19 October 1988
Today 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, its prime goal was to silence Sinn Fein, the largest political party campaigning against continued British rule in Northern Ireland.1 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. However, by the following year there was a total of only 34 similar appearances. The restrictions remained in effect until September 1994.2
British journalists working overseas were often reminded of these restrictions on Sinn Fein, when occasionally they found restraints 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.’3
- 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
- John Eric, Thomas Eldridge, Greg Philo (Editors), Glasgow Media Group Reader Volume 2: Industry, economy, war and politics, Routledge, London and New York, 1995, p. 56.
- John Simpson cited 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
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