Blow against censorship in Ireland

Issue 

Blow against censorship in Ireland

By Catherine Brown

A landmark decision by the Irish High Court on July 31 ruled against some of the censorship practised by the state-owned radio and television station, Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE).

RTE in 1990 placed an interview ban on Larry O'Toole, the elected representative of striking Dublin bakery workers, on the basis of his membership of Sinn Fein. It claimed this was required under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act.

Since 1971, when Section 31 was first enforced, it has been used to prevent television or radio comments by a number of listed organisations that the government claims promote violence.

In 1982 a further government directive more explicitly targeted Sinn Fein. Following its growing international coverage during the H-block hunger strike and electoral successes in northern Ireland, Sinn Fein was banned from having any access to party political broadcasts at election time.

The High Court stated the ban against O'Toole was "null and void". Justice Rory O'Hanalon said that RTE misconstrued the law, adding that it would be difficult to justify a blanket ban on the views of a member of any group on any topic, given in a personal capacity.

Sinn Fein welcomed the decision "as a victory for free speech". Michael Nolan, a spokesperson for Sinn Fein, told Green Left Weekly "the decision starts to break down the censorship of Sinn Fein".

A number of radio stations have interviewed O'Toole since the decision. RTE, Nolan said, has

still refused to, stubbornly declaring that "existing editorial practice" will prevail pending a detailed study of the decision. Nolan was not surprised by RTE's reaction: "it's state-owned, and the government clearly doesn't want Sinn Fein to have any access to the media".

Nolan explained that the decision doesn't allow Sinn Fein to be interviewed about its policies, but constituency work during local elections should provide an opportunity for some access to the media.

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