Having joined the Orange Institution in 1964 and served on the Parades Commission 2011-2013, the Rev. Brian Kennaway offers his analysis of the parading conflict. A number of groups need to step up to the mark.
By Rev Brian Kennaway
2. THE PRESS
One would find it difficult to disagree with Thomas Jefferson’s affirmation that “freedom of the press”, being one of the “principles [which] form the bright constellation which has gone before us”. In many respects a free press is a guardian of any democracy. This is particularly true in Northern Ireland. But a free press should also be a responsible press and should be careful about the language they use. This applies to the print media as well as any electronic or verbal means of communicating.
Over recent years I have observed that media reporting has developed the worst of the tabloid clichés. When it comes to reporting, particularly in the volatile parading situation, great care should be taken. The language should be precise. It is amazing that there are some people who believe every word printed!
An unknown group calling themselves, “Loyal Peaceful Protestors”, lodged a late notification for a parade on 21 September 2013. Their stated purpose was: “Political Policing Also In Respect Of Legal Flag Protest And Familys [sic] Of Those In Prison And Under House Arrest”. This was followed by other notifications giving the purpose as: “Human Rights Political Policing PSNI Brutality”. Again, in respect of a parade on 11 January 2014, the purpose was: “PSNI Brutality, Loyalist Prisoners, The Flag, Civil Rights, Political Policing”. However throughout this period the media kept making reference to “Flag Protests”, when the emphasis was clearly “Anti-Police”.
On many occasions it is the headline writer who fails the test of precise language. In the Belfast Telegraph 16 July 2013 the headline was: “Lodges will face even more bans if they continue to flout rulings”. In the accompanying article Liam Clarke chooses his language more carefully by the use of the word “restrictions”.
Over the years the press have consistently used the word apply when making reference to a notification for a parade or protest. Not only does this convey the idea that the Parades Commission has much more power than it actually has, but it sends out the wrong message, i.e., that you have to ask permission to exercise your civil right. This is an anathema to Orangemen.
The controversy over the Young Conway Volunteers behaviour outside St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church on 12 July 2012 is a prime example of bad communication by the media.
It was not just a matter of this band playing – but the fact that they sang the words of “The Famine Song”. The media also overlooked the fact that a public representative for North Belfast, Nigel Dodds, the D.U.P. M.P., whose lodge Ulster Volunteers LOL 1216 engaged this band, stood immediately behind the band watching this behaviour and did not intervene.
The wise and precise use of non-emotive language by all those who communicate to wider society would not only present a more holistic picture, but would make a significant contribution to the resolution of contentious parades.
The press can make a positive contribution by at times saying less rather than more, and by putting the improvement of society before the headlines.