#CinemaDay17 screenings of ‘At the Edge of the Union’ and ‘Death on the Rock’

Cinema Day runs every year on the August bank holiday Monday. FilmHubNI puts on a feast of free – or greatly reduced – events to tempt you in to celebrate the rich local heritage of film-making, venues and subjects. Cinema Day 2017 screenings are spread far beyond Belfast, so check the programme for something local to you.

Two controversial TV documentaries are being shown in the Black Box Green Room on Monday evening at 7.30pm.

Real Lives: At the Edge of the Union was a BBC documentary for the Real Lives strand that offered a window into the lives of two politicians: Martin McGuinness and Gregory Campbell.

Given Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s declaration only a month before that the IRA should be starved of the “oxygen of publicity”, Home Secretary Leon Brittan said that broadcasting the programme would be against the national interest and wrote to the BBC Chairman asking for the programme to be cancelled.

On top of attempted political censorship by the government, the BBC Governors called an emergency meeting, decided to view the programme and then ruled that it could not go out. The dominoes started to fall. BBC staff striked. The Assistant Director-General said the Governors were to the BBC what the iceberg was to the Titanic …and the programme was later broadcast.

A BBC history page reminds us that as a result of this chaos, Leon Brittan was demoted, and Alasdair Milne, the BBC Director General who had been on holiday at the time of the original fuss – was asked to step down 18 months later.

While the programme is often mentioned at events when speakers point to an example of propaganda/normalisation/equivalence/peace journalism/balanced reporting [choose your point on the spectrum], many of us have never had the chance to see it as it’s not often repeated.

Three years later and it was ITV’s turn to court controversy with their This Week programme Death on the Rock which investigated the shooting by British undercover soldiers of an IRA cell in Gibraltar. This time Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe pressurised the Independent Broadcasting Authority to cancel the transmission but the IBA resisted. A government-appointed inquiry followed. Months later the ‘broadcasting ban’ was announced that stopped representatives of organisations in Northern Ireland believed to support terrorism speaking directly on the airwaves.

Stephen Baker and Greg McLaughlin discuss both these programmes in a chapter of their fine book The Propaganda of Peace: The Role of Media and Culture in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

These two programmes are being screened tomorrow evening at 7.30pm in the Black Box as part of Cinema Day 2017. Tickets £3 on the door.


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  • Celtlaw

    Does anyone know whether these are available for streaming?

  • ted hagan

    Death on the Rock creates fascinating dilemmas amidst the current outbreak of extremist attacks across Europe. I wouldn’t like to be the judge over that one.

  • wild turkey

    hi, am writing @ approx 22:55 sunday aug 27.

    question, where does the local media, in particular BBCNI fit into reporting or not reporting news? there are numerous examples where sites and papers outside of NI report news of import and interest to this locale, but the BBC seems determined to let us know that 17,000 “Black Men” marched for their end of season rituals. for example the Guardian has a live article at the moment re: PSNI….


    on the BBCNI news. not a word. nada

    now why is that? sourcing? sensitivities? a neutral agenda.

    i cannot figure.

  • Update from venue – they couldn’t get rights to show Death on a Rock, butbgoingr ahead with screening of On the Edge of the Union and some other relevant shorts

  • Granni Trixie

    In either case one ought to be guided by the law which in my book means you do not shoot to kill when it is possible to apprehend and arrest.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But then you have the Westminster attack, Borough Market, Barcelona, Brussels, Paris, Munich … are you seriously suggesting it was wrong for police to shoot at the attackers with intent to take them out of action?

  • Granni Trixie

    Not at all, just be directed by the law and their own rulebook.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Fair enough – and I think we all have to be realistic and empathetic to the armed police / special forces people who have to make the split second judgments when dealing with a major terrorist attack. In the IRA attack on Gibraltar, the unknown was whether the IRA gang had detonators they could spring in a couple of seconds if challenged.

    I think people sometimes think the security services are somehow in more control in these situations than they are, and have a clear ‘arrest or shoot’ choice to make. No guideline can ever really do justice to the fine choices that have to made. Gratuitous shooting of someone obviously not posing any threat is obviously wrong. But known terrorists on a terror mission? I think security forces need to be erring on the side of caution, that is, they should be taking these people out if any doubt that the terrorist poses an immediate threat to human life. We’ve seen how many lives are lost when we don’t take the terrorists out in time, and how many lives can be saved, as in Borough Market and Gibraltar, by taking decisive action as early as possible.

    But in summary, yes I agree with you on following the rulebook on that.