25 May 2006 Edition
Media View - Distorting the reality of sectarianism: BY FRANK FARRELL
That The Irish Times did not even bother to editorialise on the sectarian murder of Michael McIlveen in Ballymena was probably a merciful relief. The message would undoubtedly have been composed of that most disingenuous of all Southern media distortions of Northern reality - 'sure there's a pair of them in it'.
From the Short Strand to Ballymena and all points north, the reality of sectarianism is not that of "divide" - the most misleading word in the political dictionary of the conflict- but of assault by loyalists against nationalists and the defence, sometimes coupled with mindless retaliation, of Catholics. The modern IRA was borne out of such assaults even if academics and media alike try to pretend that 1916 commemorations and the Wolfe Tones were responsible.
Perhaps the biggest lie purveyed by the 26 County media is that sectarianism is a two-way street, a presentation that allows the British armed state and the RUC to be depicted as 'caught in the middle', struggling heroically to separate the 'two tribes'. Smug Dublin liberals, meanwhile, wring - and wash - their hands and bemoan the apparent inability of Catholics and Protestants to get along with each other. The institutionalised sectarianism of the Northern state does not exist. Such media coverage is tantamount to writing about racism in South Africa without mentioning Apartheid, but the wordy scribes of the Irish media, with a few notable exceptions such as Tom McGurk and Susan McKay, manage it.
The murder of 15-year-old McIlveen was difficult to portray as anything but the product of a DUP dominated community, many members of which see all Catholics as an inferior species. Small noises of recognition could be detected in the small print of some articles on the murder. But the editorial sound and fury that normally accompanies the slightest suggestion of republican violence was absent. Of all the distortions mutated by Section 31 in the media at large, the deliberate obscuring of sectarian reality is about the most shameful.
The rehabilitation of Michael McDowell's image by a willing media was a feature of the coverage of the Afghan refugees in St Patrick's Cathedral. But while McDowell used to complain about leaks from the Gardaí, a masterful media story was spun with lines that could only have come from his Department.
We were treated to stories of rape and murder by one or more of the Afghans as well as an accusation of outside manipulation by the usual shadowy forces from outside the Cathedral. Whether this was the IRA, Al Queda or the Outer Hebrides Liberation Front was left unsaid, but naturally the security correspondents treated to such malicious gossip did not ask any awkward questions and simply repeated the lines handed to them by McDowell's spinners.
The same media was only too pleased to report the small ragbag of drunks who taunted the Afghans, one or two of whom picked brawls with the large group of supporters of the refugees. These drunks were portrayed as reflective of the general population while the far greater number of anti-racists, including Sinn Féin members, were accused last Saturday by Philip Boucher-Hayes as exploiting the event. Boucher-Hayes obviously believes that a spot of tired Sinn Féin bashing will not damage his prospects of succeeding 5-7 live presenter, Rachel English, who is due to leave that programme shortly.
RTE's normally compelling programme, Black Sheep, managed the virtually impossible last Sunday night with a special on murder in the Civil War in Kerry. Ballyseedy? Cahirciveen? Countess Bridge in Killarney? Places where the Free State tied 17 prisoners to landmines and blew them to pieces? Torture of prisoners in Tralee Jail? Or perhaps the numerous IRA volunteers in Kerry who were captured and then simply shot dead? No. The programme spent nearly an hour on the taking of Kenmare by the IRA in 1922 in which two unarmed Free State Officers were shot dead. Not a glorious episode but the programme was an historic distortion of monumental proportions which ignored what were classic war crimes in Kerry. There are plenty of examples of this available to any enthusiastic programmer in Black Sheep. Can we expect the programme to redress this imbalance shortly?