Copyright 1994 The Irish Times

The Irish Times

September 17, 1994, CITY EDITION;

Correction Appended


LENGTH: 661 words

HEADLINE: Dubbing SF voices becomes the stuff of history

BYLINE: By MICHAEL FOLEY, Media Correspondent


THE British broadcasting ban would have been six years old next month had it not been lifted yesterday. On October 19th, 1988, the then British home secretary, Mr Douglas Hurd, issued a notice under broadcasting legislation restricting interviews with 11 Irish organisations. Since the UDA was proscribed in 1992, Sinn Fein became the only legal organisation covered by the ban

The aim, the then prime minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, announced, was to "deny terrorists the oxygen of publicity".

As far as the British government was concerned it worked. The magazine, Index on Censorship, published research by Dr David Miller of Glasgow University which showed that, in the year following the imposition of the ban, the number of interviews with Sinn Fein members on British television fell by 63 per cent.

The British ban prevented the words of terrorists or known sympathisers being broadcast. Initially sub titles were used but, more recently, broadcasters favoured using actors' voices synchronised with the interviewee's lips.

The ban differed from the operation of the Irish broadcasting ban under Section 31. Members of Sinn Fein and other organisations could be heard speaking on personal matters. The British baas also lifted during elections.

The ban included within its remit those who might give verbal support to banned organisations but were not actual members.

When the president of Sinn Fein, Mr Gerry Adams, was interviewed on Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme, his voice was heard as he recounted how his house was attacked bud the second half of the interview was dubbed, when he answered political questions.

British broadcasters opposed the ban from the beginning, though opposition at senior levels within broadcasting organisations was often considered by journalists to be rather half hearted.

These organisations, especially the BBC, felt they were under attack from the government and the Conservative Party during the late 1980s, and the broadcasting ban itself was a symptom of the suspicion with which the Thatcher governments viewed broadcasters.

The director general of the BBC, Mr John Birt, was among those who voiced his opposition to the ban. It made Sinn Fein members sound like social workers, he said in a newspaper article. Journalists could ask them about the housing conditions in their areas, the state of unemployment, but no the "armed struggle".

In May of this year a challenge to the ban brought by the National Union of Journalists to the European Commission of Human Rights was ruled to be inadmissible for a full hearing by the European Court of Human Rights. The refusal was believed to be based on the precedent set in 1991, when the Commission refused to admit the NUJ's and SIPTU's challenge to Section 31.

The British ban came under increased scrutiny during the visit to the US of Mr Adams earlier this year. Interviews with Mr Adams were then heard on American television and Irish television, but an interview he gave to CNN was voiced over even though it was available all over Europe, Ireland, North Africa and even as far as the Middle East.

In November last year Mr Major ordered a review of the ban because members of his own party were complaining that interviews were stretching the guidelines "to the limit and beyond", as he told the House of Commons.

There was widespread feeling that Mr Major actually favoured a total ban.

With the peace process gaining momentum, British broadcast journalists were turning more and more to Northern Ireland for major news stories and feeling increasingly frustrated at not being able to directly interview Sinn Fein members especially Mr Adams, when covering the Hume/Adams talks.

When Mr Major announced his intention to review the ban, the BBC's foreign editor, Mr John Simpson, predicted that any strengthening of the ban would render reporting developments in Northern Ireland "virtually impossible".


CORRECTION: A report headed "Dubbing SF voices becomes the stuff of history" in last Saturday's editions said that since the UDA had been proscribed in 1992, Sinn Fein had become the only legal organisation covered by the ban. A spokesman for Republican Sinn Fein points out that RSF were also covered by the ban.

LOAD-DATE: September 22, 1994