TV ban on Sinn Fein rejected

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IRELAND'S broadcasting network, RTE, was wrong to ban an interview with a trade union official because he was a member of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, the High Court in Dublin ruled yesterday.

The interview with Larry O'Toole, chairman of the strike committee during an industrial dispute at a Dublin bakery two years ago, was prohibited under the terms of a section of the Irish Broadcasting Act.

This prevents direct television or radio comments from members of a number of listed organisations, including the IRA, Sinn Fein and other Irish republican and loyalist groups associated with terrorist violence.

But Mr Justice Rory O'Hanlon said Sinn Fein was not a proscribed organisation. It would be difficult to justify a blanket ban on the views of a member of any group on any topic expressed in a personal capacity.

The interview ban had been based on a misconstruction of the law, and was null and void, the judge declared.

RTE said it would study the terms of the judgment before making any detailed comment, but, in the meantime, 'existing editorial practices' would remain in place.

A spokesman for the Dublin government's communications department refused to comment on the ruling.

Pat Doherty, vice president of Sinn Fein, said it was 'a victory for free speech' and called on RTE to end its 'self-censorship'.

The decision was also welcomed by the National Union of Journalists in Dublin, which has campaigned against the broadcast interview ban since its introduction 20 years ago in response to the IRA's campaign of violence.