SPOTLIGHT ON REPORTING

Panel discussion chaired  by Miriam O'Callaghan  Photo: Michael Fisher

Panel discussion chaired by Miriam O’Callaghan Photo: Michael Fisher

Good investigative journalism needs time for research, checking and double-checking facts and teamwork. BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme has been going for forty years. To mark the occasion the Corporation devoted a day at its Blackstaff studio normally used for the Nolan show to discuss why investigative journalism matters and to consider its future.

I did not attend the first session which included on the panel Senator Susan O’Keeffe, Michael Crick,  and Freedom of Information specialist and journalism Professor Heather Brooke. Her (London) City University colleague Professor George Brock also contributed to the seminar.

Miriam O'Callaghan introduces Sue Lloyd-Roberts, Stacey Dooley and John Sweeney  Photo: Michael Fisher

Miriam O’Callaghan introduces Sue Lloyd-Roberts, Stacey Dooley and John Sweeney Photo: Michael Fisher

The lunchtime session was chaired by RTÉ presenter Miriam O’Callaghan. Her guests included John Sweeney of Panorama, Sue Lloyd-Roberts and Stacey Dooley, who presents documentaries on BBC THREE. The latter gave us an insight into what it was like trying to make a programme in an area along the border in Mexico controlled by gangs.

Steve Hewlett chairing a panel discussion  Photo: Michael Fisher

Steve Hewlett chairing a panel discussion Photo: Michael Fisher

Many of the interesting insights into the world of investigative television reporting and the changes that have taken place came in the final session chaired by Salford Professor Steve Hewlett, a BBC Radio 4 presenter. The panellists included Roger Bolton, Darragh MacIntyre, and John Ware, who has done several investigations about Northern Ireland, the latest being on the activities of the British Army unit known as the Military Reaction Force in the 1970s. It was broadcast by the BBC last November.

Steve Hewlett chairing a panel discussion  Photo: Michael Fisher

Steve Hewlett chairing a panel discussion Photo: Michael Fisher

PAISLEY DOCUMENTARY

Paisley: Genesis to Revelation with Eamonn Mallie  Photo: BBC NI website

Paisley: Genesis to Revelation with Eamonn Mallie Photo: BBC NI website

Ouch! Looks like the DUP handlers have been working overtime to get their retaliation in first, in advance of the broadcasting of the second part of Eamonn Mallie’s interview and documentary featuring the former DUP leader and former Free Presbyterian Moderator Lord Bannside. Worth remembering that Ian Paisley is now 87, as one of the party’s responses remind us.

Statement from Democratic Unionist Party Spokesman: “Lord Bannside is entitled to his own opinions – however, he is not entitled to his own facts. The Party deeply appreciates the contribution Lord Bannside made to Northern Ireland and to the growth of the DUP.  Despite the headlines regarding these programmes, the Party will not be losing focus. Our greatest ever electoral victory, in 2011, gave us a mandate to keep Northern Ireland moving forward. We will get on with that task.

We are saddened to see Lord Bannside harm his own legacy.  In his later years as Party leader, many colleagues shielded his frailty from public view, to avoid embarrassment and protect his legacy.  Those people are hurt by untrue and bitter comments contained in the documentary.

The party, unlike the media, has not been granted an advance viewing, however, the programme maker and the BBC have already been informed of the inaccuracy of those claims made in the programme about which they have notified us. The Party does not intend to respond to the personal opinions expressed in the programme – those making the comments must take responsibility for them – but it will not let untrue assertions dressed up as facts go unchallenged.

Dr Paisley, as he was then known, gave a number of interviews on the occasion of his retirement announcement.  In those interviews he stated that he had been considering his retirement for some time and had himself chosen the time to stand down.  Moreover he denied that he had been “pushed”.  The public may well ask whether then or now they have been misled. Worse, he now seeks to place the responsibility for his decision on those who protected him most when, at 82 years of age, his ability to perform his duties was seriously diminished and causing widespread concern.

Contrary to media speculation, the party has not mounted any form of legal challenge to this programme. When the Party sees the second programme, rather than relying on third party accounts, it will decide if any further response is necessary.”

Statement from Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA, Democratic Unionist Party Leader: 

“There are many who will believe that in agreeing to participate in these interviews Lord Bannside will have done nothing to enhance his legacy. They will struggle to reconcile the spirit and tone he presents with that which they will have known and admired.  This is not the Ian Paisley we knew.

As someone who faithfully served Dr Paisley for many decades I will make one final sacrifice by not responding and causing any further damage to his legacy beyond that which he has done himself.  Rather than return insult for insult, let me bless him with the mercy of my silence and wish him well.”

Statement from Rt Hon Nigel Dodds MP, Democratic Unionist Party Deputy Leader: 

“I am personally very saddened to learn of the tone and contents of the latest programme on Lord Bannside.   All of us who worked hard for him and with him for many years wished only the best for him and for our country. It is to be deeply regretted that at 87 and retired that this programme may be what is remembered about him rather than the good things that he did.

Clearly the passage of time has diminished accurate recall of events.   What is being said now by Lord Bannside about meetings is inaccurate and stands in stark contrast to everything that he said and did at the time and, indeed, during the years since.  As Lord Bannside is not long out of hospital I wish him well in his recovery.”

Statement by Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley, Democratic Unionist Party Chairman:

“I have served as Chairman of the DUP for most of the period discussed in the programmes. During that time, I have some great memories of Dr Paisley.  I am saddened by this turn of events.  Throughout my political lifetime I was a loyal friend to Lord Bannside.  I wish him well in his recovery.  These latest utterances do not do justice to someone who was a giant in unionism in Northern Ireland.”

Statement from Timothy Johnston, former Special Advisor to First Minister Ian Paisley: 

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the general content and tone of the Ian Paisley programme to be broadcast by the BBC on Monday evening. After a long and distinguished career it is very regrettable that Dr Paisley, as well as Mrs Paisley, and those who now advise them, have co-operated in the making of two programmes that have significantly and irreversibly damaged his historical legacy.  Unsurprisingly the events of that time have not been accurately recalled and indeed the “research” used by the production staff is wrong in many significant respects.  Some of the programme content is simply untrue.

I totally refute any allegation, suggestion or implication that a survey conducted was “framed” by me or anyone else.  Dr Paisley commissioned the survey and was aware of its nature and its findings at the time.  At no point then or since has Dr Paisley or Mrs Paisley sought to raise these concerns with me despite having had every opportunity to do so.

I learned many valuable lessons while working for Dr Paisley, one of which was not to discuss internal party business in public.  I have no intention of departing from the advice he proffered at the height of his career.  While saddened by this turn of events I wish Dr Paisley well for the future.”

Whatever about the reaction from the politicians, it was interesting that the final quote came from Timothy Johnston, former special advisor to Ian Paisley when the DUP leader became First Minister in a power-sharing Exective with Sinn Féin, along with UUP and SDLP representatives in May 2007.

So there you have it. It just remains to see what exactly Ian Paisley has to say for himself at 10:35pm on BBC1 Northern Ireland. Paisley: Genesis to Revelation. Episode 2. Ian Paisley has been one of the most controversial political figures of the 20th century. From firebrand preacher to hard line politician and ultimately Northern Ireland’s first minister, he has lived a life in the public eye.

In this two-part series, Eamonn Mallie challenges Ian Paisley on his role in Northern Ireland’s troubled past and reveals the dramatic circumstances of his departure from politics and public life. Expect to hear Eamonn on a number of radio current affairs programmes this morning talking about the programme.

According to the Irish News front page, Ian Paisley is claiming that the DUP betrayed him and he alleges that senior party figures plotted his downfall as leader.

PAUL ROBINSON BURSARY

Bursary Presentation

Bursary Presentation

For the past four years, the National Union of Journalists in Northern Ireland in association with the BBC and Chest, Heart and Stroke has run a bursary scheme for young journalists in memory of Paul Robinson. Paul was a producer in the BBC and NUJ member,who died in February 2009 of heart-related problems. In his memory, the BBC and NUJ jointly fund a £1,000 bursary for a journalism student in Northern Ireland. The BBC also offers a two weeks work experience placement to the winner.

This year the bursary was won by Iain McDowell from Rathfriland in County Down. His winning entry was an audio package entitled “Battling Stress: Letitia’s Story“. Former BBC and UTV journalist Letitia Fitzpatrick talked about her struggle with stress in this report into one of the biggest mental health problems in the UK. In the opinion of the two judges, it was skilfully produced. There was good content throughout and the package was well constructed and a good story, well told. The mixes of background sound were good, with decent editing and the right level of noise to ensure it was not intrusive.

Áine O’Doherty from the North West Regional College was commended for her video entry “Old Library Trust Healthy Living Centre” in the Creggan area of Derry. The judges are David Lynas of the BBC and myself, pictured above presenting an NUJ cheque for £500 to Iain along with Vanessa Elder of CHS at our branch meeting in Belfast.

Lisa Nelson 2012 award winner

Lisa Nelson 2012 award winner

The competition was open to all NVQ Level 4 students in journalism and journalism degrees students in Northern Ireland. Previous winners include Lisa Nelson (2012 for her online entry) now with the NCTJ Journalism Diversity Fund, Dean McLaughlin of the North West Regional College for a video report (2011) and David Thompson (2010) of the Universiy of Ulster at Coleraine for his audio package “Raymond’s Story“.