Documents reveal BBC chaos…

MediaGuardian has published (at the bottom of this story) documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that reveal the “turmoil” inside the BBC in 1985 over a ‘Real Lives’ interview (later broadcast in edited form) with Martin McGuinness, which the Government believed sanitised IRA violence – and tried to stop. Political interference in the BBC’s an issue that is relevant today too…

  • Pete Baker

    According to the report in the Guardian, only minor changes were made to the programme before broadcast.

    Btw, Paul Hamann’s view of his documentary, and the ‘at home’ interview technique, in which he interviewed both Martin McGuinness and Gregory Campbell, is worth noting –

    “It was an unpleasant time, but it was an honourably made programme and the governors’ minutes bear that out,” said Hamann after seeing the documents for the first time last week.

    Although now a tried and tested format, an “at home” interview with extremists at the time was pioneering. “If there was any mistake, it was that this was years too early. If you look back now you would find the programme tame. I was surprised by the furore because I didn’t think I had been easy on McGuinness and allowed Campbell to attack him. It was a classic documentary – if you give them enough rope they will hang themselves, you just let them speak freely.

    “In a funny way they were both similar – church-going, teetotaller family men but they hated each other. I wanted to show what drove them. Half of the Nine O’clock News every night was about Northern Ireland but it struck me we didn’t understand what made them tick. They were ruthless bigots who hated the people on the other side of the road because of history and the programme exposed the futility of their positions in a way the normal questions and hours of reportage from Northern Ireland didn’t do.”

  • Betty Boo

    Is it possible to watch the program on the web? I tried the BBC and their archives go only as far back as 1997.
    I heard and read about it but I never got to see it.

  • SlugFest

    Betty Boo,

    don’t know about watching it on the web, but if you live in Belfast, just go the the Political Collection section of the Linenhall Library — i know they have a tape of it there.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    ‘They were ruthless #### who hated the people on the other side of the road because of history and the programme exposed the futility of their positions in a way the normal questions and hours of reportage from Northern Ireland didn’t do.”

    Funny my recollection of the programme is that it was Mc Guinness who came across very well amd the ‘hatred’ the film maker speaks of did not come across, not from him anyway.

    In a follow up discussion after the programme hosted by Ludovic Kennedy the programme was discussed by among others Willie Rushton. They remarked at how ordinary Mc Guinness came across (remarkable at the time) and that it was Campbell who came across as an extremist.

  • Betty Boo

    Slug Fest,

    thank you but hard luck there. I know someone in Belfast but I doubt I’m owed a present.
    I’ve heard/read the same that Campbell was raging with some sort of weapon.

    An archive of all these material from documentaries made and widely accessible seems a good idea.

  • SlugFest

    Betty Boo,

    … i know i for one owe a whole lotta presents in Belfast, so i’m certainly no help to you. (nor will i be going back anytime soon 🙂 )

    My take on the documentary is much the same as what you heard as well of what Pat McLarnon speaks of.

    McGuiness, to me, came off as calm and secure. I’m sure some people were taken aback by his resolve, and how he calmly spoke of his own actions as well as the republican movement, but those same folks may have just as taken aback by seeing, many for the first time, that the ‘face’ of the republican movement was a God-fearing, mild-mannered man.

    I found Campbell, on the other hand, eerily frightening and extreme. He spoke with anger — i remember his eyes looking rather ghoulish.

  • Pete Baker

    SlugFest et al

    Paul Hamann’s point was undoubtedly that, regardless of the manner in which they spoke, the detail of what they said revealed their true motivation –

    I was surprised by the furore because I didn’t think I had been easy on McGuinness and allowed Campbell to attack him. It was a classic documentary – if you give them enough rope they will hang themselves, you just let them speak freely.

  • SlugFest

    Pete,

    Yes, but ‘their true motivation’ was justified by many people in their respective communities. perception is reality. to a republican watching that doc, McGuiness came off with flying colors, though i doubt Campbell did as well with loyalists.

    Hamann’s comments are spot on ONLY if the viewer is being objective and listening hard enough to see past the rhetoric. But when was the last time you heard anyone speaking objectively about Northern Ireland?

  • Pete Baker

    I’d disagree, SlugFest, and not only because Hamann also said that he received favourable responses from both loyalist and republican sources on his documentary.

    Hamann’s comments are spot on because he’s interested in how the programme he made would be viewed by someone without an inherent bias.

    He’s probably astute enough to know that an inherent bias distorts the lens regardless of what is on view, or what is said.

  • Betty Boo

    With theories flying around these days anyway, what I came across was, that Sinn Fein at exactly this point made the most of the power of the media and the Campbell camp failing utterly to do so. Even the most objective commentator would produce under such circumstances a piece which might be more favourable towards one then it is to others.

    Now I really have to watch it. Come on guys, I have to try.

  • Cynic

    Over the years the republican ‘side’ have the advantage of being those seeking change. It’s difficult to appear positive when you simply want to maintain the status quo. (Unionists are often accused of simply saying ‘No!’ or ‘Never, Never, Never!’) They are more media savvy now, but only just!