Snow wants human rights for Christmas (and forever more)
Renowned journalist Jon Snow came to Belfast this week to speak on the importance of human rights – saying they should form the basis of a UK constitution and that better focus on the importance of rights could have curtailed the worst of the Troubles.
The veteran broadcaster, who is the face of Channel 4 News and frequently reported from Northern Ireland during the Troubles, spoke in Stormont’s Long Gallery to launch the NI Human Rights Commission’s annual report.
He also said that his work in the third sector prior to becoming a journalist provided crucial experience and new perspectives in what ultimately became his career – praising the dedication and work of community and voluntary organisations.
Mr Snow said that, in his view, recent decades’ increased focus on human rights has brought huge benefits for society but that we are still at an early stage in our relationship with these structures – and that more can be done and more positives secured.
He warned, however, that there is a significant lobby trying to roll back on the rights that have been put in place.
“At least the Human Rights Act in this country provides today what should be the basis of our written constitution.
“However, here in the UK there are forces that want to amend or even get rid of the Human Rights Act. They must be resisted.”
“There are politicians, generally on the right of the political spectrum, who genuinely believe that the European Convention on Human Rights has something to do with the EU. It’s part of the membership debate.”
One of his key themes was the miscommunication of what human rights actually entail – and that much opposition to them stems from a lack of understanding about what they comprise and what this does for local people.
Poor or inadequate reporting came in for criticism, with Mr Snow painting an almost quaint picture of the industry’s naivety, with respect to human rights, when he became a reporter.
“By the time I started in journalism in 1973 the words human and rights very rarely coincided in the same sentence. To a large extent it was and remains a question of learning on the job and I can assure you I’m still learning.
“Don’t believe that human rights are anywhere near the centre of journalism. Not only do we have to report, we have to interpret what we see.
“I came into journalism from the NGO sector and just think it’s wonderful, you are in good position because an NGO background is tremendous at informing you. Basically I think that once you have been at the sharp end of need you do look at the world in a different way and I think it qualified me to some extent to look at things from other perspectives.”
Mr Snow spoke with real feeling about his own experiences in and around Northern Ireland saying that, in rights terms, we had come a great distance and shown how enshrining a basic civil standard from which everyone receives a certain level of treatment had gone hand in hand with the progress made here when compared with the depths of the Troubles.
He also mentioned that he oftened wondered about how the history of NI in the past few decades would have been different if we had such a focus on rights in the 1960s and ‘70s and whether “all the things on the ground would have played out in a different way”.
Reporting of the Troubles during the 1970s – and he made no efforts to except himself from this criticism – had also made errors in the manner in which it reported on civil unrest.
“It was about denial of rights but it was reported as an issue of law and order. I genuinely believe that most of us reporters were oblivious to the human rights implications of what was happening on the ground.
“We considered it a tribal issue and dark things to do with religion, didn’t look at the under-riding human rights implications.”
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