Loyalists are entitled to be treated equally and fairly by the media. Sadly, this is often not the case. Partly this is due to the fact that loyalism has displayed a remarkable acceptance in relation to the poor treatment by the media over the past 20 years, only recently beginning to mount serious challenges to what is clearly a hierarchy of treatment, in which loyalists are treated almost as some kind of underclass who are not entitled to the application of the same professional standards as is applied to every other section of society.
We see this most prominently in the Sunday newspapers. Descriptive- and often wholly inaccurate- terms are used to describe loyalists; thugs, gangsters, drug lords. These terms, for the most part, aren’t based upon reality but rather upon a stereotyping of the loyalist community within the context of a Belfast Agreement ‘process’ designed to normalise and embed the IRA into the structures of Government, and to criminalise and demonise loyalists.
Why would anyone set out to do this? It is simple. The ‘peace process’ is designed to incrementally ease Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom via a process of increased all-Ireland harmonisation, whilst simultaneously eradicating every vestige of British cultural identity and tradition, in order to lead us to the only end envisaged by the Northern Ireland Act; a repeated border poll until such times as the answer is yes to a United Ireland.
Therefore, loyalism is an impediment to that process, and always will be. Of course, unionism in of itself is clearly also a lesser impediment, but due to the militant nature of loyalism it is more of a necessity to dehumanise, criminalise and break down the cohesion and tradition of that section of the community as part of the wider ‘process’, lest there be any militant resistance when the ‘process’ draws to its conclusion.
The establishment has calculated, quite rightly in my view, that a large section of mainstream unionism will accept just about anything without a whimper of protest or resistance, therefore there has been a clear effort to turn loyalism into a criminal underclass of unionism.
For 20 years this constant criminalisation and dehumanisation has been allowed to become acceptable and normalised. On a weekly basis, wild allegations, based on anonymous sources, are published without even the faintest effort to adhere to proper journalistic standards.
Would it be acceptable to systematically target any other minority community, or private citizen, labelling them with terms such as ‘ugly’, ‘roly poly’, ‘fat’ or to make fun of their appearance generally?
Would it be acceptable to target the family members of prominent members of any other community by publishing private images of people’s weddings or funerals and on occasions publishing private images of people’s girlfriends, wives or children?
We only need to look at how the liberal elite establishment, and mainstream media, endorsed ‘LAD’- a sad online trolling site set up by self-loathing individuals to abuse, ridicule and mock one section of the community as some weird form of therapy to try and raise their own self esteem.
One of the founders actually revealed that it was good for his mental health; yes, because the way to improve mental health is by abusing and torturing other people as a means of making yourself feel better. That’s not normal.
The liberal elite enjoyed it because it was a chance for them to poke fun at a community they felt were beneath them; it was acceptable to mock loyalists, but of course not any other community.
Could you imagine the Polish, Romanian or Chinese community were mocked and targeted in such a manner? Would that be tolerated? No, it wouldn’t.
In the mainstream media convicted IRA terrorists are simply labelled as ‘republicans’, ‘IRA volunteers’ or ‘ex-prisoners’, whilst loyalists are ‘UVF/UDA terrorists’, ‘brigadiers’, ‘gangsters’ or ‘thugs’. This on top of the dehumanising nicknames attached to people often attacking their personal characteristics or appearance.
Yet I do not see Gerry Kelly described as ‘bomber Kelly’, Spike Murray as ‘IRA Army Council member’ or Martin Lynch as ‘IRA Chief of Staff’. Mr Lynch and Mr Murray were both prominent in Parliament buildings during the talks, exerting huge influence- and yet there wasn’t so much as a whimper from the mainstream media.
Could you imagine for just one moment that the UVF Brigade staff or UDA inner council were sitting in Parliament buildings in the DUP talks room? There would be chaos, the media establishment would whip up fury.
This is the context which has lead us to the media establishment- primarily Sunday papers- believing that loyalists are fair game, whilst mainstream republicans must be treated in a much different manner. This is partly because if you have a page to fill it is easy to write about a loyalist because the accepted wisdom is that loyalists will never complain or challenge you, whereas if you write about a mainstream republican the Sinn Fein press officer or their litany of nationalist legal activists will make your life hell.
That is only starting to change with more and more loyalists coming forward to demand equal and fair treatment. Many are using the IPSO process, the regulatory system set up to hold journalists to account and ensure compliance with proper standards.
I encourage every loyalist who feels they aren’t receiving fair treatment to fight back using every legal tool available.
The leading case, at the moment, is Solash v The Times- this case sets out some very basic journalist principles;
(1) The claims of anonymous sources should not be reported as fact;
(2) Such claims should always be corroborated by on the record sources or via official channels;
(3) The subject of any such claims/allegations, if sufficiently serious, should always be offered a right of reply
Loyalists are entitled to these protections every bit as much as the next person. There cannot, and there will not, be a hierarchy of treatment whereby the loyalist community aren’t entitled to the same fair treatment and balance as everyone else.
Those hostile to that idea will have to learn to embrace it, because that is the way things are going to be and the sooner such hostile elements accept that, the better for everyone. Their acceptance of the new reality is not, however, a requirement; they have no veto. Loyalists will be treated equally by the media.
Change comes slowly, but things are changing. Little by little loyalists are obtaining a right of reply, challenges are being brought and more people are demanding fair treatment; it is nowhere near where we want to get to, but there is progress.
In the words of CS Lewis “isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back everything is different.”