Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

How can we disentangle the truth from the hype?

The Press often attracts criticism for its reporting of the peace process, but Brendan Duddy believes the truth will always out in the end

The media. Is it the new global dictatorship? Or is it ultimately an essential defender of truth and freedom in this age of instant communication? Or is it both?



Which side are you on? Or is it more likely that you change sides day by day, depending on what you see, hear and read and what suits your point of view at that moment of time?

Is everything open for debate and scrutiny? Or is the demand for instant celebrity gratification and profit the guiding mantra?

Are there some things that are best not said at a particular moment? And, if that is the case, who makes that decision? The editor?

What are the guidelines for the must-dos and must-not dos? When somebody came up with that famous axiom "publish and be damned" does that absolve the writer of all responsibility?

For 25 years in my role as peacemaker between members of the British intelligence service representing the Government of the United Kingdom and members of the republican movement representing the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein, I spent every moment avoiding the media because of my perceived thought that the entire mission of talking peace would be jeopardised, destroyed.

With people dying every day and no end in sight, the risks of the mission being exposed and aborted were overpowering.

As my story began to emerge I was so concerned with how it would be perceived in the closely-knit Protestant community within Derry.

My fear was that I would be seen as an advocate of violence, especially as I was reared in the very mixed community of The Glen where several of my Protestant childhood friends were later murdered by the Provisional IRA. Or maybe I should have said - just to be media-safe - that they died "as victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles".

Then there is the question of who is working with, or for, whom. Again another one of those axioms - "truth is the first victim of war" - where each side in the conflict believes it not only necessary, but essential to put the worst possible spin on the "enemy's truth". I am purposely not giving examples of this type of spin because I have discovered two things in my life.

One, there is a whole game that goes on, a type of tennis match in the media, for or against, dragging you first one way and, when the soundbite journalists feel there is no longer a story in going in that direction, you are pulled, maybe over the space of a weekend, in the exact opposite direction.

I know where I stand. Every day I hear of another 20-year old soldier being blown up in Afghanistan it renews my detestation of violence and war.

The alternative is talking. This leads me to my second point. What mechanisms do we as ordinary human beings have in this avalanche of information to decide what is reasonably true and what is unreasonably false?

One evening at the height of the controversy about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq my daughter Shauna said to me: "Daddy, don't worry your head. Truth will out. People know, you know." It is a statement I have held on to ever since.

So where do I stand in all of this? I believe that you cannot survive as an editor in a modern, responsible newspaper if you knowingly or carelessly print fiction under the guise of a good story.

And even the most ardent supporters of war, racism and sectarian bigotry need more from a newspaper or television news than a mirror of their own hatreds.

So, somehow or other, as Shauna said, "truth will out" and I believe there is a basic goodness and honesty in human beings.

Given the choice of what we have on offer in our small province, or the controlled media of East Germany, the Soviet Union, Burma or China, I will settle for what we have on offer.

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