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The BBC's 'Irish troubles'

Television, conflict and Northern Ireland

By Robert Savage

The BBC's 'Irish troubles'

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Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-1688-8
  • Pages: 296
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £17.99
  • Published Date: March 2017
  • BIC Category: Film and Media, PERFORMING ARTS / Television / History & Criticism, The arts / Television

Description

This book explores how news and information about the conflict in Northern Ireland was disseminated through the most accessible, powerful and popular form of media: television. It focuses on the BBC and considers how its broadcasts complicated the 'Troubles' by challenging decisions, policies and tactics developed by governments trying to defeat a stubborn insurgency that threatened national security.

The book uses highly original sources to consider how the BBC upset the efforts of a number of governments to control the narrative of a conflict that claimed over 3,500 lives and caused deep emotional scarring to thousands of people. Using recently released archival material from the BBC and a variety of government archives, the book addresses the contentious relationship between broadcasting officials, politicians, the army, police and civil service from the outbreak of violence throughout the 1980s.

Reviews

The BBC's 'Irish Troubles' is bull to the gunwales with gold-plated archival material, mostly unpublished until now. Robert J Savage has teased out and combined a number of narratives and timelines in a way that effortlessly clarifies some of the most complex events, as well as the twists and turns of public policy in relation to the BBC, during what was probably the most tumultuous period in the organisation's history., Prof John Horgan, Irish Times, 11 July 2015

'The story Savage narrates in this book is a fasci­nating one, and with great relevance for the broader political and cultural his­tory of contemporary Britain and Ireland.'
Aidan J. Beatty, New Hibernia Review

'Overall, Savage provides us with an absorbing account of the challenges which the BBC,
as a public service broadcaster, had to navigate in the midst of three decades of seemingly
intractable conflict, which, at times, felt like a civil war to those who lived in the worst-affected
areas. It is unlikely, given the specificity of the subject matter, to alter our understanding about
the fundamentals of the conflict in terms of its causes, course, and consequences. But the book
allows us to view aspects of the conflict through a new and highly distinctive lens. The result is
a fascinating tale, well told.'
Shaun McDaid, University of Huddersfield

'Robert Savage has written a richly detailed history of the BBC's 'Irish Troubles', a story of how a sometimes calculated self-censorship functioned before the British government made it official in 1988.'
Niall Meehan, Head of the Journalism and Media Faculty in Griffith College Dublin, History Ireland November-December 2015 Vol 23, No 6

'(The BBC's Irish Troubles is) absorbing history, a great deal is new and the book's major virtue is in bringing it all together to paint a complete picture of the problems faced by the BBC in trying to fulfill its brief to be a window on the world for its audience.'
Roy Greenslade, The Guardian

'Robert Savage's penetrating and exhaustively researched study of the tense relationship between the BBC, locally and nationally, and the civil and military authorities in Northern Ireland between .draws on a rich variety of sources: on BBC records; national archives; published memoirs and interviews with some of the main protagonists. He writes perceptively, too, of the difficulties faced by news media in establishing and commenting on the truth in a divided society riven by conflict.'
Maurice Hayes, Belfast Telegraph

'Robert Savage's meticulously researched book shows that during the late 1970s and early 1980s senior BBC executives in both London and Belfast were fighting a running battle with successive British governments - Labour and Conservative - to maintain the corporation's independence in the face of perilous assaults from a range of establishment figures led by Conservative and Unionist MPs. . Savage's thesis in this excellent book is that throughout the 1970s and 1980s the BBC's reporters, editors and senior managers worked to provide intelligent and timely news and current affairs programming about the Northern Ireland crisis.'

Andy Pollack, Dublin Review of Books

'What does emerge very clearly from Savage's history is that the people responsible for directing Britain's counter-insurgency had a direct channel of influence that could be used to apply pressure on the BBC which simply wasn't available to the nationalist population in Northern Ireland (or to the unionist population for that matter, but they could at least be satisfied that the two main goals of British security policy - to defeat the IRA and preserve the Union - were in line with their own wishes).'
Daniel Finn, London Review of Books

'Savage provides us with an absorbing account of the challenges which the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, had to navigate in the midst of three decades of seemingly intractable conflict. . the book allows us to view aspects of the conflict through a new and highly distinctive lens. The result is a fascinating tale, well told.'
Shaun McDaid, Irish Studies Review

'(The BBC's Irish Troubles) is full to the gunwales with gold-plated archival material, mostly unpublished until now. The author has also teased out and combined a number of narratives and timelines in a way that effortlessly clarifies some of the most complex events, and the twists and turns of public policy in relation to the BBC, during what was probably the most tumultuous period in that organization's history.'
John Horgan, Irish Times

'As Savage shows in this provocative book, censorship had a long history at BBC Northern Ireland, ranging from attempts at government coercion to the outright formal censorship imposed by Thatcher, as well as subtler forms of self-censorship. The story Savage narrates in this book is a fasci­nating one, and with great relevance for the broader political and cultural his­tory of contemporary Britain and Ireland.'
Aidan Beatty, New Hibernia Review

'Robert Savage has written a richly detailed history of the BBC's Irish Troubles. (His) indispensible book explains how internal and external filters often failed to prevent uncomfortable facts from appearing on television screens.'
Niall Meehan, History Ireland

'Rob Savage's study of the battle to control the hearts and minds of the public during the Troubles is groundbreaking, underscoring throughout how contention between British ministers, civil servants, broadcasting authorities and journalists, as well as the military and police over approaches to media coverage was in many ways itself part of the conflict. Savage has produced a book that is relevant beyond the history of the Troubles. It is a work of value in understanding the thin line between a broadcaster in a democracy operating as a mouthpiece for the government and an honest disseminator of information in the public interest.'
Francis Costello, Irish News

'This illuminating survey shows that BBC Northern Ireland largely ignored the ills besetting the North in the years before the outbreak of violence. Its programme-makers largely avoided issues such as discrimination and partition, until it proved impossible to do so. Politicians wanted to keep the cameras well away from the deprivation and overcrowding in the cities; they did not want investigations into, or discussion of, discrimination. As this admirable new book demonstrates, broadcasters and the government of the day often have different concerns and interests, especially in times of conflict, or when the ruling politicians are ideologically averse to publicly-funded enterprises.'
Peter Hegarty, The Irish Catholic

'There may well be a number of studies on how television (TV) and the media has represented the Northern Ireland 'Troubles', but Robert J Savage's recent volume on relations between the BBC and successive British governments from 1969 to 1988 is by far the best account of how broadcasting was caught in this conflict between defending its public service remit of independence while wrestling with expectations of social order and condemning terrorism. Savage's account quarries official papers, minutes of BBC management meetings, internal communications within the British government and attempted coercion by governments to try and deter programme-makers from projects which departed from an emphasis on the illegitimacy of violence and so the illegitimacy of those who enacted that violence.'
Graham Spencer, University of Portsmouth, Critical Studies in Television, Journal of Television Studies

'This book is a welcome addition to the literature dealing with the turbulent history of Northern Ireland. For more than 20 years, Robert Savage has been immersed in issues surrounding public service television broadcasting in the Republic of Ireland. His publications Irish Television: The Political and Social Origins (1996) and A Loss of Innocence? Television and Irish Society 1960-1972 (2010) are now fundamental reading for any student of Irish broadcasting history. A hallmark of the author's work is his extensive use of written archives. Now with a focus north of the border, his latest contribution The BBC's Irish Troubles: Television, Conflict and Northern Ireland, follows a similar pattern.'
Gareth Ivory, Irish Political Studies Journal

Author

Robert J. Savage is Professor of the Practice of History at Boston College

Contents

Introduction
1. The origins of the BBC in Northern Ireland
2. 'The Troubles' arrive
3. Balance? The BBC in Northern Ireland 1972-78
4. Roy Mason, the BBC and the second battle of Culloden
5. Margaret Thatcher and 'the oxygen of publicity'
Index

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