It was low-key – something over one hundred people, representing a generation span spread over about 60 years, and it took place in a relatively small venue which serves as a home for about a dozen university students. But it was high-end in every other way you looked at it – theme, quality of presentation, depth and vigour and a panel of speakers to die for.
It was the biennial Cleraun Media Conference , held in Cleraun University Centre in Dublin, Ireland. Its theme was professional integrity and ethics in the context of conflict resolution journalism – which must look a little like an oxymoron to many who associate journalism with the promotion of what it thrives on, conflict generation rather than conflict resolution. But resolving that paradox was what the conference was all about and what it did in a very deep and penetrating way - both in the presentations from journalists and film makers from the very top of the media pyramid, and in the questions and discussion from Ireland’s top media practitioners and students from its third-level media schools.
Over three days, from the opening on Friday to its conclusion on Sunday, participants heard from documentary producers, directors, editors and presenters of the calibre of Peter Taylor of BBC’s Panorama, Stefan Ronovicz (editor of the 2010 BAFTA winner, Terror in Mumbai), and the veteran and universally admired flim-maker, George Carey. The audience was riveted listening to Paul Conroy, Sunday Times photographer who is still recovering from the injuries he received in Syria in the targeted military attack which took the lives of his colleagues Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik earlier this year.
From the home front there were film makers Alan Gilsenan , Steve Desmond, and Trevor Birney, Barbara O’Shea and Anne Cadwallader, and the icing on that particular cake, Kevin Bakhurst, the new MD of News and Current Affairs in RTE, post Mission to Prey scandal. Hugh Lenihan, Dearbhail McDonald, Paddy Murray, and Blair Jenkins OBE – formerly of BBC Scotland and STV – participated in a panel which dissected the proceedings, so far, of the Leveson Inquiry in Britain. This was moderated by the Irish Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, Emily O’Reilly, a former political correspondent with The Irish Press and columnist with The Sunday Times.
At the end of the conference Blair Jenkins was presented with the Cleraun Award for Outstanding Contribution to Journalism, a contribution which had it most recent manifestation in the publication of his recent report for the Carnegie UK Trust, Better Journalism in the Digital Age, on journalism ethics and regulation.
But if that line-up was impressive the outcomes were no less so and the impact of the three days’ proceeding was well reflected in the constant tweeting from the conference by the media students attending, picking up and recirculating the insights and observations which were coming hot and heavy from the speakers in their presentations and in their follow-up Q and A sessions.
No summary can really do justice to what went on at this conference and the best place to get a taste of it all will be to go to the Dublin Institute of Technology’s Journalism School soundcloud and (later) YouTube webcast of the proceedings which should be posted over the next few days, and in due course on the conference’s own webpage.
But if one line of thought could summarise the outcome, it was the clear conviction presented by all the speakers and taken away by all the participants that, when it comes down to it, integrity comes from the inner life of the human subject, not from rules and regulations – necessary though they may be. There was a good deal of talk about the soulless DNA of certain publications needing to be replicated in the DNA of people who wanted to be successful journalists within those organisations. But it was clear that if the DNA of those human beings lacked the chromosomes of common decency and human courtesy then it was bye-bye to any hope for integrity and ethics in conflict-resolution journalism or any other kind of journalism you care to mention.
Last, but not the least significant element in this entire venture was the heavy-hitter sponsorship which it attracted and which – presumably – made it possible: RTE, Ireland’s public broadcasting service, The Irish Times, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the Office of the Press Ombudsman, The Carnegie UK Trust, the Irish Farmers’ Journal, and the screen training division of FAS, the Irish National Training and Employment Authority.
Last words – Jenny McGovern’s tweet at the end of the conference: Jenny McGovern @Jenabelle4@Cleraun GREAT JOB!!!