Page 6, 26th January 1973

26th January 1973
Page 6
Page 6, 26th January 1973 — It was a tough year for communicators

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Locations: Dublin, London


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It was a tough year for communicators

IN Ireland. 102 wi I be iemem bered for Many things. For example. some will look back on it as the year in which the people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favour of going into the European Economic Community. and those who voted that way will see it as a good and worthy decision which is just now opening up exciting new prospects for the country.

They will see the decision as being the one which should end for all time the "us" and "them" relationship between our island home and the countries of Continental Europe.

Of course those who voted against will see it as the year in which Ireland placed itself in danger of losing its heritage. its independence, its character. even its identity.

Last year will be remernbered by some for the heat generated up and down the land over the proposed changes in the Constitution, specifically the one relating to Article 44a heat which was in some cases derided, some cases challenged, and in the majority of cases apparently jettioned when the people went to the polling booths and decided in favour of change anyway. But the opponents of change will be able to point to the fact that the turn-out for the referenda was disappointingly (for the Government) low.

Some of the young will remember the year as being one in which citizens of 18 were granted the vote.

And then there is the substantial number who will remember 1972 as the one in which the Minister for Justice. Des O'Malley, introduced new legislation to crack down on the I.R.A. in the Twenty-six Counties.

I was in the Dail on that night. I had driven from R.T.E.'s television studios at Montrose where I had been making a guest apearance on a pop show, and I knew nothing of what had taken place in the city until a chance remark by a T.D. arrived like a punch in the stomach.

"A bomb has gone off at Liberty Hall." he said.

The violence, the horror, the killing had came to Dublin. It was at once sickening and unbelievable. But it had to be believed because it was a fact, and people were looking suddenly grey and frightened. The reports and the rumours were flooding in. There was the smell of death and fear about, and the police were crowding the forecourt of Leinster House.

Once the announcement was made in the Dail chamber. everything changed. The public gallery was full, the press gallery packed right along its entire length. The correspondents and reporters were out in force.

Some of the accounts of that night which later appeared in British publications were fancifully slanted to say the least. and it is that very observation which prompts me to give one more reason why many people will remember 1972 — for the way in which it was covered by the communications media.

There is a very real sense of frustration among those who are convinced that the true picture of what has been happening here during the violent year that has just ended, has rarely crossed over the water. Certainly the Sunday Times was, on occasions, magnificent.

But time and time again during the year one talked to journalists, civil servants. housewives, writers who were angered beyond measure by what they maintained was the continued biased British treatment of stories out of the North — stories which painted the minority as totally black in action and intent, and all others as glowing gold. Where human lives are being lost, where men and women and children are being killed by bullc,s, explosives, flying shards of glass, thundering vehicles speeding in confined areas, there is bound to be an emotional involvement. It• is extremely difficult to maintain objectivity. But there have been occasions when it has seemed to people here that objectivity was off-loaded as a conscious act.

We have all heard accusations, going back to the previous year, of stories being "spiked" or relegated to tuckedaway spots on inside pages. We have heard of the unrest in the London based . broadcasting media, of the journalists who objected to the treatment sometimes given to Northern Ireland stories.

We have heard people from Britain voicing their lack of comprehension of the situation here. and when they were given unvarnished facts, heard the same people saying things to the effect that "we were never told about that in the papers. or on the telly."

Hear those sentiments a few times, and you begin to understand the frustration—and now, too, the hopelesseness—felt by those whose insides are half eaten out of them when they ponder the prospects of the ordinary British man or woman in the street ever understanding what is going on in the North.

It has been a tough year for communicators. So many things have been said, denied, distorted, challenged, derided. reinforced, that the layer upon layer of reporting laminations have left a substantial number of reporters groggy and confused.

Reporting a war situation is never easy. It frays the nerves, exhausts the resources of energy. Reporting the Northern Ireland situation has been according to some veterans of campaigns in other countries, even more difficult.

They cite the viciousness of reprisals, the unexpectedness of attacks, the ever-present danger of car bombs. The cowardliness which has evidenced itself in some of the slayings and attacks on women has sickened observers on all sides: Everywhere there is suspicion : hatreds abound.

The conditions. then, for those whose job it is to communicate news and comment have been bordering on the impossible.

On October I. 1971, Mr. Gerard Collins, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, gave a direction to R.T.E. under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, and it required R.T.E. "to refrain from broadcasting any matter that could be calculated to promote the aims and activities of any organisation which engages in, promotes, encourages or advocates the attaining of any particular objective by violent means."

Towards the end of last year. the R.T.E. Authority was sacked and was replaced by a new Authority nominated by the Minister. It all happened in a cyclone of publicity during which an R.T.E. reporter (Kevin O'Kelly) was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for contempt of court, Sean MacStiofain went on hunger strike, and the newspapers were full of speculation.

Some broadcasters felt that they were all the time balancing on a tightrope, or teetering on a precarious knife-edge. Again, hardly the ideal conditions for the exacting job of communications.

But now we are into the new year, and as with every January, this one brings with it its ration of hope—hope that the violence will ease and end; that sanity will begin to creep back; that an accurate account of what is happening will be able to be assembled; and most of all, that that accuracy will be presented and passed on to everybody, so that all the world may see and assess for itself on the basis of objective reporting.

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