Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

King Creativity at Southwestern

Afraid of the Truth? The Role of British Media in Northern Ireland: 1980 to the Present

by Jennifer McAndrew
Major: Irish studies

As an independent Irish Studies major, the curriculum for my undergraduate study has been multi-disciplinary.  When the time came to choose a topic for my capstone thesis, I knew I wanted to pursue a topic which would be creative, yet also reflect a disciplinary focus of political science.  My advisor, Dr. Florence Gould suggested I examine the role of British media during ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.  This topic suited my interests and provided me the opportunity to utilize my personal knowledge of contemporary political culture in Ireland.  I eventually narrowed this topic to focus on censorship and British media portrayals of Irish Republicanism since 1985.  

Republicans in Northern Ireland can traditionally be identified as those who advocate the use of physical force to achieve the political end of a united Ireland.  As the political voice of the Republican movement in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin has increasingly gained the electoral support of the Nationalist community.  Though Sinn Féin is a legal political party, government restrictions from 1988-1994 prohibited the broadcast of direct statements of representatives or supporters of Sinn Féin.  Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself stated that “To beat off your enemy in a war, you have to suspend some of your civil liberties for a time,” (1988).  In my capstone thesis I examine Britain’s censorship of Republican images and Sinn Féin, from 1988-1994.  Secondly, I consider the lifting of the British broadcasting ban in 1994, and the implications for the future of British broadcasting in Northern Ireland.  

As I began my research, I learned that all of the documentaries and media items I wished to view were unavailable in the United States.  Without viewing this media, I felt that my research would lack the depth of analysis to which I aspired.  I then discovered that the Linen Hall Library in Belfast, Northern Ireland housed a unique Northern Ireland Political Collection (NIPC) that held an extensive media library, which included copies of some of the most controversial documentaries and current affairs programs.  

Thanks to the King Creativity Grant, I had the opportunity to travel to Belfast to view these media items as well as utilize the Linen Hall Library’s extensive collection of primary source material.  One of the highlights of my research was a personal interview with a member of Sinn Féin’s executive council, Mr. Jim Gibney.  I feel very fortunate to have been supported by the funds of the King Creativity Grant, and to have had the extraordinary opportunity to travel to Northern Ireland and engage in a full range of intellectually challenging research for my capstone thesis.