Sinn But Not Heard  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   April 1994

Sinn But Not Heard   

By Juliana Koranteng
Juliana Koranteng is a freelance writer based in London.      


Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams' 48 hours in New York was covered extensively in the United States, and his message was heard loud and clear. That didn't happen, however, in England and Scotland. There, Adams and others seen as threats to the Crown are treated much like the "ideal" child – they're seen but not heard.

Sinn Fein is one of 12 political groups whose leaders' voices are banned from British TV and radio whenever they're discussing the status of Northern Ireland. Because the ban does not include video – only voices – British television broadcasters can show AdaIs but must use subtitles or dub in his words with someone else's voice.

Many British journalists believe the ban is so ineffective it's comical. When Adams appeared on "Walden," a TV program renowned for its aggressive interviews, the actor dubbing his voice went so far as to clear his throat and cough whenever Adams did.

Because the ban does not cover comments that are not considered incendiary or threatening to the government, TV viewers have seen some surreal situations. A network might use subtitles or an actor's voice over footage of an IRA prisoner railing against the British occupation, then switch mid-sentence to the man's actual voice as he discusses prospects for peace.

David Gordon, chief executive of the ITN network, has argued that the ban has done nothing to stop terrorism, as the government had hoped. Instead, it has only "prevented television from doing its job of exposing the men behind the terrors." He and other network executives have called for an end to the ban.

The Irish government, meanwhile, which had enforced similar restrictions on its Radio Telefis Eireann and private broadcasters for more than 20 years, ended that ban in January. Residents of Northern Ireland can now hear Adams on some channels but not others.

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