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- Media and Race reporting

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the media

The Media and Race Reporting

The media has a very important role to play,journalists, in deciding what news to cover or ignore or what comment and opinion to offer, often set the agenda for both the public and their representatives. When it comes to racism one therefore looks to journalists to challenge or, at least, not to perpetuate it.

Although the National Union of Jurnalists (NUJ) has clear and specific guidelines on race reporting, a survey of articles published in the major Irish newspapers reveals that these guidelines are often ignored if not actually flouted.

Extracts from the NUJ Guidelines on Race Reporting:
The National Union of Journalists has ratified guidelines for all its members to follow when dealing with race relations subjects. These are the guidelines.

Statement on Race Reporting:
The NUJ believes that its members cannot avoid a measure of responsibility in fighting the evil of racism as expressed through the mass media.

The NUJ reaffirms its total opposition to censorship but equally reaffirms the belief that press freedom must be conditioned by responsibility and an acknowledgement by all media workers of the need not to allow press freedom to be abused to slander a section of the community or to promote the evil of racism.

Guidelines on Travellers:
Only mention the word Gypsy or Traveller if strictly relevant or accurate.

Strive to promote the realisation that the Travellers' community is comprised of full citizens of Great Britain and Ireland whose civil rights are seldom adequately vindicated, and who often suffer much hurt and damage through misuse by the media.

NUJ Code of Conduct - Clause 10:
A journalist shall only mention a person's age, race, colour, creed, illegitimacy, disability, marital status (or lack of it), gender or sexual orientation if this information is strictly relevant. A journalist shall neither originate nor process material which encourages discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hatred on any of the above-mentioned grounds.

collage of photos

The following extracts were taken from Irish national newspapers in the 24-day period between 11 January and 4 February 1996.

"At least 40 elderly farmers were attacked in the West of Ireland during the autumn and in most cases, Gardai believe, criminals from Travelling communities were responsible" - Jim Cusack, Irish Times, 11/1/96.

"Only mention the word Traveller if strictly relevant or accurate." (NUJ Guidelines on Travellers)
Is this statement strictly relevant? Is it strictly accurate? Can a statement beginning with "Gardai believe" be considered "strictly accurate"?

"A hugely disproportionate amount of rural crime is by a handful of Travellers ...they have generated an atmosphere of terror in rural areas unlike anything Ireland has experienced since the 1920s. Rural life is being transformed and nobody dare speak the truth in public. In private, everybody acknowledges that certain Travellers are responsible." - Kevin Myers, Irish Times, 19/1/96.

Does this extract show an acknowledgement of "the need not to allow press freedom to be abused to slander a section of the community or to promote the evil of racism"? (NUJ Statement on Race Reporting - Point 3)

"There is a general consensus in rural communities that an element of the Travelling community is behind most, if not all of the attacks. The past few years have persuaded people that, as politically incorrect as it sounds, Chief Superintendent Tom Monaghan is right when he says that Travellers are suspects." - Helen Callinan, Sunday Tribune, 28/1/96.

Two questions:

  1. Is the "general consensus in rural communities", if accurate, coming from experience, or is it coming from prejudice fuelled by the media?
  2. What, in "the past few years", has "persuaded people ... that Travellers are suspects"? Witnessed reality? Or a media-generated climate of discrimination?

"Traveller life is without the ennobling intellect of man or the steadying instinct of animals. ... This tinker 'culture' is without achievement, discipline, reason or intellectual ambition. It is a morass. And one of the surprising things about it is that not every individual bred in this swamp turns out bad. Some individuals among the tinkers find the will not to become evil." - Mary Ellen Synon, Sunday Independent, 28 /1/96.

Does this extract show "a measure of responsibility in fighting the evil of racism as expressed through the mass media"? (NUJ Statement on Race Reporting, Point 2)

"Garda intelligence reports show that an estimated 12 gangs of Travellers and mobile traders - up to 80 people in all - are responsible for most of the murders and vicious attacks on elderly people living alone, in the past year. '...We will know that 99 per cent of the time, travellers are responsible for these crimes in the rural area. But you can't always prove it and you certainly can't say it publicly' said one officer". - Kevin Moore, Sunday Independent, 4/2/96.

Take a close look at the quote from one officer: "You can't always prove it and you certainly can't say it publicly". Two questions:

  1. Why can you not always prove it? Answer One: (probably the one the officer would prefer): We need more powers to hold and interrogate suspects longer and better. Answer Two: There is no evidence.
  2. Why can't you say it publicly? Answer One: (probably the one the officer would prefer): The country's gone mad. Answer Two: Because it's patently not true, and it is a statement made on no specific basis whatsoever.Is it "strictly relevant and accurate" (NUJ guidelines on Travellers) to report the officers "statement" at all?

"Travellers feed society's prejudice, insisting on a level of cultural separateness which sometimes spills over into absolute refusal to be part of the society we live in." - Patricia Redlich, Sunday Independent, 4/2/96.Questions:

  • Who comprises "the society we live in"?
  • Who comprises "we"?
  • Are Travellers not a part of "we"?
  • If there is cultural separateness, who "insists" on it - the Travelling part of the society we live in - or the settled part of the society we live in?

Calypso Productions
South Great George's St.
Dublin 2, Ireland
T (353 1) 6704539
F (353 1) 6704275
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