On this day 30 years ago the British Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, issued a notice under clause 13 of the BBC Licence and Agreement to the BBC and under section 29) of the Broadcasting Act 1981 to the Independent Broadcasting Authority prohibiting the broadcast of direct statements by representatives or supporters of eleven Irish political and military organisations. The ban prevented the UK news media from broadcasting the voices, though not the words, of ten Irish republican and Ulster loyalist paramilitary groups, these included IRA, INLA, UVF and UDA as well as Sinn Féin.(bizarrely enough it did not include Ian Paisley’s DUP).
The Government’s notice on Northern Ireland broadcasting restrictions came into force on 19 October 1988 after an escalation in paramilitary violence over the preceding summer months.
Home Secretary Hurd, told the Commons that the ban was being instituted because ‘the terrorists themselves draw support and sustenance from access to radio and television .the time had come to deny this easy platform to those who used it to propagate terrorism. Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, said it would “deny terrorists the oxygen of publicity”.
The ban did not have the desired effect and any one with a common sense would have been able to guess that.
It did create a few ironies though.
The ban sparked the creativity of broadcast organisations and actors were hired to do voice overs. Actors became so skilled in lip-syncing sound clips for news bulletins that viewers barely noticed the dubbing.Some actors could earn up to £120 per session.
Stephen Rea, who was among the actors to voice Gerry Adams in interviews, later told the Irish Times he tried to speak the lines “as clearly and neutrally as possible, Stephen Rea’s wife though had been an IRA volunteer at the time.
The restrictions also applied to non news or current affair TV Shows.In December 1988 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tom King, ordered Channel 4 to cancel an episode of the US drama series Lou Grant that featured the story of a fictional IRA gunrunner, even though it had aired previously.
Restrictions were temporarily lifted during the 1992 general election, facilitating a political debate between the SDLP leader John Hume and the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams to be heard during the election campaign, but the ban resumed once the polls were closed.
The Republic of Ireland had its own similar legislation that banned anyone with links to paramilitary groups from the airwaves, but repealed this in January 1994. The British government followed suit on 16 September 1994, two weeks after the first IRA ceasefire had been declared.
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