For 30 years we journalists thought we could in some way mediate the threats.
The NUJ is an international union. It has members from the full spectrum
of opinion in Northern Ireland. When threats were issued - and
we've had threats from all sides - we were able to tell the parties
that the society which needs to understand their views will not hear
those views if we are silenced.
Martin had been under threat before - from the "Joint Loyalist
Command", a body that included the Loyalist Volunteer Force and
particularly a gentleman called Billy Wright, who was later gunned down
in prison. Martin had to be moved for his own safety, to work for the
Sunday World first in Dublin and then in Cork.
Martin was courageous. Despite the threats, he continued to do the
stories that were the reasons they targeted him. He moved back to
Northern Ireland as soon as it seemed relatively safe to do so.
He tended to do stories on paramilitaries - of all kinds. He was
a major source for the TV documentary The Committee, which
alleged collusion between "Loyalist" paramilitaries and
the Royal Ulster Constabulary. When the programme makers were sued for
libel, Martin stood by his story, and refused to reveal his sources.
It is especially shocking that in the middle of a peace process
we have a journalist shot. We need to be very clear about marking
this - lest it be easier for paramilitaries to cross that line for
the second time.
The way a threat is usually issued in Northern Ireland is that a
newsroom is phoned and a recognised codeword is given. That's how we
have known the difference between serious threats and, say, random
abuse in a bar or shouted from a passing car. There was no such
threat or warning on this occasion.
A very serious risk is that journalists will feel threatened all
the time because of the lack of warning this time. Once again, the
political process is stalling and there is violence in the
streets. I come from North Belfast, where there are a lot of very
small communities intermingled and there's tension on the streets
It's easy for people in such situations to blame the media.
Journalists are human and do make mistakes. But if we live in
fear we may be tempted to self-censorship, and self-censorship is
the worst form of censorship.
When staff journalists feel frightened, they make themselves
unavailable. Often freelances are called on to step in.
Anyone offered work in Northern Ireland should not take it on unless:
- you have previous experience of working in conflict;
- the media organisation is providing backup; and
- you will not be asked to work alone - that's one of the most dangerous
things you can do in a conflict.
I have called for a security review of newsrooms and of journalists'
homes. That will not be enough. Journalists who live in Northern Ireland
are known to their neighbours - especially, but not only, those who front
to camera. It is, after all, a small and tangled place. Martin's home
in Lurgan was within hundreds of yards of a loyalist housing estate
with LVF/Billy Wright murals.
I very much appreciate London Freelance Branch sending a message of
condolence to Martin's wife and three daughters.
You should be reassured that the NUJ has a House Agreement at the
Sunday World. Management have indicated that they intend
to make payments to the family over and above the reasonable terms of
And you should be alerted that the rumour that Martin recognised his
killer - or muttered a name before he was shot - is false. Obviously
anyone believing that rumour could be a threat to his wife. She
believes that, as they were walking back from a regular Friday night
in the pub, he saw a car slow down and a window wind down. She reports
that he threw her into a hedge to protect her, and turned his back on the car.
He was shot in the back. He did not speak a word.
Members of the various governments have expressed their outrage.
Politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly have issued strong statements of condemnation and in favour of the right of the media to work free from intimidation. They include Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble. The UK's Northern Ireland Minister Dr John Reid vowed that the killers would be caught.
I am concerned, though, that the Sunday World released
Martin's computer to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. They had the best
of intentions to help catch Martin's killers. But disclosure of sources
is disclosure regardless of the circumstances.
I do congratulate everyone working on the Sunday World
for turning the entire paper around in 24 hours. The most appropriate
response to this outrage is for journalists to continue to do our job,
and get the news out impartially.
- Kevin also congratulated NUJ staff and officials for their
response - "when the union does swing into action, it does
well." He mentioned NUJ public relations officer Tim Gopsill;
Irish Organiser Seamus Dooley, who was in London and flew to
immediately to Belfast where he was of great assistance; Irish
Executive Committee Cathaoirleach Mary Maher
and office staff in Dublin.
General Secretary John Foster flew to attend the funeral on
Monday 30 September, as did NUJ President Rory Macleod.
Attendance at Martin's funeral was a credit to him and the regard he was
held in. Over 100 journalists attended, representing all Northern
Ireland newsrooms, and there were some 2000 people there altogether.