OPINION: The Big Question - Did the news blackout contribute to the peace talks breakthrough?

In the latest round of talks on Northern Ireland, politicians and their advisers were not surrounded by the media circus present at Stormont before the Good Friday agreement

In the latest round of talks on Northern Ireland, politicians and

their advisers were not surrounded by the media circus present at

Stormont before the Good Friday agreement





BARRY TURLEY SDLP



’Without a shadow of a doubt the news blackout contributed. Often, the

first hour of any discussion can be made up of going over what was said

the previous day by each of the parties in the press, and this is

time-consuming and can be counter-productive. In such a delicate

situation of trust-building, a few stray words in a newspaper can cause

immense difficulties.We really started to feel like we were getting

somewhere in the US Ambassador’s residence in London. Trust was built

because we were away from the press. Some parties like to court the

media, so when they don’t have this opportunity, they can focus instead

on the talks.’





STEPHEN GRIMASON BBC NORTHERN IRELAND



’To call it a news blackout is probably a little naive. Most of the key

components of the proposals did leak out, and almost two weeks ago the

BBC gave details about the introduction of an IRA statement to the

negotiations.



What Senator Mitchell was successful in doing was stopping a spin battle

of the sort which bedevilled the Good Friday talks. He was

successful.



Put baldly, he stopped the blame game and made the job of getting the

two sides to trust each other much easier. It is a simple fact however,

that such delicate negotiations are unlikely to succeed if they are

conducted in public, whether they are in Northern Ireland, South Africa,

or the Middle East.’





RICHARD GORDON



STORMONT STRATEGY



’Without question the news blackout was a key factor, because all those

involved observed it. The blackout ensured a media vacuum - the bane of

journalists, but a refuge for the politicians. The two other factors

were, of course, location and commitment. The US Ambassador’s residence

had the advantage over Castle Buildings, Stormont, in that the

politicians could not plead another meeting to slip off to (passing

journalists on the way). And the commitment? A mutual understanding, at

last, that the rest of the world would not understand failure.’





JOHN MAHONY



EDELMAN PR WORLDWIDE



’The recent news blackout was certainly not unprecedented. The Middle

East and other troubled talks have used similar devices to allow

breathing space for differences of opinion to be resolved. With the

talks at risk of being derailed, the business of politics was given a

chance to flourish.



So one can only commend the media, who are often accused of being

irresponsible, for their sensitive response to this endeavour. Without

this support, the progress which has been made in the last number of

weeks might not have been realised.’



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