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20 July 2000 Edition

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BBC chief's Police Authority appointment slammed

Blatant conflict of interest



BY PEADAR WHELAN AND LAURA FRIEL

Fabian Monds, head of the BBC in the Six Counties, has agreed to take a seat on the `Police Authority of Northern Ireland'. The appointment, announced at the end of last month, will incense nationalists already angry at the BBC's ``Orange-friendly'' coverage of the Twelfth, even in the face of widespread violence arising out of this year's Drumcree crisis.

Nationalists, outraged at being held to ransom by Orange roadblocks while the RUC stood by and let gangs of loyalists intimidate motorists, were further incensed by media coverage of the blockades, which failed to expose RUC complicity.

To add insult to injury, after ten days of Orange violence and intimidation, the BBC broadcast over an hour's coverage of Orange Order parades. According to reports we have received, the BBC was flooded with calls from irate nationalists who were outraged at the station's blanket coverage of the Twelfth.

Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Browne told An Phoblacht that he would be raising the matter with BBC chiefs. ``As a result of a fortnight of Orange Order orchestrated protests, Catholics have been shot at, their homes, schools and churches have been attacked, cars have been hijacked, towns and cities have been brought to a stand still,'' he said. ``Was there any reason for BBC bosses to assume that people affected by this violence had any interest in watching Orangemen enjoying themselves?''

Criticism of the BBC's coverage of the Twelfth is only the latest in a number of controversial decisions by the British broadcasting authority. Earlier this year, the BBC in the North of Ireland was specifically criticised by the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Abid Hussain. The UN rapporteur told the BBC to review its guidelines, ``taking into account the changing political situation in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement''.

The appointment of Fabian Monds to the Police Authority, a man whose judgement as Governor of the BBC has already attracted serious criticism at home and abroad, casts further doubts on the ability of the Police Authority to carry out its role in monitoring the RUC.

Writing in the Corporation's annual review, Monds, who has been the Governor of the BBC in the Six Counties since 1999, said his ``over-riding impression of the BBC in Northern Ireland is one of innovation, creativity, professionalism and hard work''. Clearly, his comments do not square with the facts.

Media commentators to whom An Phoblacht have spoken to say the appointment is, ``at the very least a conflict of interests''. Manipulation by RUC spin doctors, particularly affecting the coverage of disputed incidents such as shoot to kill and collusion, has been a major factor in media representation of the conflict in the North for over 30 years.

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice has criticised the BBC and its coverage of the conflict over the past 30 years. He says its attitude to the relatives of people killed by the crown forces has been ``disgraceful''.

Thompson points out that in post conflict South Africa, a commission was set up to look at the role of the media during the conflict and he suggested that a similar commission be set up to look at the media's role in the Six Counties.

In all that time, the BBC has reflected rather than challenged the unionist agenda of the RUC and other state agencies.

Commenting recently on the BBC's performance in the Six Counties, Dr David Miller of the Stirling Media Research Institute highlighted the broadcaster's pro British agenda and unionist ethos, even within the context of the current peace process.

While on the one hand, said Miller, ``the BBC has been over reliant on government statistics and briefings during the peace process'', on the other hand, ``there has been a tendency to treat Orange parades as matters of either cultural expression or as the focus of disputes... the view of Orangeism as fundamentally sectarian is extremely rarely reported and explained''.

What kind of message does the appointment of the BBC governor to the Police Authority send to nationalists and republicans in the Six Counties? It certainly does not signal any change.

An Phoblacht was unable to get a comment from the BBC on the appointment as we went to print.
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