[ 19 October 2001 ]

On this day in 2001, during the American and British bombing of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Tony Blair became agitated over legal objections to some of the targeting on the basis that innocent civilians might be killed. Alastair Campbell, his Director of Communications, recalled in his diary that the Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Michael Boyce commented that Washington was frustrated by British objections to targeting on legal grounds. This seemed to annoy Blair who snapped, ‘that if there was any target that we believed should be hit and there were legal problems here, he wanted to know about it’ and he added ‘if I was Bush, I would be going spare about this.'(1)


On this day in 1988, Douglas Hurd, the Home Secretary, issued a banning order preventing Gerry Adams and other members of Sinn Fein from broadcasting their opinions on the airwaves. Although technically the ban included eleven loyalist and Republican organisations, it’s prime goal was to silence Sinn Fein, the largest political party campaigning against continued British rule in Northern Ireland.[2]

Media organisations tried to circumvent the restrictions by dubbing the voices of Sinn Fein members but research by the Glasgow Media Group showed that the censorship was successful in reducing media exposure for the Republican cause. In 1988 there were some 98 occasions when Sinn Fein members were seen or heard on television although only a fraction of these were formal interviews, but by the following year there was a total of only 34 similar appearances. The restrictions remained in effect until September 1994.[3]

British journalists working overseas were often reminded of these restrictions on Sinn Fein, when occasionally they found restrictions placed on their own reporting. The veteran BBC reporter John Simpson recalled

“When I worked in Baghdad, officials there always used to mention our Sinn Fein ban if you criticised their censorship. I don’t like to see this country appearing on the same side of the dividing line as Saddam Hussein on anything at all.'[4]


  1. Alastair Campbell and Bill Hagerty (2013), “The Alastair Campbell Diaries: Volume 4 The Burden of Power Countdown to Iraq,” Arrow Books, London, p58
  2. Francis Welch, “The ‘Broadcast Ban’ on Sinn Fein,” 5 April 2005,  BBC News Online accessed at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/4409447.stm
  3. John Eric, Thomas Eldridge, Greg Philo (Editors), (1995) “Glasgow Media Group Reader Volume 2: Industry, economy, war and politics,” Routledge, London and New York, p56.
  4. John Simpson quoted in Tomy Hall, “A gag that chokes freedom: Tony Hall calls for the lifting of the broadcasting ban which he claims the IRA has exploited to damage Britain’s reputation,” 12 September 1994, the Independent accessed online at https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/a-gag-that-chokes-freedom-tony-hall-calls-for-the-lifting-of-the-broadcasting-ban-which-he-claims-1448321.html


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *