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8 September 2015

Greenslade's bid at full disclosure falls short for me

Roy Greenslade

Full disclosure: I have written in the past for the Sinn Fein newspaper, An Phoblacht.

No, not me, though I would if they asked me and promised not to censor what I said. That statement was at the bottom of a column last week by Roy Greenslade, media commentator of The Guardian, and it represented a small, but significant, victory for journalists.

Back in October 2014, Greenslade wrote a column complaining that the BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme on Mairia Cahill "was flawed by being overly one-sided".

His complaints took the Sinn Fein line that Mairia's evidence was suspect, because of her brief association with republican dissidents. Among those who condemned Greenslade for failing to declare his republican loyalties were Eamonn McCann, Anthony McIntyre, Ed Moloney, Malachi O'Doherty and me, who were not, as I wrote at the time, "natural bedfellows".

We were all appalled by what we considered a shocking breach of journalistic ethics.

It wasn't the first time I had drawn attention to Greenslade's refusal to declare his interest and the equally culpable refusal of his editor, the sanctimonious Alan Rusbridger, to do anything about it. It may be that, under pressure, Rusbridger finally did and that, somewhere among Greenslade's many articles, is another with that disclaimer.

It's more likely that the instruction to 'fess up came from Katherine Viner, who replaced Rusbridger on June 1.

From what I've heard, she's someone who would take ethics seriously and who would find Greenslade's concealment of the truth strange in a professor of journalism who, until recently, was a trustee of Media Watch, a media ethics charity.

Memo to Ms Viner: it's only a "partial" disclosure. "Full" would include that it was the late-1980s (when he was at the anti-IRA Sunday Times as a senior editor) that he wrote under a pseudonym for An Phoblacht-Republican News.

In other words, he was writing at a time when the IRA were in full swing and being stoutly defended by the newspaper for which he wrote covertly.

Full disclosure should also mention that he stood surety last year for IRA member John Downey, the Hyde Park bombing suspect. For reasons of space, it would be unreasonable to expect him to mention as well his innumerable other connections with Sinn Fein friends in Donegal.

Still, I think Ms Viner should suggest to him that, if he's not prepared to amplify his disclaimer, he should drop the word "Full".

Anyway, what he was talking about last week was the British media reaction to the power-sharing crisis following Kevin McGuigan's murder.

Greenslade was quite right to point out there has been little coverage, for, unlike The Guardian, which still has Henry McDonald, most national newspapers no longer have Northern Ireland correspondents.

He was also right to say that this under-reporting means that there is insufficient journalistic scrutiny of important Northern Irish stories.

However, being Greenslade, it was the PSNI's George Hamilton whom he was targeting: "I cannot imagine any British-based chief constable getting away with such an ambivalent statement."

What was needed was "relentless journalistic questioning" about his evidence for suggesting that the IRA still existed in some form.

Greenslade's not strong on self-awareness, or, with his record, he might have thought twice about demanding that Hamilton be forced "to be more transparent".

He was very concerned about unionists, too, who were escaping criticism from UK newspapers, because of the media "anti-republican agenda".

He saw no need for scrutiny of Sinn Fein, which is "in an impossible position: how do you prove a negative?"

The leaders of Fianna Fail and Labour, Joan Burton and Micheal Martin, came under assault for having ignored murders in the Republic because there was "no political mileage to be made from their deaths".

He didn't mention to his British audience that Burton and Martin and hundreds of thousands of Irish people are frightened that a political party with even the remnants of a military wing - not to speak of a huge war-chest - might end up in government in the south as well as the north of the island.

Maybe Ms Viner should suggest to Greenslade that it's time for him "to be more transparent"? Or to keep off stories that touch on Irish politics.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards