Northern Ireland news

North more than just 'unionist and nationalist stereotypes', NUJ says following flags report

The long-delayed report into flags and culture was published last week

NORTHERN Ireland is more than just "unionist and nationalist stereotypes", the National Union of Journalists has said after a landmark Stormont report suggested that all media organisations should provide "cultural awareness training for their employees".

The long-delayed report into flags and culture, published last week, made recommendations on general issues including identity, flags, bonfires, murals and memorials.

However, it did not include an action plan, meaning the recommendations are unlikely to be carried out.

According to the report, the commission behind the document "discussed at length perceptions of bias in reporting of unionist and loyalist cultural events" including the Twelfth demonstrations.

The commission also discussed "perceived bias against aspects of nationalist culture".

The report suggested media organisations should provide "cultural awareness training" to all employees.

"The objective would be to impart a broad understanding of all sections of the community and cultural identities and how they contribute to the broad cultural output," the report read.

However, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said reporters were firstly concerned with conveying facts "as impartially as we can".

Robin Wilson, chair of the Belfast and District branch of the NUJ, said: “Of course the union wants employers to invest more in training and in journalists’ professional development.

"And in the context of Northern Ireland especially, it is critical that journalists develop the capacity for empathy and perspective taking, so they can see all sides of the story.

“But our union’s code of conduct commits us to reporting the facts as we find them, as impartially as we can.

"And that means avoiding lazy reproduction of 'unionist' and 'nationalist' stereotypes about a society that is now much more genuinely culturally pluralist than that.

"Not everyone in Northern Ireland today is British or Irish and, for those who are, their national identity may not be perceived as exclusive and may be much less important to them than the other aspects of who and what they individually are."

The report also highlighted attitudes to Ulster-Scots and said "some newspaper columnists and cartoonists have portrayed the Ulster-Scots language and community in a negative light".

The Irish News is the only newspaper in the north with a regular political cartoonist.

Irish News cartoonist Ian Knox said: "I don't impugn or make fun of people who would call themselves Ulster-Scots".

"I don't talk about an Ulster-Scots culture," he said.

"I merely keep making the point there is no such thing as the Ulster-Scots language."

Mr Knox claimed the promotion of Ulster-Scots as a language "was a way of sabotaging Irish language funding - that's certainly how it started out".


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