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19 September 2019

Greenslade Highlights Power Of Local Journalism

Media commentator Roy Greenslade has highlighted the power of local journalism to make a real difference for communities, focussing on the Impartial Reporter’s six-month investigation into historic sex abuse in Northern Ireland.

Writing in The Guardian about his visit to the newspaper’s headquarters Mr Greenslade detailed the reporting by Rodney Edwards, the paper’s deputy editor, investigating more than 50 allegations of historic sexual abuse across Fermanagh.

He said the story championed “journalism’s central tenets: to expose crime, to inform and to hold power to account.”

The investigation began when a man walked into the office of the Impartial Reporter and told a reporter that he had been sexually assaulted by a group of men in public toilets and now wanted to speak out about the abuse.  

Greenslade said: “The reaction astonished the Impartial’s staff. The paper was deluged with phone calls, emails and letters in which people revealed that they, too, had been victims of abuse. The story snowballed.

“It was the start of what has become an Homeric undertaking by the deputy editor, Rodney Edwards, who has investigated more than 50 allegations of historic sexual abuse across the county. Over the past six months, many of the Impartial Reporter’s front pages have been devoted to disturbing exposures of long-held secrets.

All the cases are now the subject of an investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Greenslade adds: “But the PSNI has come in for considerable criticism since the paper began to publish its revelations. In July, people staged a protest outside the police station in Enniskillen calling for justice for sex abuse victims. A month later, at a large rally in the town centre, there was praise for the Impartial’s work, which was said to have underlined why local newspapers are essential to their community.

“During my visit last week to the Impartial’s office, Edwards, who was hailed by name at the rally, laid out scores of pages, containing thousands of words which he has written about the issue.

“It was, by any standard, impressive – serious, unsensational journalism about a sensitive subject. ‘There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to what we’ve reported,’ he said. ‘I think it proves that the only real resource a newspaper needs is the trust of its readers.’

“Edwards is aware that his disclosures have exposed inaction by the police, a failure to give proper weight to victims’ complaints, and he has also stepped on some political toes. It has generated a smattering of hostile social media criticism, which the PSNI took seriously enough to warn him to take care. He and his wife check under their cars each day.

“More worrying, he argues, has been police pressure to disclose his sources. In resisting the demands to reveal the identities of victims who wished to remain anonymous, he has been trenchantly supported by Simon Westrop, head of legal at the publishing company which owns the paper, Newsquest.

“In summing up what has happened over the past six months, I find it impossible to disagree with the Impartial’s editor, Mark Conway: ‘This story, and its subsequent developments, are a tribute to the power of local journalism.’

“Quite so. There cannot be a better reason to celebrate the existence of a newspaper than its championing of journalism’s central tenets: to expose crime, to inform and to hold power to account.”