Letter: Wrong time to lift broadcasting ban

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The Independent Online
Sir: Tony Hall ('A gag that chokes freedom', 12 September) assists neither the reputation of the BBC nor the peace process by his one-eyed attack on the Northern Ireland Notice.

I remember well my indignation at the freedom that media interviews offered terrorist spokesmen to justify their atrocities before the ban was introduced in 1988. I watched many such interviews and never once saw effective interrogation.

Not only did the spokesmen seem more adept than the interviewers but also there existed the chilling thought that an interviewer who succeeded in severely embarrassing such a spokesman might face fatal reprisals. In short, interviews seemed to do the terrorists little harm while tending to damage the morale of the law-abiding majority.

Accordingly, at the time it seemed justifiable for the British government to join the Irish government in denying terrorists the 'oxygen of publicity'. The use by the broadcasting media of subtitles and voice-overs to circumvent the ban was in no way 'compelled'.

They chose to do it for their own reasons and, in my opinion, were wrong to do so. The ban will no doubt be withdrawn in due course, but it should be obvious that immediate withdrawal will not assist the fragile peace process currently under way.

The ban was part of the political furniture when the IRA ceasefire was declared, and its withdrawal in the near future is likely to be portrayed as a 'victory' for the republicans and a 'defeat' for the unionists. The Government must succeed in maintaining the confidence of Unionists if peace is to become permanent.

The removal of the Northern Ireland Notice should take place when it is least likely to cause controversy, probably at the same time that the all-party talks can begin.

Yours faithfully,

STEPHEN MULLINER

Haslemere, Surrey

12 September

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