Irish Republican News · September 10, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
The BBC and the myth of ‘Norn Iron’

(for the Andersonstown News)

The BBC refused to broadcast Amhran na bhFiann from Croke Park before the All-Ireland football semi-final match between Derry and Kerry.

When Jerome Quinn announced to his television audience that they were leaving the interesting studio discussion to go over to Croke Park, the National Anthem had already been played and the referee was about to throw the ball in to start the game.

Back in the bad old days, the BBC used to always suffer a mysterious breakdown in transmission before going over to Croke Park, and when normal service was resumed, lo and behold, Amhran na bhFiann was over and the match already underway.

Younger readers will think I’m only slagging here, but I swear to God, that’s what they used to do. Ask your da.

Not that the BBC used to go over to Croke Park all that often in the ‘60s and ‘70s, despite the fact that a team from the North won the Sam Maguire three times during those swinging years.

As I remember it, they would take the football final from RTE (minus the National Anthem), and perhaps the hurling final, but that was your lot.

Mind you, even in these enlightened times, they only ever show the big, inter-county matches that feature teams from the Six Counties.

They would never show, say, the Munster hurling final, or the Leinster football semi.

Or when did you ever see live coverage of local club matches?

Never mind live matches, when did you ever see decent coverage of the football or hurling club league or championship.

I have no doubt that a properly packaged and presented series along the lines of Match of the Day, showing the best of the club matches every week would attract a huge audience for the BBC here.

Not only do I believe this, but the BBC believe it as well.

Because TG4, the Irish language broadcaster, do show club football and hurling matches each week, and they report very satisfactory viewing figures.

So why do they not do it? To answer this question you have to look at the role of the BBC in this part of the country.

For a start, it is the British Broadcasting Corporation. Part of its job is to promote a corporate image of Britain, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the GAA sits most uncomfortably within that context.

Irish and Gaelic culture is surely in the mix somewhere, but it is seen as a minority interest, a tiny minority interest that, in their terms, is probably served well by having three or four football matches shown each year. In other words, the BBC is, essentially, anti-Irish.

The second difficulty the BBC here faces is that it adheres to a policy of promoting an image of a community - a nation, really - that simply doesn’t exist.

The BBC more or less takes the view that you have extreme republicanism on one side, extreme loyalism on the other, every shade of nationalism and unionism in between, with the Alliance Party in the centre - but at least we are all Northern Ireland folk. So they promote the image of Northern Ireland.

The myth of Northern Ireland, as if - no matter what our political differences may be - we all are united under the common name of Northern Irish!

Add to that the unremitting influence of unreconstructed Unionism - not too much Irish, as that gives offence to the Unionists - because the corporation is essentially still a Unionist institution, and the overall imperative to re-enforce the impression or imply that the 26 Counties of this country outside of the United Kingdom is in some way a foreign place - as well as the fact that BBC Northern Ireland remains, essentially, a training ground for young hopefuls intent upon a career - and you have some ideal of why the BBC project here is simply not working for nationalists.

Nationalists, by definition, do not recognise Northern Ireland as a legitimate state, or national identity.

I do not live in Northern Ireland, I am not Northern Irish. I live in Belfast, Ireland, and I am Irish.

The term, the concept, the idea, the image, the name Northern Ireland is part of the unionist project (although it is true that many unionists in 1922 objected to the term because it contained the word Ireland), and any institution that includes the term Northern Ireland in its name is already starting out from a biased, pro-unionist standpoint.

For example, why should the police be called the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Why not just the Police?

The fact of the matter is that times are changing in this part of the world, and the non-unionist perspective has got to be taken into consideration in cultural matters as well as political and economic, including names, flags, emblems, how we view each other, how we view ourselves, and how we are to be viewed from outside. Television has got a huge role to play in resolving these questions and the BBC, so far, has failed miserably.

By embedding itself in the Unionist camp the BBC simply cannot be non-partisan.

Every little scrap it provides towards the nationalist side will be seen as a sellout by the unionists, and because they are so firmly positioned on the British side, they can never satisfy the nationalist demand for and right to equality of treatment and parity of esteem.

I complained to the BBC about the axing of Amhran na bhFiann before the Derry - Kerry match and I received a polite letter back, apologising for the inconvenience, and explaining that they had mis-timed their schedules. Bollocks.

This is one of the biggest broadcasting corporations in the world.

They can pinpoint satellite broadcasts to coincide with major events all over the globe, and they expect me to believe that they couldn’t switch from Belfast to Dublin in time for the National Anthem. Double bollocks.

The answer to the BBC riddle can only be found in the corporation themselves recognising and accepting the realities of the area of Ireland into which they broadcast.

We don’t care how the English do in the Olympics. Most sports people here don’t give a hoot about the Norn Iron soccer team, except to wish them continued disgrace.

And I for one believe that, if the BBC is to continue broadcasting here at all, they have to come to grapple with the new realities and serve their audience on their audience’s terms.

And leave aside the myth of Norn Iron.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News