticed by RTÉ or TV3 at the Mandela memorial service in Soweto

Robbie Smyth looks at the Irish media’s slant on the funeral of Madiba

SINN FÉIN is a party dedicated to a political struggle for freedom, equality and a just society. It supported the IRA in its armed conflict with the British Government. In that context, Sinn Féin’s motives, actions and campaign were just like those of the ANC and Nelson Mandela in their military and political struggle for a free South Africa.

There, I said it . . . the 60 words almost no news media outlet in Ireland or internationally could bring themselves to utter as the world watched Nelson Mandela being laid to rest. Few probably even contemplated it.

Instead we are to believe that the struggle for a free South Africa happened on the BBC’s Top of the Pops (though not the episodes hosted by Jimmy Saville, of course).

MTV took up the baton along with massive charity concerts, the occasional rally, public meetings, and T-shirts you could wear along with dubious headgear.

There were Hollywood biopics to be watched and books to be read. That’s what cracked the South African apartheid system. Well done, everybody. Bono especially. You rock, man!

I was watching Prime Time on RTÉ TV when the news broke. Twitter and multiple news apps beeped smartphones into a communications frenzy. At the time, Miriam O’Callaghan along with the Irish Independent’s Martina Devlin and Fine Gael Chair Charlie Flanagan TD were engaging in the all-too-familiar media ritual of ‘how bad really are Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams and the IRA’. Though with yet another poll (this one by The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI) showing that the party has the support of one in five voters, one wonders why this ‘pack journalism’ frenzy continues.

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Thus the stage was set for the next ten days’ news coverage from Mandela’s death on 5 December to the day after his burial on 15 December. Sinn Féin and its public representatives were so marginalised from the news coverage of the Mandela funeral it is like the Section 31 state censorship of the 1970s and 1980s is still casting a shadow over newsrooms.

If only Martin McGuinness had taken a ‘selfie’ like Barack Obama, David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt he might have got noticed by RTÉ or TV3 at the Mandela memorial service in Soweto. The 10 December memorial service got extensive Irish media coverage but not much mention of Martin.

The Irish Times on Tuesday 10 December noted that “Ireland was represented by President Higgins and the Tánaiste”. They name-checked Mary Robinson (“a friend of Mr Mandela”) and, quite properly, three of the 1980s ‘Dunnes Stores Anti-Apartheid Strikers’. No room in two broadsheet pages of coverage to mention that a former candidate for President of Ireland, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, was attending as the representative of the Northern Executive as joint First Minister.

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• Gerry Adams at Nelson Mandela’s funeral service

The partitionist Times did find space for an article by Bono, writing on behalf of the political wing of MTV and reprinted from Time magazine. The article came with a picture of Mandela and Bono both giving a clenched fist salute.

Even in the Irish Times eight-page supplement, published on 6 December there was no space for any recognition of the years of links between Sinn Féin and the ANC. (All those Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna attended annually by ANC leaders comparing their struggle with ours – it was all a dream!)

Then came the invite of Gerry Adams to the funeral on 14 December. This did get coverage, particularly as the Sinn Féin president was invited along with Richard McAuley to be part of the international guard of honour standing alongside Mandela’s coffin.

The London-based Guardian got a bit closer to the truth, reporting: “Representatives from left-wing parties such as Angola’s MPLA and Ireland’s Sinn Féin attended Saturday’s homage.”

It says a lot when it’s the Irish Daily Mail that gives the most coverage to any connection between Sinn Féin and the ANC:

“Eyebrows were raised at the funeral yesterday when Gerry Adams was included in the guard of honour that marched behind Nelson Mandela’s coffin. The Sinn Féin leader – who once headed the IRA – had his name read out between human rights activist Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey in a list of ‘eminent persons’ attending the event.”

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• Gerry Adams with veterans of MK’s armed struggle

The Sunday Independent’s Ruth Dudley Edwards ignored all the facts to carp that “Sinn Féin is shamelessly using the late African leader for propaganda purposes” and that “instead of repenting, they spin and lie”.

The events of Mandela’s funeral (from an obsession with reporting the inanities of the Danish Prime Minister’s ‘selfie’ and the fake interpreter to the presentation of Mandela as a pacifistic saint) show that while republicans have highlighted the revisionism of our past history, we are now witnessing  the rewriting of our present.

It fits into the recent weeks of media attacks on Sinn Féin and its political leaders. This is a negative ‘politics of forgetting’ that wants to rewrite Ireland’s recent history, removing the causes of the conflict, blaming it all on Sinn Féin and the IRA. It shows, more than ever, that we need to fight for our present truths as well as our past ones.

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•  Martin McGuinness with Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the memorial service

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