Northern Ireland news

Broadcasting ban lifted months after complaints dubbing of Gerry Adams' voice too realistic

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams speaking on BBC Radio Five Live to promote a book in September 1996

THE broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin was lifted months after a Northern Ireland Office (NIO) official complained that techniques used by broadcasters meant that Gerry Adams' voice sounded too realistic.

Declassified files from November 1993 show that an NIO official argued that nationalists felt the ban only contributed "to the martyrdom syndrome on which Sinn Féin and PIRA survive (not to say thrive) and prevent any real opportunity for Sinn Féin to be questioned particularly about issues which might embarrass them … Nationalists take the view that the ban reflects primarily a GB political imperative and a concession to Unionist complaints on security matters. I strongly share that view."

The official said the government should consider ending the ban, although not immediately.

In the same month, a Conservative MP claimed that, in an interview on the Shankill bombing, Gerry Adams "had stretched the broadcasting restrictions to the limit".

The broadcasting ban, introduced in 1988, meant that groups believed to support paramilitary violence were banned from directly broadcasting.

Covering 11 loyalist and republican groups, the ban meant that instead of hearing Gerry Adams' voice, television viewers and radio listeners would hear an actor's voice reading a transcript of the Sinn Féin leader's words.

By 1993, concerns were raised that broadcasters were using lip-synching techniques to give a very realistic impression of Mr Adams' voice.

According to the files, the NIO official said the ban had not damaged republicans at the ballot box and had been exploited by Sinn Féin for propaganda purposes.

He said the realistic dubbing of voices had made "a mockery of the restrictions".

He added that "so long as the broadcasters dubbed ineptly or the Irish accents were unconvincing, they acted within the terms of the restrictions, but now that their techniques (and actors) had improved, the restrictions were being flouted".

In a meeting with the head of the NIO, Sir John Chilcot, in December 1993, BBC governor Sir Ken Bloomfield said the ban meant that the broadcast media could not put Sinn Féin under proper scrutiny.

Sir Ken felt that the BBC could provide interviews of the required "toughness and persistence" with "such tough-nuts as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness".

The Irish government lifted the broadcasting ban in January 1994.

Home Secretary Douglas Hurd recommended in February 1994 that the ban be lifted. The restrictions finally ended in September 1994.


Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news