By Jamie Bryson
There are multiple unusual aspects to the vindictive and disreputable gutter ‘story’ in the Irish News, the first being that it carries the byline of Rodney Edwards- the editor of the ‘Impartial Reporter’- who has described it online as “my investigation”.
This ‘story’ was previously pitched to the Sunday Independent and other publications, they all refused to run it because it was little more than squalid tabloid gossip, unbefitting of any serious journalist or media outlet.
A main driving force behind this aspect of Mr Edward’s work is Trevor Birney. This individual has, over the past decade, become deeply embedded with the nationalist/republican movement via his legacy activism, but that is only a minor part of his motivation.
In truth, the real agenda here is commercial. Birney’s company -Fine Point Films Ltd- is in competition with Nolan’s private company for BBC and other production contracts. That is the reason for the Irish News seeking to cast aspersions on the commercial contracts between Nolan and the BBC; they are acting as surrogates for Fine Point Films. It isn’t ‘journalism’, it is commercial warfare.
There is also serious questions around how public funding provided for ‘The Detail’ is in fact used to fund investigative work which is in truth commercial work then used for the benefit of Fine Point Films Ltd. In the coming weeks, Unionist Voice will be doing a (to borrow the language of the Irish News/Edwards collaboration) ‘dive’ into these arrangements and highlighting these issues to various funders.
Birney is also part of a nationalist cabal, deeply rooted in the ‘Ireland’s Future’ and civic nationalist movement who are determined to seize control of public discourse and shape the narrative- both in regards the present and legacy- to fit the republican political objective.
That is the root of the ‘boycott Nolan’ campaigns, the orchestrated social media trolling and the various articles by nationalist surrogates using their platforms in publications such as the Irish News to wage a relentless campaign against Nolan.
And aside from the commercial agenda of some nefarious figures in the background, in truth for the majority this is really about a working class boy from the Shankill Road who has done well for himself, who has refused to cow-tow to the ‘elite’- which is dominated by nationalists- or to drink in the Sunflower and ingratiate himself with the latte-sipping twitterati or commentariat.
Nolan wont be bullied or coerced, he stands up for the little-people and, much to the fury of the ‘elite’ he still stands up for victims of IRA terrorism and asks hard questions of Sinn Fein. Of course, he also equally infuriates me over what I see is often unfair treatment of loyalists. You won’t find a more balanced independent journalist who pursues all sides equally.
But in the post Belfast Agreement Northern Ireland, the new ‘nationalist’ elite think they determine what is acceptable public discourse, and they seek to keep the media in line by orchestrated trolling, planted media malice, and civic campaigns, alongside aggressive political lobbying. Nolan has never been cowed by that, and they hate him for it.
The story itself is made to look superficially ‘explosive’ but it is, in truth, garbage. It is based on an internal BBC process which- even the disreputable Irish News have to concede- was dismissed. So, one may ask, what exactly is the story?
Perhaps (and I do not know anything at all about it) the internal process had the full context of any exchanges, and that- one would suspect- may put a completely different context on it. If that transpires as being so, in circumstances whereby the Irish News have totally misrepresented Nolan and sought to destroy him, this could well (and I sincerely hope does) end up bankrupting the Irish News.
It is also profoundly disturbing that the Irish News are publishing leaked private messages- which are in fact BBC journalistic property as they were generated by employees in the course of their journalistic work- which purports to identify and ‘out’ BBC sources.
The Irish News are so far gone and blinded by their vendetta and hatred, that they are willing to sacrifice the most sacred principle of journalism: protecting sources. How can they even justify this to themselves, let alone anyone else?
But there is also a deeply troubling context to this ‘story’. It is one of betrayal and a breach of trust. Which one of us, all journalists and politicians in NI included, would want our private whatsapps or messages to be ‘leaked’ on us and plastered all over the media?
Shame on the person, whoever it is, who betrayed a one-time friend and colleague.
Is this type of vindictive tabloid style gutter ‘journalism’ where it is at now for the Irish News?
So desperate and deranged they have become with this obsession that personal character assassinations, based on the ultimate betrayal of ‘leaked’ private correspondence between what all participants would have felt were friends, until someone plainly betrayed that trust.
Why don’t the Irish News publish their work group chat? Let us all judge that, pick extracts from it, and sensationalise it. Do they want to go down that road? Has there ever been any internal workplace issues over that?
Equally, why don’t the Irish News inform the public about their involvement in the New IRA Operation Arbacia tapes, and the secret conversations they had with an Assistant Chief Constable to try and ‘steer’ the direction of that investigation away from the publication, and get assurances there would be no arrests of a present Irish News employee. That is a real scandal, and now that- it seems- media on media attacks are fair game, then other outlets should go for them.
And most fundamentally, given the background involvement of Trevor Birney in pushing much of this for his own commercial agenda, the Irish News ought to disclose that and be honest: they are waging a commercial campaign for a competitor of Nolan’s private company.
Today, arguably everything has changed in regards the media landscape in Northern Ireland.
What Rodney Edwards and the Irish News have done has altered the landscape: what would once have been felt to be out of bounds and beyond the pale, is now acceptable. I had always understood the NI media to be a tight-knit bunch who looked out for each-other; the Irish News have blown all that out of the water. I suspect they will rue the day. This is the ‘Robert Bork’ moment for the NI media.
What they have done on Stephen Nolan today could as easily be done on them tomorrow. Where does it end, how many people get personally and professionally destroyed in the process?
Do those who have started and revelled in this think they can do so with impunity?
There are some involved in that story today feeling very proud of themselves, patting themselves on the back and delighted because (they think) they have ‘destroyed’ Nolan. They tried to vindictively ruin his life, make no mistake about it. It is a three-limbed broad agenda: commercial, sectarian and pure jealously.
But as sure as night follows day, so too is it true that what one sows, so shall he reap. Those who started this may well rue the day they ever did.
The Irish News have more than a few skeletons in their closet, when they start tumbling out, remember this day. They brought it all on themselves.