Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

TV viewers unmoved by Ian Paisley the provocateur

Ian Paisley, now Lord Bannside
Ian Paisley, now Lord Bannside

Eamonn Mallie's two-part BBC interview with Ian Paisley has certainly generated a rash of headlines, navel-gazing and, this being Northern Ireland, predicable tribal point-scoring.

Paisley: Genesis To Revelation – Face To Face With Eamonn Mallie, returns with Part 2 on Monday night.

I almost didn't bother with Part 1, such is the effect of its loftily ridiculous title.

But I persevered, probably because of a combination of the hypnotic nature of Paisley's personality, his place in our collective psyche and a morbid curiosity to see if time, and the art of political concession, have tempered him. The jury is still out on that last point. But the heat generated by the programme has been almost as interesting as the 'Revelation' in it.

One of the most trenchant reviews was penned by Joe Nawaz in the Belfast Telegraph. It was insightful and well written. It was also frank to the point of brutality.

Language may often be at its best when it is melodic, understated and symphonic.

But there is no denying that it is also extraordinarily effective when it is as cold and blunt as the barrel of a gun.

Joe's review fell squarely into the latter category, beginning with a caustic and sarcastic swipe at Mallie, before charging into a full frontal assault on the Big Man himself.

It amounted to a demolition of the politician, the interviewer and pretty much the concept of the programme itself: "And really, the 'exposés', such as they were, left us with nothing new about this rather unpleasant man who wouldn't support a cause if he couldn't lead it ... "

The interviewer didn't escape derision: "Mallie, meanwhile, must content himself with the knowledge when given the opportunity to poke the devil, like so many before him, he could only get close enough to tickle him under the chin."

"What better subject for the broadcaster to confront than Ian Paisley, fellow narcissist and a man breathtakingly incapable of finding anything approaching fault within himself?" he asked.

Sometimes, as Readers Editor, I read a piece in the Tele and think – that'll get the complaints coming in. Strangely – or not perhaps – no complaints reached me about this review.

That's not to say everyone agreed with its viewpoint. Far from it. Many readers thought it an excellent review, others questioned the reviewer's objectivity and integrity. One accused Nawaz of being "totally unfair" to Mallie, adding that "his sneering at the interview and the interviewer are unwarranted".

Another said he thought it was a "cracking interview" and that Paisley had "answered questions that no journalist had asked him in 40 years. So, Mr Nawaz, leave your personal dislike of Mr Mallie aside".

Some question why the Belfast Telegraph publishes provocative articles and sometimes even hard-hitting attacks that can contain comments about a person's character. The truth is that it is the duty of newspapers to publish honestly-held opinion and fair comment on matters of public interest. Debate is the genesis of invention.

But one question that lingers in my mind is an apparent lack of a groundswell of support for Ian Paisley on our website and postbag and across civic society generally.

Remember, he built the DUP into a huge electoral success story, receiving massive province-wide personal endorsements at European elections.

Having alienated key sections of his base within loyalism, the Free Presbyterian Church, and DUP and hardline unionism, perhaps he is now rather alone, politically speaking.

Such a fate is, I suspect, not just the outcome of his controversial life, but also the personal price of his historic decision to share power with Sinn Fein.

Was it a price he knew he would pay when he made the leap? I suspect so, but I'm not sure we'll ever know definitively. Perhaps Part 2 will enlighten us.

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@BelTelReadersEd

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com

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