the hallway of our home there is a framed poster -
Oppose Censorship. It is the first thing people see
when the door is opened - a greeting, urging them
to think and speak freely. It is also a memento from
the days when the censor spoke with a rich British
sometimes wonder if a particular Andersonstown
News editor and Sinn Fein member was close enough
to our front door to have viewed the poster the night
he took part in a mob picket on our home and screamed
at my pregnant wife. And if he did what were the thoughts
that traversed his mind. Once, when it was a community
rather than a business concern, the Andersonstown
News too set its face against the censors.
what provoked the ire of the censorious mob that evening
was my written criticism of a killing carried out
by the IRA. Seemingly, murder was wrong when the British
alone were the perpetrators. I was reminded of Voltaire
who sneered at the notion of murderous activity not
being murder if carried out to the sound of trumpets.
What, I mused, was one of the editors of the local
tabloid doing protesting outside my home against freedom
of expression on such an important issue?
such musing not rhetorical it could be regarded as
naïve. Regime change in this part of the world
has only heralded the type of transformation that
allows many things to remain the same. Todays
censors no longer have English accents but they still
do their work even if they sometimes issue their prohibiting
edicts in Irish. How insipid the taste of a new found
after that incident I became a banned person in the
Andersonstown News. My crime, according to the management,
was to have assisted a journalist acquire a copy of
the paper when, in its letters page, he was malignly
accused of being a gatherer of information for loyalist
terrorists. As if I should function as a filter to
catch editing incompetence before it enters the public
domain. The editor explained my ban - a solicitor
had advised him that I alone in West Belfast should
have no right to comment even in response to an attack
on me in its pages. What self-important sense of power
the ability to ban must have afforded him. Since then
my energy has been directed towards The Blanket,
my ability to speak enhanced rather than diminished
in spite of the banning.
Blanket is a small non profitable online journal
which has tried to breathe life into republican discourse.
It promotes a culture of intellectual pluralism and
dissent. Recently, the Andersonstown News demanded
that the manager of an internet site, Newshound,
remove two links to articles featuring on The Blanket,
otherwise face possible libel proceedings. Legally
the Andersonstown News had no grounds for doing
this. Newshound had repeated no libel. It had
merely linked to articles questioning the quality
of the news service provided by the paper. But West
Belfasts regime of truth had been challenged
- and such a challenge was considered intolerable.
obstacle facing independent writers in West Belfast
is the suffocating one party state culture that has
enveloped the constituency. As was evident from its
earlier disastrous attempt to curb the satirist Newton
Emerson, the Andersonstown News plays a Pravda
type role in both reinforcing and policing that culture.
Authoritarian centralism is the dominant political
value being protected not democratic openness and
accountability. Is this what a community went to war
for - a choice between censors?
is not in the nationalist community alone that censorship
prevails. The Sunday World, journalistic home
to the late Martin OHagan - murdered by the
LVF for his commitment to the pen - has been under
threat from the drugadiers of the Ulster Drugs Association
(UDA). Calls for Protestant clergymen to withdraw
from the Loyalist Commission which deals directly
with the UDA in protest have went unheeded. Jim McDowell,
the papers editor, is not getting the support
he so desperately requires from Tony OReillys
management team. Why is the latter seemingly intent
on holding back Sunday World exposure of the crass
hypocrisy of a Commission that remains mute when the
very safety and livelihood of Sunday World
staff are endangered? What dire consequences portend
for a porous and vibrant media?
does not merely attack freedom of speech. It undermines
freedom to hear. Where it is not imposed on Northern
Irish society it is generated from within by way of
conditioned response to that disciplinary power which
the peace process has established, panoptically in
our midst, monitoring our every utterance so that
it may pounce and ominously demand of us - are
you opposed to the peace process?
result is that we as a community under watch have
resorted not to resistance but to watching ourselves.
McIntyre is a former IRA prisoner.
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