Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007
9 Pages, Grade: 1,7
Throughout the years of the Troubles Northern Ireland generated worldwide media attention. Unsurprisingly, the people of Northern Ireland were very news conscious. The local population wanted to watch, read and listen to the ways, in which their problems were being assessed by the representatives of the media, local as well as international (Bairner). According to Bairner, interest in media output was part of a wider desire to engage in debate about the political situation and people also turned to the media to hear about ways in which their day-to-day routine might be adversely affected by the Troubles. For example, they would listen to radio news reports about what was happening in their own or another part of the town (Bairner). But it is said, that during the Troubles the media didn´t simply act as objective communicators of information. As Bairner writes, many people have argued that journalists and broadcasters have been themselves political actors rather than observers. “On the one hand, there are those who suggest that sections of the media have served the interests of the British state by acting as channels for the dissemination of government propaganda” (Bairner). He also claims that this has not necessarily been the result of conscious decisions made by the media but of pressure, which has been put on the media to ensure their support for government policy. McCann also describes the lack between consumed reports and reality: “Most British people have a distorted view of what is happening in Northern Ireland. This is because they believe what they read. There have been honorable exceptions. But examination of reports reveals a clear pattern of distortion. The news has systematically been presented, consciously or not, so as to justify the assumptions and prejudices of British establishment and to serve the immediate political needs of British Governments” (McCann). According to this view, the media have been restricted by a number of factors, which include the economic context of media production, indirect censorship through intimidation and the threat of legal sanctions, direct censorship and self-censorship (Bairner).
One of these restrictions and perhaps the most important one was the broadcasting ban. This broadcasting ban, announced by Douglas Hurd on 19 October 1988, was a dramatic extension of direct censorship in Britain and Northern Ireland because it directly had an effect on what the public was able to listen to or view. Using powers of the BBC´s Licence and Agreement and the 1981 Broadcasting Act, television and radio organizations were forbidden from carrying interviews or direct statements from proscribed paramilitary groups in NI, from representatives of Sinn Féin, Republican Sinn Féin or the UDA and from those who “support or invite support for these organizations” (Moloney). Censorship had always existed in Britain and Northern Ireland before but was often self-imposed by journalists, companies and regulatory bodies who were aware of the limits to official tolerance. The broadcasting ban, being formalised in a ministerial edict was however different. Moloney formulates it in a provocative way: “It was redolent of the methods used in authoritarian antidemocratic states”.
Northern Ireland´s censorship reaches back to the 1922 Special Powers Act, which empowered the Unionist Minister of Home Affairs to ban newspapers, films and books, to intern without trial, ban political organisations, impose curfews and prohibit inquests (Moloney). It was used from time to time to silence republican, nationalist and left-wing criticism of the government but it was never used to interfere with radio coverage or television because there was no need, the broadcasters restricted themselves until 1951 (Moloney). Afterwards Northern Irelands problems began to be noticed with the start of the civil rights movement but the broadcasters aimed to “build a consensus under the Unionist hegemony” (Moloney) until 1968. With the onset of the Troubles in 1969 and the Provisional IRA's violent campaign against British and northern security censorship extended dramatically. In addition broadcasting companies introduced their own internal controls and rules largely to avoid government and public criticism. For instance, the BBC and the Independent Television Authority (ITA) introduced 'the reference-up system' on programmes dealing with NI. This meant that all programmes on Ireland were controlled by management or regulators and programme makers (Moloney).
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