RTÉ prohibited by a government directive from broadcasting matters inimical to the national interest.
Reporting on the increasingly complex politics of Northern Ireland has created editorial dilemmas for RTÉ. On 1 October 1971, Taoiseach Jack Lynch issued the first directive under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960, which allowed the government to communicate a formal written directive to RTÉ to refrain from broadcasting "matters of any particular class".
The directive 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.
'Seven Days' presenter John O’Donoghue sets up the programme up by asking what does the directive mean for Irish broadcasting?
The RTÉ Authority's reply confirmed receipt of the direction and recognised its (the Authority) statutory obligation to present objectively and impartially news or features related to matters of public controversy. They believe that in the present difficult national situation, they would be failing in that duty if they ignored the existence of any significant development in the community legal or illegal.
Reporter Denis Mitchell talks to Senator John M Kelly Professor of Jurisprudence and Roman Law at University College Dublin about the legal implications of the directive. John Kelly says that in the 11 years of the Act’s operation, Section 31 has never yet been invoked.
Having examined the Dáil reports in the year in which the act was passed, John Kelly says that the Minister for Posts & Telegraphs at the time had assured the Dáil that Section 31 would only be employed in very exceptional circumstances. The circumstances refer to national security and public safety, anything that was "inimical to the national interest".
I hope it doesn't mean inimical to what the government would like.
As Section 31 has never been used before, he believes that the public and the journalistic profession would not tolerate it if Section 31 was abused. On paper, Section 31 gives the minister power to ban anything.
Section 18 of the act says that RTÉ must be impartial on matters of public controversy. However, John Kelly does not believe there is any necessary conflict between Section 31 and Section 18.
This episode of ‘Seven Days’ was broadcast on 5 October 1971. The presenters are John O'Donoghue and Denis Mitchell.
'7 Days', RTÉ's flagship current affairs programme, began broadcasting on 26 September 1966.