Research Question: With the upcoming Scottish Referendum, how have two Northern Irish newspapers, The Irish News and The Belfast Telegraph, reported on the issue? Can this portrayal be linked to contemporary unionist and nationalist identity in Northern Ireland?
In Autumn 2014 the Scottish people will go to the polls to decide on Scotland’s future independence from Britain. This topic is one which may have direct repercussions on the mind-set and identity of those in Northern Ireland, and therefore the media’s coverage of the issue and the debate which surrounds it thus far is paramount. My research project is based on the Northern Irish Press’ coverage of the proposed upcoming Scottish National Referendum, focusing specifically on the contrasts in position and portrayal between two of the North’s leading newspapers, namely the Irish News and the Belfast Telegraph. I aim to compare the positions of the two selected newspapers using a selected representation of articles from each, and to investigate fully if the common conception that The Irish News leans more towards the Nationalist cause whilst the Belfast Telegraph has more unionist tendencies is still valid in contemporary society. My principle sources will be online newspaper databases and the Central Library newspaper collection, and my research method will be largely document based due to the nature of the project. It will involve collecting a representative number of newspaper articles and editorials, and using selected pieces in a qualitative manner in order to generate a balanced argument and an overview of each newspaper’s position. The sheer amount of information available on the Scottish referendum debate will mean that I will have to be selective with the articles I choose to examine. Furthermore finding specific articles which directly target the research question may be difficult. As I as the researcher will be choosing which articles I use over the course of the project, and therefore it may be appealing to only include those articles which match my preconceptions or hypothesis, for example only referencing articles published in each newspaper which take an particularly robust stance on the referendum whilst in reality the overall position of the newspaper may be much more balanced. I must therefore attempt to give a calculated overview of each paper’s stance whilst allowing for anomalies. As there is no direct research with participants, I do not expect any ethical issues to arise directly from my research. My project methods will be similar to the class piece some of the class completed for our first essay, by Lawler, called ‘The hidden privileges of identity: on being middle class’, which was also based on newspaper coverage. (Lawler 122- 42) In short, the Scottish national referendum follows the Scottish devolution of 1999 and the rise to power of the Scottish National Party in 2011. At the present time it is difficult to gauge if the Scottish people would support independence due to a lack of appropriate polls, and although the SNP has power in Scotland it does need a majority vote to implement independence. Most recently the Edinburgh Agreement, where the British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish leader Alex Salmond set out the terms of the independence referendum, paved the way for a proposed poll in 2014. When the Scottish National Party won the Scottish election in 2007 Brian Feeney, writing for the Irish News on May 7th, claims that the referendum will ask major questions about the identity of those in Scotland: “For many who will vote that way their vote will not necessarily be a vote for independence but will certainly be a vote to assert their Scottishness, and reject Britishness.” Feeney at this early stage had already began to gauge the reaction of those in Northern Ireland and whether or not there is a perceived threat to the British, unionist identity: “What is equally interesting is that no-one, but no-one, tries to include...
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