By Jamie Bryson
In recent months the Irish News has slipped into an increasingly bizarre level of anti-unionist hatred, with regular diatribes from a range of the most toxic nationalist contributors and pursuing stories which barely even seek to conceal their bias.
On Friday this bizarre descent into the sewer manifested itself in one of the most vile, sectarian and dehumanising cartoons you will see. That any media outlet- and their political correspondent- thought it appropriate to casually promote such mockery and demonisation of an entire community, demonstrates just how deeply embedded the treatment of unionists/loyalists as second-class citizens has become.
The publication’s editor Noel Doran justified the attack on unionists/loyalists by claiming that their cartoonist has always satirised ‘extremists’. This was in some ways even more extraordinary; it demonstrated the casual supremacy which has become embedded amongst the nationalist middle class.
A unionist/loyalist who objects to being called a planter, or indeed articulates a view which opposes the subjugation of our place in the Union due to the Protocol, is now viewed as an ‘extremist’.
If there was any doubt about the depths to which the Irish News have sunk, Saturday surely put it beyond any doubt. The latest cartoon targeting ‘extremists’ published depicted Orange marchers, due to celebrate one of Northern Ireland’s largest ever parades, in wheelchairs and zimmer frames.
The Irish News have always been a nationalist paper, but they are now far beyond that, sacrificing any pretence of impartiality or credible journalistic independence.
This is evidenced by a number of editorial decisions, such as for example their increasing platforming of ‘FactCheckNI’ to give a subjective view on whether various arguments around Brexit are ‘factual’. It is notable their services are only platformed by the Irish News to critique anti-EU views. This is perhaps unsurprising given FactCheckNI is funded to the tune of £191,000 in a project run by the EU Commission.
Notwithstanding this most obvious conflict of interest, the organisation is nevertheless championed as an “independent verification” body.
In addition, we have the regular visual application of bias in how those quoted are presented. Those from a unionist/loyalist background are identified by their political identity, whilst contributors from a nationalist/republican background are presented in neutral terms as independent commentators or labelled solely by their professional status, notwithstanding most of such persons have self-identified as nationalists within their professional vocations.
This of course isn’t unique to the Irish News, it is also a problem with the BBC. A nationalist commentator is just a commentator, whilst any unionist/loyalist is identified by their political affiliation.
All of this comes as the increasing ‘noise’ in Northern Ireland ratchets up in an effort to coerce, control and at times bully all the organs of public life- particularly the media- for the benefit of nationalism, or pro-EU activists.
There is a collective movement- all sharing the common objective of a distain for uppity unionists/loyalists- bound together in their aim to have any voices with whom they disagree de-platformed.
Nationalists and liberals have been extremely effective at developing broad coalitions to work in unison to use collective coercion to bully public broadcast organisations and other media outlets into shaping public discussion in a manner conducive to their shared objectives (primarily socially-liberal, pro United Ireland, pro Protocol/EU and anti all expressions of unionist/loyalist culture and tradition).
They do this by using the orchestrated army of social media trolls (in 2017 Sinn Fein recruited thousands of ‘social media activists’) to create lots of noise to put pressure on media outlets or individual journalists.
The social media world in NI is a remarkable place; a cold house for anyone from a unionist viewpoint. If anyone says anything negative towards a unionist/loyalist, all of a sudden that person is a hero, the unionist/loyalist has been ‘burned’ and what follows is a deluge of hundreds, often thousands, of mocking, derisory and often abusive tweets.
Unionists/loyalists are simply depicted as drug addicts, criminals, a vile underclass and people to be mocked and derided.
We are so sub-human that there is no work ethic in us and even if there was, we aren’t intelligent enough to engage in any of the professional fields dominated by the nationalist middle class. We instead simply hang around all day on street corners, dressed in a Burberry hat and Rangers top, with ‘1690’ tattooed on our knuckles, making money by selling drugs because we are all criminals and drug addicts.
That the vast majority of unionists/loyalist despise drugs, crime and are decent law-abiding, hard-working citizens matters not. In addition that many unionists/loyalists are deeply intelligent, well-educated and articulate is simply something which could not be true. That does not fit the stereotype: the nationalist middle class have constructed a fixed view of unionists, and particularly loyalists.
This view manifests itself in the extreme trolling and abuse directed at any unionist/loyalist who speaks out. It is almost as if they want to send a warning to anyone who expresses views with which they disagree: don’t do that again or look what we will do to you. Moreover, it is designed to send another message: if you dare merely publicly platform, or worse agree or support this view, we will do this to you as well.
Put simply, they seek to create so much ‘noise’ or controversy around anyone they see as a political opponent, and in consequence any journalist who platforms opposing views then find themselves also subject to intense campaigns designed to bully them into never again platforming such views.
This naturally has the effect of creating a lot of noise around those unionists/loyalists identified as ‘unhelpful’ and thus toxified by orchestrated nationalist campaigns, and the desired outcome is that public opinion forming institutions will de-platform such persons, simply as a means of taking the path of least resistance.
It is often the case that merely mobilising this orchestrated campaign is enough to achieve the desire objective, but on other occasions it goes to the next level whereby nationalism and liberals deploy activists with professional standing or public status to subtly, but relentlessly, turn up the volume on the contrived noise.
This manifests itself in intense lobbying, the deliberate demonising of the target/s and often in identifying and then deploying ‘friendly’ media outlets to join in the campaign.
The outcome, it is hoped by its proponents, is to create enough noise and pressure that the person identified as ‘problematic’ is de-platformed, or decides themselves to simply give up and go away.
In Northern Ireland, there are intense campaigns waged with alarming regularity. They are almost exclusively waged against those from a unionist/loyalist background who express views which advocate a hardline political stance designed to impede nationalism achieving their political objectives.
As social media (particularly the ‘twitterati’), the mainstream media, academia and civic society is entirely dominated by nationalists of varying degrees of political commitment, the outcome desired is that uppity unionists/loyalists are squeezed out of the public arena, and thus ‘unhelpful’ views are suppressed from a wider audience.
There is an ‘elite’ bubble, and the members of it sustain their membership by staying within the broad parameters set by their collective groupthink.
In summary: you must demean those who the group deem ‘unhelpful’, and promote those the group deems ‘positive’ (politically helpful to the group’s broad shared ‘approved’ political positions). It is quite Orwellian actually, a form of two minutes hate.
The difficulty they face with this is as old as time itself. You cannot kill an idea. A political campaign designed to silence voices can not itself silence the ideas espoused by those targeted. Indeed, often it has the opposite effect.
At the last election over 265,000 people voted for the most hardline unionist manifestos in 25 years (DUP/TUV/PUP). The logical outcome is that all such voices must be also silenced.
In the last election we had the incredible situation whereby supposedly credible media outlets were platforming claims that the problem in Northern Ireland was that Jim Allister and I were allowed on the radio, and thus unionists would therefore vote for a more hardline stance because they were exposed to our views.
Think about that; the premise is unionists are so stupid that if they hear such views, they might believe them. And of course, unionists couldn’t possibly endorse any views which impeded nationalism’s objectives. The premise of this in turn is that nationalism is right, unionism is wrong and how bizarre it is that any regressive uppity unionist/loyalist would ever try to convince anyone otherwise.
It is simply beyond the comprehension of the political and societal elite in Northern Ireland that anyone- particularly unionists/loyalists- would think differently. In short, the elite are the elite for a reason, and how dare the unionist/loyalist peasants think for themselves.
It is the same ‘elite’ groupthink that fuelled and led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, both of which sent the establishment into a furious tailspin, a period of mourning and then a vicious fightback.
The prevailing demonisation of unionism/loyalism could, if it were accepted, lead to a complete withdrawal of engagement in the ongoing battle in the public sphere- an effective acceptance of defeat.
However, that isn’t going to happen. Unionists/loyalists must refuse to be cowed by the orchestrated campaigns, the twitter trolling, the casual derision and demonisation. If we sit at the back of the bus in silence, we let them win.
The best response is to keep sharing the ideas, to never be bullied into silence and most of all to keep multiplying the voices speaking out. This will enrage the ‘bubble’ even more, and their campaigns will become more intense.
But in the end, they will realise they can’t win because of one simple indisputable fact: You can’t kill an idea.
We aren’t going away you know.