by Denzil McDaniel 

In the 1994 movie “The Paper”, Michael Keaton plays the editor of the New York Sun, with Glenn Close in the role of his boss at a newspaper in dire financial straits.

They’re at loggerheads when the editor wants to incur huge costs to scrap the print run of an edition whose front page, under the headline “Gotcha”, shows two black teenagers charged with murder. Wrongly charged, he has discovered.

The boss wants to print anyway and correct it tomorrow; but the editor fights, literally, and says he’s never knowingly printed wrong information before. He argues passionately after learning the boys were framed in a police cover up.

The editor wins the battle of integrity and principle and the paper instead hits the streets with the banner headline changed to: “They Didn’t Do It.”

The film was made 25 years ago, when newspapers didn’t have so many multi-media and social media challenges, and when journalists were people whose honesty, responsibility and integrity weren’t doubted the way they are now.

But do you not think that journalistic integrity still lives in the majority of cases?

Not according to Donald Trump, whose catch cry “fake news” has caught on.

What is fake news anyway? Is it something made up, or just something that someone subjectively says isn’t even newsworthy? Why are they reporting it anyway, what’s their agenda, say the manipulative power-hungry.

I find Trump particularly odious in many ways, but the problem is that he knows by repeating his mantra ad naseum, it strikes a chord with the disillusioned. In Britain, those who repeat the lines about “taking back control” and “taking our country back” know they’re feeding people what AA Gill called the “pernicious and debilitating drug, nostalgia”.

As regards fomenting suspicion of the media, Trump knows what he’s doing. At its extreme, it’s no coincidence that when Hitler’s Nazis took power in 1933, they seized control of the press and party propaganda soon played on people’s anxieties and fears.

Worldwide today, the media is under pressure as never before. Declining sales in newspapers mean less resources for journalists in holding power to account. The rich and powerful deliberately undermine trust in the media, and as traditional media is under fire, there is the rise and rise of social media when anyone can publish thoughts.

Of course, everyone is entitled to do so and free speech is good. Why should the right wing press barons be the only ones to have a voice, and social media is a great tool for free speech without censorship for the masses. Problems arise, though, when such freedom is cynically abused and there is no filter, especially when those responsible know how common the view is that “I read it on Facebook, it must be true.”

Rather than the traditional media and responsible journalists having a reduced role, it is now more vital than ever for an open and accountable democracy.

Last week, I wrote about the feelgood factor which is engulfing our county at the moment through the glory of sport. The feedback was pleasant; contrary to the intuition that people only want bad news, it’s good to report the bright side.

But we cannot ignore the darker side of life, and this newspaper has consistently focused on a number of issues which, at times, people wish did not exist. But they do exist and everything must be reported, whether the good, the bad or the ugly. It’s a paper’s duty to put information into the public domain.

Week-in week-out, we hear of grief and tragedy, of the misdemeanours of some, and generally much that is unsavoury.

In recent weeks, we heard of the alarming rise of domestic violence in this and other parts of the world, with mostly men inflicting hurt on their partners through coercive control.

In the last couple of weeks, there has also been coverage of allegations of sex abuse from victims who have come forward. Journalist Rodney Edwards has been to the forefront in giving a voice to many people who have lived in traumatic silence for far too many years. It is a credit to him and to this newspaper that he is trusted by people who have harboured this within them for so long.

Their stories reveal a dark side of life in Fermanagh which was kept hidden for years. More than 30 years ago, paedophiles in our area preyed on school children. There were multiple victims and the abuse lasted several years, and while at least one of the abusers has died, many others are still living apparently respectable lives with the public oblivious to their sordid and depraved past.

Victims are now showing unbelievable courage to tell a journalist about details of many incidents, including the names of their abusers. These men include some very well-known people, including some in positions of trust, who probably thought their dirty secrets were hidden.

But remember: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

This is incredibly important journalism. It gives abused people a voice, it holds a mirror up to society at large and challenges us all about the nature of such horrible behaviour going on under our noses. And it challenges those in authority, including the police, as to why the abusers got away with it, even when it was reported to them.

Thankfully, many people are supporting Rodney in his work on this occasion.

Sadly, it doesn’t always happen because there are times when the messenger becomes the target and I’ve read some unsavoury comments from online bullies. The keyboard warriors who attack the journalist for bringing them bad news. Unbelievable sometimes, and particularly difficult for local journalists who live and work in the local community and often come face to face with the people they’ve written negatively about. Some even surreptitiously twist things to undermine journalists. Ah well.

There’s always an interesting dynamic, too, between journalists and politicians. I personally have had certain local politicians calling me names behind my back, and I sometimes regard the sneering arrogance of some of my detractors as a compliment.

One wonders sometimes about the wisdom of some, and I stress some, politicians trying to control the press by taking conscious decisions not to talk to them. Clearly they do not realise that plenty of their colleagues do talk to journalists and the information comes out anyway. But aside from that, the notion that politicians can nobble journalists and control the flow of information is hardly conducive to free, open and accountable democracy. Rather it’s akin to China or Russia.

The old saying is that a newspaper should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” and to do that journalists shouldn’t just regurgitate what Orwell called “the official truth.”

Instead, says John Pilger. “Secretive power loathes journalists who do their job: who push back screens, peer behind façades, lift rocks. Opprobrium from on high is their badge of honour.”

Traditional journalism still does this, thankfully, and I hope the honourable ones continue to keep doing it; even if they don’t expect to be popular for telling it like it is.