Raytheon coverage – draconian gag or just routine?

The Independent today prominently trailed and published a piece by Mark Steel celebrating the acquittal of Eamon McCann and other members of the “Raytheon 9” in Derry last month. The paper had withheld publication of the same article in May, while the trial was in progress. But Steel himself went ahead anyway and ran it on his own website and Slugger picked it up. After the trial, the press was pilloried for a craven response , hardly surprisingly with a protagonist as able as defendant McCann. In this piece, David Morrison states that the presiding judge, the Derry recorder, Corinne Philpott, banned publicity about the case, but in such general terms that journalists present didn’t know what they were allowed to report and what was banned. There was no reporting of the application for a change of venue. On 10 December 2007, Judge Philpott imposed a blanket ban on reporting in Northern Ireland of any matter relating to the trial, including anything at all relating to Raytheon. There was no attempt by mainstream media organisations in Northern Ireland or elsewhere to have this extraordinary gagging order lifted or modified…” .

However, a legal challenge to the order was launched by Shane O’Curry of the Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign. As a result, the Belfast recorder, Judge Burgess, modified the order in late February 2008 to limit the ban to the usual one on pre-trial reporting of material directly relevant to the trial. It could then be reported for the first time that the Derry recorder had acceded to the prosecution’s request to move the trial from Derry to Belfast.

I confess I’m among those who barely noticed the “gagging ” issue in my London fastness, although of course aware of the sit-in and subsequent trial. The obvious point is that the court rulings seemed very precise and the risk of being in contempt of court was correspondingly greater than in the average case. But why such concern for secrecy in what was basically a hum-drum protest? Provincial lawyers over-impressed by the massed legal forces of the military-industrial complex? Or somewhere deep down, worries about putting off US industry investing in NI?
The Raytheon affair merits much discussion in legal and media circles.
Slugger has also noted that more than one response is possible to the Raytheon affair. It’ll be interesting to see who has the last word.