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Sunday 18 March 2012

The strange case of the two Roy Greenslades

He is a correspondent on whom a green mist has descended, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

There are two Roy Greenslades. The professor of journalism at City University London since 2003 is the distinguished Dr Jekyll Greenslade, upholder of high journalistic standards.

Beginning in 1969 as a Sun sub-editor, he reached the pinnacle of his career when in 1990 he was appointed editor of the Daily Mirror. Greatly to his credit, he resigned in 1991 because he would not compromise his journalistic integrity to suit his crooked boss, Robert Maxwell.

Since then, Dr Jekyll Greenslade has been a freelance media commentator: these days, he writes a media blog for the Guardian and is a regular broadcaster whom you must often have heard being introduced on Irish radio as a 'highly respected media analyst'. As his books and most of his journalism show, he tries to be dispassionate and fair.

Mr Hyde Roy Greenslade -- who writes about Ireland -- is tunnel-visioned, partisan and angry and has been guilty of ethical lapses. Last week, in the London Independent, Stephen Glover wrote of a recent attack by Hyde Greenslade on Henry McDonald, long-time Ireland correspondent of the Observer and the Guardian.

As a journalist and author, McDonald has specialised in republican and loyalist paramilitaries and their links with organised crime.

Hyde Greenslade objected that McDonald had cited "republican sources" as saying a recent Belfast murder was probably committed by "a republican organisation" pursuing drug dealers. The police later denied any paramilitary involvement.

Hyde Greenslade was furious, and not just because he thought the story bolstered dissidents. "There is a second, slightly more sinister, message, too. The use of the word 'republican' in such a context tends to taint the republican movement as a whole, meaning Sinn Fein."

As Glover pointed out, it was odd to launch a public attack on a colleague for an understandable error -- without even contacting him. It was unethical, too, to conceal his support for Sinn Fein, which -- like its loyalist counterparts -- hates McDonald.

Glover drew attention to a revelation in a 2008 book by Nick Davies (Flat Earth News) that in the late Eighties, when Hyde Greenslade was managing editor (news) at the Sunday Times -- whose editor loathed the IRA -- under the pseudonym George King, Hyde Greenslade wrote for Sinn Fein's An Phoblacht.

There are many interesting examples of Hyde Greenslade's affection for the Shinners. In 1998, for instance, An Phoblacht was ecstatic about his Damien Walsh Memorial Lecture in West Belfast. Walsh, a teenager, had been a victim of a loyalist sectarian murder.

The Hyde Greenslade thesis -- that in media coverage of Northern Ireland there is a five-rung "hierarchy of death" which gives most attention to British victims of republican violence and least to victims of loyalist violence -- fed straight into the Sinn Fein mantra about a "hierarchy of victims".

Just as an example, in 2001, Anne Speed (partner of Niall Meehan and once a Sinn Fein MEP candidate) wrote in a letter to The Irish Times: "Roy Greenslade, media correspondent of the Guardian, has made the point that there is a 'hierarchy of death' when it comes to devoting comparatively less political reaction and news media space to the deaths of nationalists in the media (when those responsible are loyalist paramilitaries).

"He has suggested that this is a reason why the LVF killing of Martin O'Hagan has received comparatively little coverage."

He spoke at the Sinn Fein London Conference in June 2011 when denouncing press coverage of the 1981 Hunger Strikes. And he later implied that the British press deliberately kept its readers in ignorance about the "bombshell political intervention" that was the appearance by a minor Presbyterian clergyman at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis lauding Martin McGuinness. On the vexed question of the PSNI request for the Boston College tapes, his line is the same as that of Sinn Fein's Danny Morrison.

Jekyll took a potion to turn into Hyde. With Greenslade, he recalled later in World of Hibernia, a short-lived magazine for the Irish diaspora, it was a kiss that turned this Englishman's "youthful infatuation" with Ireland into "a full-blooded love affair".

This green mist descended in 1971 in Donegal, to which the beautiful Mirror journalist and divorcee Noreen Turner, mother of two tiny children, had taken him: "I gave in to Donegal's embrace and realised my life had truly changed." He hunted vainly for an Irish connection, but settled for those of Noreen, whom he married soon afterward.

At first they lived only in Brighton and visited Donegal frequently, but in 1989 they bought the fine Georgian Ballyarr House in Ramelton and restored it to its earlier splendour. They loved that it had been owned by Lord George Hill, who had evicted ancestors of Noreen's. (They put it on the market in 2007 for €3m but kept a small house there.)

When she became an actress, Noreen's daughter Natascha took her mother's maiden name of McElhone. She laughs about how the Irish abroad "become more Irish, more attached to the politics, the history, than the people living there sometimes". Noreen was so upset that Natascha wouldn't get married in Ireland that the bride had Celtic symbols and the word 'saoirse' embroidered on her veil.

The neighbours are friendly. Gerry Adams has a holiday home nearby, and according to Glover, Hyde Greenslade is a friend with resident Pat Doherty, a Sinn Fein MP and closest of close colleagues of Adams and McGuinness in all their endeavours over the past 40 years.

But if he gets bored with Shinners, nearby is a traditional tribalist, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, like Doherty, a Glaswegian. A journalist who believes those of Irish extraction experience "cultural oppression" in Scotland, he has self-published a book of essays, A Rebel Journalist: From the Famine Song to Dallasgate, which recount his exploits in hounding Rangers. (His revelation that Hugh Dallas, the Scottish Football Association's head of referee development, had sent an offensive email about the pope had Dallas sacked and won praise from Greenslade in his blog.)

I don't know if either or both Greenslades know of a recent, threatening attack on freedom of speech in Northern Ireland. Caral Ni Chuilin, Sinn Fein Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, has imposed new "media protocols" on the eight "Arms Length Bodies" with which she deals -- including the Arts Council and Sport Northern Ireland.

Explicitly, they are to deal with the media only through her department: arms length is being replaced by hands on. This has startling implications for the independence of these bodies and for media freedom. Jekyll Greenslade would be horrified. What about Hyde?

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards