Published on 12th Apr, 2021
THE absence of diversity in the Northern Ireland media and in media output is at odds with international practice and standards, a prominent racial equality spokesperson has said.
The comment came in an SCI discussion which also heard concerns over some coverage of the legacy of the Troubles being “superficial and unnecessarily controversial”.
The SCI discussion (available in the video above) was part of the Imagine Belfast Festival and examined the question: ‘The Media in Northern Ireland: How is it addressing division and reflecting diversity?’
Journalist Amanda Ferguson discussed the role of women in the media and the panel also included former editor of The Impartial Reporter Denzil McDaniel and Project Director for the Inter-Ethnic Forum (East & Mid Antrim) Ivy Goddard.
Ivy highlighted the absence of diversity in local media output, which she said left sections of society invisible.
“It is not as though people in Northern Ireland are not seeing diversity in the media when they are watching programmes on national TV.
“There are many presenters from BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) communities presenting the national news. They are on comedy shows, game shows, panels etc. You can also see diversity reflected when watching Netflix or Amazon Prime.
“So it isn’t good enough that the [Northern Ireland] media only include our voices when we are asked to comment on hate crime, or show the occasional celebration of culture.”
She said social media has amplified minority voices, showing how “articulate, intelligent and passionate people are”.
“It makes me wonder why we can’t have those voices in mainstream dialogues?”
At a time when race hate crime has overtaken sectarian crime, she said there was a greater onus on the media to fully reflect society and 'normalise' diversity.
"I appreciate it's a challenging time for those in the media but we must find a way of including and making space for those who have felt they are the 'other'.
“I can only hope that mainstream media will step up and take measurable steps to amplify the voices of BAME communities here."
The discussion was chaired by SCI’s Maggie Beirne and follows a number of SCI initiatives on the role of the media in deeply divided societies, which included an international conference in 2019 available here.
Denzil McDaniel told the Imagine Belfast event that the global downturn in traditional media is being sharply felt in Northern Ireland, with commercial outlets under financial pressure, while the publicly funded BBC has come to dominate the news agenda.
While the decline of the news media has affected many societies, Northern Ireland faces the added burden of the legacy of conflict and division.
“The battle over memory and memorial is often fought out over the media,” he said.
“By its nature a lot of our media is about the here and now. Resources are often limited. Air-time and stories are often simplified.
“It can be relatively easy for journalists to go to the same sources. The possibility is that only those voices are heard.
“So, we get coverage which is about more than remembering, it’s about insisting on not forgetting, about blame.”
He also cited ‘legacy’ issues which preceded the Troubles, including the experience of Donegal Protestants feeling `abandoned’ by their wider northern community when Ireland was partitioned.
On the question of how the media in Northern Ireland is addressing division and reflecting diversity, journalist Amanda Ferguson said: "I think in some cases extremely well and in other cases not very well at all.
“I love being a journalist and working in the media but I do view myself a little bit as a critic from the inside because I think that we could do better.
“I think that Northern Ireland is a very patriarchal, very male society. It can feel like it’s a boys’ club that operates in almost every section of society.
“We have made huge strides with regards to women’s representation but there is a lot of work to be done. “
Amanda discussed her ongoing research into the role of women in the media. She addressed the 'good and bad' of social media, but highlighted the 'spectrum of abuse that exists' for women.
More should be done to ensure women are not “pushed off or put off” using social media, as women should not be silenced.
The event heard of a range of actions that could be taken by media, including:
:: For news organisations to think more self critically about their role in such a deeply divided society
:: To broaden the range of voices used in media output
:: To consider if outlets are reflecting this changing, post-conflict society as it truly is.
It was proposed that a media fund could support under-pressure outlets, while promoting best practice and under-reported issues.