“Those who write and speak of Gypsies and Travellers often do not know them, and therefore do not often present a complete or balanced picture,” wrote Dr Rachel Morris in a paper for the Traveller Law Research Unit (TLRU).
Dr Morris was referring to the press who, she suggested, “represent Travellers in a stereotypical and prejudicial fashion.” That was 11 years ago.
I’ve tried tracking down Dr Morris, a job made harder because the TLRU at Cardiff Law School was disbanded in 2002 and now just exists as an online information portal. Rumour has it that she is now overseas.
As a journalism student investigating some of the issues around Gypsy and Traveller sites, I’d be interested to know what Dr Morris thinks 11 years on.
The bedrock of ethical journalism
Balance, impartiality, objectivity and use of a varied range of sources are, we students have learned, the bedrock of ethical journalism, although one can debate until the cows come home the question of how 100 per cent impartial or objective a journalist can ever be.
As I work on my journalism project for my Masters degree at Bournemouth University, I’m forever questioning the balance of what I’m presenting. I think my chosen topic is complex and emotive and there are always two sides to the story. Are both sides of the argument being given an equal voice though? It’s no easy task. Campaigners for Gypsies and Travellers are obviously willing to talk but gypsies and travellers themselves are cooler customers. Is that because of years of negative press coverage, perhaps?
An axe to grind
Then there’s the other side – people who have an axe to grind about Gypsy and Traveller sites. Maybe they’ve had negative experiences themselves, particularly of illegal sites, or fear the potential impact that a proposed site could have on their house value and their local amenities and environment. If they’re willing to talk, it’s often on the condition that they’re not named.
That said, public feeling is vented freely online. One only has to look at comments posted in response to news stories about illegal sites where people feel safe in saying what they really think behind the relative anonymity of a username. The Gypsy and Traveller voice is conspicuously missing from those comment forums.
“A somewhat objective truth”
Dr Morris ended her paper with what seems an obvious point – that journalists “owe it to themselves and to their profession to try and set standards and seek a somewhat objective truth.”
That’s my goal for this project. Follow me over the next month or so and tell me whether you think I’ve achieved it. It would be good to know.
Copyright for photos on this page: Susan Craig-Greene