Listening to Italy
The Arrest Of Gerry Adams.
Would UK papers have reported in depth the arrest of an Italian, Spanish or French Gerry Adams? Italian papers (Corriere Della Sera, Il Fatto Quotidiano, La Repubblica) did. The first two papers used pieces written by their named London correspondents. One of the articles even appeared on the front page. These three dailies published 300 – 500 word articles explaining the background. Even many of the less heavy weight papers ran a syndicated piece. In comparison, international reportage in UK papers is often parochial and limited in extent. In fact, today’s UK papers have a strong focus on cheaper-to-produce cultural and lifestyle pieces.
Italian papers also rely less on shorthand descriptors for people. UK papers routinely categorise people by suggesting the way readers should be thinking about them. So, headlines that scream “PENSIONER DOES…etc” instantly give a picture of someone less capable, and perhaps a little pathetic. The Italian articles avoided using the UK journalists’ shorthand that neatly categorises “Mother of ten Jean McConville” – suggesting that she is a warm, kind, capable, much loved mother figure, whatever the truth of the meaning. This phrase was repeatedly and lazily used in UK papers, but was possibly a double edged and subtle anti-Adams jibe?
It is relevant to set the scene here. Corriere Della Sera and La Repubblica are two of several papers that receive what is now a decreasing state subsidy, but one that also includes some tax advantages. Neither are owned by Berlusconi and both are serious national Italian daily papers with wide circulations.
Il Fatto Quotidiano (The Daily Fact) was established in 2009 and operates without this subsidy. It is noticeably less fat and has no beautifully illustrated articles on health, travel, culture etc. Marco Travaglio, a co-founder supports, or is supported by, Beppe Grillo and his Movimento Cinque Stelle (5 Star Movement). Perry Anderson, of the New Left Review, was reported in Travaglio’s Wikipedia entry as saying he is “arguably Europe’s greatest journalist”. In 2009 The German Association of Journalists awarded him their annual Freedom of The Press Award for “…exposing continually the attempts of Italian politicians, especially Silvio Berlusconi, to influence the media to their advantage”. Two other interesting sources of news are L’Unita originally set up by Gramsci and Il Manifesto which is an independent left-wing paper.
To return to Adams, headlines are important in the setting of the scene. La Repubblica had a short factual article on 30 March followed by a 650 word one on 1 May. Their usual format includes a sub-heading and this gave an apparent Adams quotation that, “ somebody in the police wants to threaten the Good Friday agreement”. Followed by “False” from (Peter) Robinson and (David) Cameron, and a later mention of the Boston Tapes. The article was unattributed.
Corriere Della Sera‘s Fabio Cavalera started by making the point that Adams had given himself up for interrogation. Then, that “the woman” (Jean McConville) had helped an English soldier, followed by the suggestion that current internal IRA vendettas could have been responsible for the present situation.
Il Fatto Quotidiano called McConville “a presumed informer to the police” and then continued to say that the following article would deal with the controversy of the timings behind the arrest.
A complex subject indeed but all three articles went into detail.
Corriere Della Sera mentioned the wishes of the family to find the truth and also that there were possible double dealings within the IRA. They talked about Adams part in the peace process where he had worked with Tony Blair. He was also said to have received 26.9% of the vote at the last Stormont election in 2011; percentages are highly significant in the complex Italian electoral system. It also mentioned that Martin McGuinness had been invited to meet the Queen at Windsor. Presumably a seal of state approval.
La Repubblica noted that “Sinn Féin” (note the correct spelling) had argued that this was a political arrest. The article said that it is seen “as an attempt to discredit Adams and the Irish Nationalist Party on the eve of the local and national elections”. They then went on to mention the Boston tapes and Ivor Bell.
Il Fatto Quitidiano’s Daniele Guida Gessa mentioned that Gerry Adams is, “one of the most famous Northern Irelanders in the world, a parliamentarian and leader of Sinn Féin, the party born as the political arm of the Ira, (Italians only capitalise the first letter of such initials) the movement for the liberation of this area of the United Kingdom on Irish soil”. Gessa also mentions the proximity of the elections, the need for son Michael McConville to find the truth and, later the history of the Boston tapes.
On 2 May ll Manifesto published an article about Adams written by Leonardo Clausi. He is an Italian living in London who occasionally writes for the Guardian and has also translated Eric Hobsbawm.
He wrote about the arrest coming at a dangerous time for the stability of Northern Ireland. He noted poetically that the “embers of the Troubles” are “ smouldering under the ashes of the Good Friday agreement”. He said that Adams is “defending himself from the accusation of being the person behind the punitive murder of Jean McConville”. He goes on to describe her as a Protestant convert to Catholicism who lived in “Belfast West”, a predominantly Catholic area. She was punished for being a police informer while her children maintained that she was simply helping an “English soldier”. He continued to say that one of McConville’s daughters, Helen McKendry, will shortly name names, claiming not to be frightened of “possible reprisals from today’s dissident factions, the ‘Real Ira’ and ‘Continuity Ira’ who refute the peace process”.
Clausi mentioned the Boston tapes and said the Northern Irish Police recently requisitioned them, noting the earlier promise to interviewees of non-disclosure until the deaths of “interested parties”. At the end he said that Martin McGuinness attributes the action to “obscure forces” in the “Police Service of Northern Ireland”, who could derail the peace process and the forthcoming local and Euro elections in “Ireland”.
The complicated meanings of the terms: UK, GB, Ireland and England are often not fully understood by foreign journalists (or natives) and it is easy to laugh at their misuse. However the Italian press should be praised for its depth of interest in UK and Irish political matters. It is an inspiring contrast to the limited coverage and insularity of the, can one say, English press.