Conor Cruise O'Brien discusses Section 31 of the broadcasting act and the promotion of achieving political objectives by violent means.
Prior to this interview, Conor Cruise O’Brien had given his first major speech in the Dáil as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. He announced a new RTÉ Authority, but did not rescind the directive under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act.
A directive under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960 prohibits RTÉ from broadcasting anything that could be interpreted as supporting the aims or activities of organisations which "engage in, promote, encourage or advocate the attaining of any political objective by violent means".
Cruise O’Brien himself had been critical of the Section 31 directive while on the opposition benches. Why was does it now remain in place? He explains his party’s stance,
We recognised that there was a legitimate subject for concern in the question of how RTÉ with its state monopoly of the airwaves, handles this question of a threat to the security of the state and the lives of the citizens and the claim of people to wage war in the name of this state in Northern Ireland or in Britain. We recognise that as a very real problem, remain so. Our main objection to the directive was that the former minister had failed, in our view, to provide any clarification of his own, or to indicate whether the interpretation placed on this, by RTÉ, was correct. He left them to guess, and then when they guessed wrong, as it were, he removed them.
Conor Cruise O’Brien says his own personal view differs from this, as he thinks that suspected members of the IRA should be allowed to be interviewed on the national airwaves, to expose their argument,
I don’t think the intellectual strength of their position is such that it could stand up to much of such attack. Their weapons are quite other, and wielded in other places.
This is not the view of many of his government colleagues who would argue that,
When you put these people on the air, you are giving them a thrust, giving them a mileage from the mere fact that they appear there, and however their arguments are built. But the mere fact of their appearance, with the kind of glamour that tends to surround it, is a promotion.
As Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Cruise O’Brien does have trust in RTÉ and its broadcasters, but feels that at present Section 31 is open to interpretation, which is not satisfactory. His view is that change is needed,
I want to encourage them to carry responsibility, but they themselves will want to know, what are these responsibilities we’re asked to carry...that’s the weakness in the existing act...the other cards are face up, Section 31 is face down, and the minister can say at any time what’s in it. I want to end that.
A current affairs programme, ‘Seven Days’ ran from 1966 to 1985. Presenters and reporters were Brian Farrell, John O’Donoghue, Stephen Fay, Patrick Gallagher, Brian Cleeve, David Thornley, Ted Nealon, Bill O’Herlihy, Rodney Rice, Sean Duignan, Maurice O’Doherty, Andy O’Mahony, Nodlaig McCarthy [name check], John Feeney, Denis Mitchell, Andrew Sheppard, Michael Ryan, Forbes McFall, Nicholas Coffey, Jack White and Kevin O’Connell.
This episode of ‘Seven Days’ was broadcast on 11 May 1973. The presenter is Brian Farrell.