Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Media gag on radical Muslims ‘futile as ban on Sinn Fein’

Twoleading Northern Ireland academics have criticised proposals to ban radical Muslim spokesmen from the airwaves.

The ban would be similar to that imposed on Sinn Fein during the 1990s.

Greg McLaughlin and Stephen Baker are lecturers in media and journalism at the University of Ulster at Coleraine.

They said censorship is an assault on democracy, not on terrorism

The media experts said: “It reminds us of the broadcast ban that affected coverage of the Northern Ireland conflict from 1988 to 1994; and of the corresponding Section 31 ban in the Republic of Ireland.

“But censorship of this kind doesn’t work. In fact, it is an assault not on terrorism but on democracy.

“The broadcast ban in Northern Ireland shifted the onus of censorship from the state onto the broadcasters, making it so troublesome to include interviews with proscribed individuals that it was easier to exclude them altogether.

“There is some evidence to suggest that it had an immediate impact on coverage.

“A study in 1990 by the Glasgow Media Group showed that in the first year of the ban, appearances on TV by Sinn Féin politicians such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness decreased by 63% from the year before.

“Some readers may take this as evidence that censorship works but they might also want to ask whether it had any impact upon support for Sinn Féin during this period.

“There was certainly no corresponding drop in the party’s vote.”

The media specialists said any ban on speech had effects beyond the people it was targeting.

“But we should also look beyond the politics of a ban like this and consider its wider implications for democracy and free speech.

“Far from protecting democracy from terrorism and political extremism, censorship allows bad ideas and bad politics to go unchallenged and unexamined in public debate.

“It stymies the free circulation of information, news and opinion — the lifeblood of a healthy public sphere.

A plan by Home Secretary Theresa May to revive a so-called ‘snooper’s charter’ allowing the authorities greater access to electronic communications has also been slammed by civil liberties groups.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said: “We urge the Home Secretary to ignore those who so shamelessly play politics with murder and fear.

“The terrorists can't shut down our open society. Why would we do it for them?” she said.

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