Belfast Telegraph

Devastating death toll of terror atrocities is no laughing matter and should not be fodder for insensitive TV jokes

Editor's Viewpoint

October 23, 1993, on the Shankill Road in Belfast was a time and place when no one standing in Frizzell's fish shop expected to die or suffer life-changing injuries.

But horror literally walked through the door in the shape of two IRA bombers whose device exploded prematurely killing one of the terrorists and nine customers including two children. It was not the worst atrocity of the Troubles, but it was one which resonated with many in the province at a time when tit-for-tat killings were spreading fear and this would beget equally heinous loyalist retaliation.

But it was the sheer happenstance of the Shankill bombing which made it stick in the mind. The target was a shop on a Saturday - the IRA thought a UDA leadership meeting was being held upstairs in the building - and the victims were ordinary people who had called in for their weekly orders. The outrage of the bereaved and the survivors at an insensitive joke referencing the atrocity on a social media trailer for a US comedy show on Channel 4's on demand service All 4 is easy to understand.

The passage of time does not erase their pain, their sense of loss of a loved one or of a life changed irrevocably. And as one of those who has spoken out asks, how would American audiences feel at distasteful jokes about 9/11?

The scale of the two horrors cannot be compared but the anguish of every individual bereaved family is not compounded by the number of other victims. Channel 4 has apologised for the clip, but said it was shown out of context. It seems inexplicable that there is any context in which it could be excused. It was crass without any sense of humour, even of the gallows type which sometimes accompanies outrages.

Of course writers and artists must be given licence to speak freely and challenge accepted opinions, but there are boundaries which should be observed, even through self-censorship and which recognise that words can cause enormous hurt, even at a distance of time and space. The sitcom Black-ish failed to heed that lesson.

Belfast Telegraph


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