Copyright 1993 The Irish Times

The Irish Times

November 3, 1993, CITY EDITION


LENGTH: 702 words

HEADLINE: Major seeks review of ban on NI terror group interviews




THE British Prime Minister, Mr Major, yesterday ordered a review of the broadcasting ban on Northern Ireland terrorist organisations and their sympathisers because recent interviews have stretched the present guidelines "to the limit and perhaps beyond".

Mr Major has asked the National Heritage Secretary, Mr Peter Brooke to review the ban imposed in 1988, which prevents the words of terrorists or known sympathisers being broadcast on television or radio. Initially, subtitles Were used, but now broadcasters favour actors' voices synchronised with the person's lips. "It is a matter we should examine," he told the House of Commons.

The announcement followed protests in the Commons by Dame Gill Knight, the Conservative MP for Birmingham, that recent television interviews with Mr Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, caused "offence to a great number of people" and urged that the arrangement "dealing with self-confessed murderers and supporters of terrorists" to be revised.

Downing Street sources claimed that the original intention of the guidelines had "somehow been perverted" but refused to predict what the review might suggest. However, there is aide spread feeling that Mr Major would like to see a total ban, as in the Republic.

The decision was described as "outrageous" by broadcasters, who all denied that they had broken the guidelines.

A BBC spokeswoman, defending its recent reporting on Northern Ireland, said: "All the major news broadcasters interviewed Gerry Adams within the last week to cross-question him about the hypocrisy of the IRA bombing the Shankill Road at the very time he was talking about peace. We acted throughout in full accordance with those restrictions."

Mr Stuart Purvis, the editor-in-chief of ITN, said he hoped Mr Major did not intend to ban terrorists or their sympathisers from being interviewed on television. "If that happens, they will be creating a situation where the British public can read interviews with Mr Adams, can read articles written by him, but cannot see or hear him. It would be farcical," he argued. Mr John Simpson, the BBC's foreign editor, predicted that a strengthening of the ban would render reporting stories in Northern Ireland "virtually impossible".

The British ban was introduced by way of a Notice of the then Home Secretary, Mr Douglas Hurd. It differed in its application to the 21-year-old Irish ban, under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, in allowing Sinn Fein members, including the party president, Mr Gerry Adams, to be interviewed on personal matters, or voiced-over when speaking on party policy. The British ban is lifted during elections.

The ban's application led to songs being banned. It also extends to archive and historical material.

The ban affects those giving actual interviews who are directly representing banned organisations or voicing support, even if not members. It extends to those in crowds who might shout support for Sinn Fein or its policies.

Since the proscribing of the UDA a year ago, Sinn Fein is the only legal organisation covered by the ban.

The voices of Sinn Fein members can be heard when speaking in a personal capacity or acting as local authority members, or members of councils or committees.

After the last British election, Mr Adams was interviewed on the Radio Ulster Inside Politics programme. For the first part of the interview his voice was heard as he recounted how his house was attacked, but the second half had to be dubbed as he was speaking on political issues.

Research by Dr David Miller, of Glasgow University, in the latest Index on Censorship showed that, in the year following the ban, interviews with Sinn Fein members fell by 63 per cent.

The British ban is facing a number of legal challenges in Europe. And Mr Major's decision to review the ban comes just when Section 31 is expected to be either lifted or radically changed, following a Supreme Court ruling which judged RTE's interpretation of Section 31 too strict. RTE has since brought in guidelines which allow Sinn Fein members, with the exception of Mr Adams, to be interviewed, so long as they are not acting as spokespersons for the organisation.

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