Censorship in Thatcher’s Britain

savage-thatcher“The ease with which censorship became part of the political and broadcasting culture of the United Kingdom and Ireland is a lesson in the fragility of democracy,” writes Boston College Interim Director of Irish Studies Robert Savage in the Irish Times. Savage explores how the British government, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, attempted to control the narrative of the Northern Ireland “Troubles” through manipulation of the British and Irish media in the new book, Northern Ireland, the BBC, and Censorship in Thatcher’s Britain (Oxford University Press, 2022). Thatcher mistrusted the broadcast media, especially the BBC, believing it to be biased and hostile to her interests and policies, particularly in regard to Northern Ireland. The Thatcher government was determined to shape a narrative of the Troubles, presenting it as a fight between the democratic forces of law and order and ruthless terrorists hell-bent on carnage and chaos. Programming that questioned this paradigm by challenging the decisions, policies, and tactics of politicians, civil servants, and the army provoked outrage by the government over how the conflict was presented at home and abroad. In 1988, the Thatcher Government imposed formal censorship on the British broadcast media. The “broadcasting ban” lasted six years, successfully silencing the voices of Irish republicans while tarnishing the reputation of the United Kingdom as a leading global democracy, according to Savage. A professor of the practice in BC’s History Department, Savage also is the author of The BBC’s ‘Irish Troubles’: Television, Conflict and Northern Ireland and A Loss of Innocence?: Television and Irish Society, 1960-72, among other works.

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