Letter: Adams on TV: international application of a British ban

Sir: The decision of CNN International to adhere to the British broadcasting ban raises a very important point of democratic principle in an international context ('Adams serves soundbites from Big Apple', 2 February).

CNN was not the only satellite TV station to blank out the words of Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, during his recent New York visit. NBC Super Channel censored its Today Show coverage of the visit in a very clumsy manner. After dubbing Adams's words without explanation, NBC Super Channel then broadcast a blank screen and station logo for a noticable few seconds on 2 February, while US viewers were watching a segment of the Larry King interview. ITN also got in on the act in its extended news bulletins for NBC Super Channel by adhering to the British ban.

CNN and NBC Super Channel satellite signals are aimed at other countries which also had to suffer the silence imposed by the British government. In the case of CNN, all subscribers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa were denied the uncensored Larry King interview with Adams. As a citizen of the Irish Republic, I resent being censored by laws from another jurisdiction in relation to information broadcast by an international news service. Domestic censorship is one thing, a foreign government generating an imperialism of the airwaves is quite another.

I am fairly sure that European law does not allow Britain to interfere with a signal emanating from a satellite owned outside Britain. The CNN and NBC Super Channel signals are from the Astra satellite, which comes under Luxembourg law. CNN has stated that it is regulated in Britain 'by the same laws as British broadcasters'. If this requirement is a condition of diffusion to British subscribers it would seem in violation of established European law. If the British regulations are legal it means that any country in Europe, the Middle East or Africa can impose an international censorship through domestic law.

The damaging action taken by CNN and NBC Super Channel (and ITN) should be clarified by NBC and CNN as soon as possible. CNN prides itself on being editorially independent of any state. Surely CNN and NBC are not now going to kowtow to British government censorship?

Yours etc,


School of Communications

Dublin City University