BBC calls for lifting of broadcasting ban

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THE BBC is to press the Home Office to lift the broadcasting restrictions on Irish groups after being advised by its lawyers that the ban extends far more widely than senior management had realised.

Michael Checkland, the Director-General, decided to press for the four-year-old ban to be lifted after a storm over a discussion programme shown on BBC 2 at the start of this month.

After taking legal advice, the BBC blanked out the voice of a former MP, Bernadette McAliskey, who was elected as Bernadette Devlin in 1969, and two other people, who do not belong to any of the political or paramilitary groups banned under the 1988 order by the Home Secretary.

They appeared subtitled, as the notice permits for the words of banned organisations, after BBC lawyers had advised that their words contravened the second part of the 1988 notice, which prohibits any words spoken which 'support or solicit or invite support for such an organisation'.

Mrs McAliskey said silencing her was 'defamatory, derisory and dangerous', and is taking legal advice after the BBC refused to withdraw her contribution to the recorded programme. Peter Bottomley, a former Northern Ireland minister, and a member of the Tory government when the ban was imposed, wrote to Mr Checkland demanding an apology for Mrs McAliskey, implying that the BBC's interpretation went beyond the intention of the order.

After more than a week of deliberating on a response, and consultation with a leading counsel, Mr Checkland replied yesterday that its legal advice was still that it had been right to subtitle most of Mrs McAliskey's remarks.

Mr Checkland's letter said: 'This particular programme has demonstrated yet again the difficulties of applying the notice in practice where often very fine judgements must be made.'