#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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