Irish Republican News · October 31, 2008
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: The first casualty
The first casualty
censorship.jpg

By Mary Nelis

It is twenty years to the day, since the British Government imposed the media ban as part of another review of security in the North of Ireland.

The effects of the ban are still evident in the death of investigative journalism and real freedom of speech. Truth has been well and truly sacrificed on the altar of self censorship and the mediocrity that passes for news these days.

ting Ban, which applied to all interviews with the IRA, INLA, Sinn Féin, the UVF, UFF and the UDA and their supporters, was severely criticised at the time as amounting to censorship on the lines of the apartheid South African Government and Section 31 of the Dublin Government. It didn’t however stop editors applying the ban as they ran for cover in front of the Hurd statement in the British House of Commons on the 19th October, 1988, the day that free speech died.

The most disturbing aspect of the ban was the suspicion that it would lead to increased self censorship, something that has been borne out since. It also provided cover to those who would use the phrase ‘fellow traveller’ to silence any critical questioning around Britain’s role in Ireland, North and South.

As well as silencing the democratically elected politicians of Ireland oldest political party, Sinn Féin from effectively representing their constituents, the Thatcher security review also abolished the’ right to silence’ of suspects in interrogation centres.

Liz Curtis, author of Ireland, the Propaganda War’ told a meeting in London called to protest the Broadcasting ban that the British Government’s position could be summarised as ‘ You will speak when we want you to speak, and you can speak to incriminate yourself, but you can’t speak to put your case.’.

The Thatcher Government’s move was roundly condemned by some sections of the international media who stated that it had little to do with improving security and seeking political and judicial resolutions to the conflict. The New Zealand Herald in an editorial headlined’ Selective Gag on Messengers’, commented that ‘The ban in covering not only proscribed groups but legal organisations, including a political party that holds seats on local Councils and one in Westminster, demonstrates the insidious and unacceptable nature of media censorship’.

Meanwhile Thatcher was in Poland proclaiming ‘There should be a real dialogue with all sections of society’.

She forgot that all sections of society in both the North and South of Ireland included a substantial number who not only supported and voted Sinn Féin but also supported the IRA.

The day after Douglas Hurd made his Commons announcement of the ban, journalist David Pallister writing in the Guardian, said, ‘The election of Bobby Sands to Westminster came as a shock to most of the British media.

This newspaper then remarked that his death bed victory, had thrown years of myths out of the window and the biggest myth is that in its violent phase, the IRA represents only a tiny minority of the population.’

Most of us will remember the mantra from pulpits and papers, ‘It’s only a handful of violence men etc;

The ban was welcomed by many of the political parties and by large sections of the electronic media.

The Alliance Party asked why Sinn Féin was not also banned from the printed media. Indeed if that reactionary party had looked at the history of the repressive Six County State since its formation in 1920, they would have read among the provisions of the Special Powers Act, legislation for the prohibition of’ publication or distribution of any newspaper, periodical, circular, or printed matter’ that was thought to be ‘prejudicial to the peace and the maintenance of order in Northern Ireland’.

Under the Special Powers Act, censorship then extended to any publication that mentioned Sinn Féin and these included religious publications like the Capuchin Annual and local newspapers. The Derry Journal was banned for a brief period in the 1940’s.

The SDLP reaction to the ban was that it was ‘counter productive’. For whom? Banning or censoring a party from live media was not in the eyes of the SDLP an admissible infringement of freedom of speech, or the right of the electorate to hear the facts, or an affront even to the concept of democracy.

The only concern of the SDLP, in the words of Seamus Mallon, was that the Broadcasting bans ‘would hand propaganda weapon the IRA’. This spurious statement was followed by the comments of the SDLP chief whip, Eddie Mc Grady, whose concern centred on the question of why Sinn Féin wasn’t also banned during elections.

The position of the Dublin Government was even more sinister since they had beaten the British to it some seventeen years previously. Some months prior to Hurds statement in the British House of Commons, the RTE authority in the South had sacked the journalists Jenny McKeever for allowing Martin McGuinness to say the words ‘It’s acceptable to us and seemingly acceptable to them.”

The context was an interview for Morning Ireland as Sinn Féin was trying to negotiate the funeral arrangements across the border of the IRA volunteers murdered in Gibraltar.

The Dublin Government did express’ grave concern’ on the restriction by the British, of the right to silence.

Both Fine Gael and the Workers Party supported the British move with the Workers Party like the SDLP, claiming ‘it would have been preferable if it had been imposed at a time and in a way that would have been less suitable for the propaganda purposes of the IRA.’

The effects of the ban were immediate if not confusing as broadcasters ran for cover in the face of Hurds statement. Indeed some hours before the censorship order was made, the BBC Radio West Midlands news programme, abruptly pulled the plug of Sinn Féin’s General Secretary Tom Hartley, who was waiting on a phone line to talk to the news editor, Tom Riley.

Commenting, Hartley said, ‘They told us to use the ballot box and now we have proved we represent a great number of people, they are afraid to talk to us’.

Another pre emptive strike was made by the English BRMB local radio that axed an interview with Bernadette McAliskey, who was not a member of any of the listed organisations.

Indeed the absurd nature of the ban which extended to prohibiting the broadcasting of statements by any person which supported or invited support for such organisations, was reflected in the BBC Kilroy chat show when every member of the audience, was asked if they supported or had voted for Sinn Féin.

No one was asked about support for Unionist paramilitaries, for it was clear at this stage that the real purpose of the Ban was to stymie the political progress of Sinn Féin.

In the British House of Commons, Hurd was asked by Unionist MP Harold Mc Cusker, if the intention of the ban amounted to’ squeezing Sinn Féin out of the political system’. Hurds response was that the question was ‘paraphrasing boldly.’ In other words, yes.

Many journalists fought back against the ban among them Nell McCafferty, Liz Curtis, Gearoid O Caireallain the editor of La the Irish language paper all of whom spoke at a major conference in Belfast, a few weeks after Hurd’s announcement.

Many paid a price in terms of their careers such was the paranoia among editors and media executives.

Indeed the ban proved that the first casualty of the war in Ireland was truth.

This newspaper then remarked that his death-bed victory, had thrown years of myths out of the window and the biggest myth is that in its violent phase, the IRA represents only a tiny minority of the population.’ Most of us will remember the mantra from pulpits and papers, ‘It’s only a handful of violence men etc;

The ban was welcomed by many of the political parties and by large sections of the electronic media.

The Alliance Party asked why Sinn Féin was not also banned from the printed media. Indeed if that reactionary party had looked at the history of the repressive Six County State since its formation in 1920, they would have read among the provisions of the Special Powers Act, legislation for the prohibition of’ publication or distribution of any newspaper, periodical, circular, or printed matter’ that was thought to be ‘prejudicial to the peace and the maintenance of order in Northern Ireland’.

Under the Special Powers Act, censorship then extended to any publication that mentioned Sinn Féin and these included religious publications like the Capuchin Annual and local newspapers. The Derry Journal was banned for a brief period in the 1940’s.

The SDLP reaction to the ban was that it was ‘counter productive’. For whom? Banning or censoring a party from live media was not in the eyes of the SDLP an admissible infringement of freedom of speech, or the right of the electorate to hear the facts, or an affront even to the concept of democracy. The only concern of the SDLP, in the words of Seamus Mallon, was that the Broadcasting bans ‘would hand propaganda weapon the IRA’. This spurious statement was followed by the comments of the SDLP chief whip, Eddie Mc Grady, whose concern centred on the question of why Sinn Féin wasn’t also banned during elections.

The position of the Dublin Government was even more sinister since they had beaten the British to it some seventeen years previously. Some months prior to Hurds statement in the British House of Commons, the RTE authority in the South had sacked the journalists Jenny McKeever for allowing Martin McGuinness to say the words ‘It’s acceptable to us and seemingly acceptable to them.” The context was an interview for Morning Ireland as Sinn Féin was trying to negotiate the funeral arrangements across the border of the IRA volunteers murdered in Gibraltar.

The Dublin Government did express’ grave concern’ on the restriction by the British, of the right to silence.

Both Fine Gael and the Workers Party supported the British move with the Workers Party like the SDLP, claiming ‘it would have been preferable if it had been imposed at a time and in a way that would have been less suitable for the propaganda purposes of the IRA.’

The effects of the ban were immediate if not confusing as broadcasters ran for cover in the face of Hurds statement.

© 2008 Irish Republican News