Don't Mention the War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda and the Media
For over twenty five years, the media have portrayed the conflict in Northern Ireland as an irrational confrontation - a war that was not called a war. "Terrorism' caused 'the Troubles'; the British Army kept the peace. the conflict was effectively marginalised in the minds of the public at large.
In Don't Mention the War, David Miller chronicles the propaganda and (mis)information management which did so much to distort and impoverish media reporting of the conflcit. given unprecedented access to senior officials, as well as the key spokespersons for all major political groupings in Northern Ireland, miller paints a disturbing picture of the sucdess of the media managers in manipulating public perceptions of the issues, and breaks new ground in exploring the complex relationship between propaganda, public opinion and power.
List of Illustrations 7
List of Appendices 8
Chapter 1 Policing the Media: Intimidation, Secrecy and Censorship 24
Chapter 2 The Development of Propaganda Strategies 99
Chapter 3 Public Relations as a Propaganda Tactic 150
Chapter 4 From 'Terrorists' to 'Freedom Fighters': International
Coverage of Northern Ireland 225
Chapter 5 Misinformation and Public Belief: The Case of Gibraltar 280
Chapter 6 Conclusion: Winning the Information Battle 340
Extracts from reviews
David Miller's study is welcome... in that it represents the latest of only a few serious studies concerned with British media involvement in the reporting of the 'troubles'... The study's significance is not confined to its relative rarity and substantive area of concern, however. Miller's approach advances considerably - at both the theoretical and empirical levels our understanding of... mass communication... The book deserves to be widely read especially by those interested in the nature of state-media influence and interactions in the times of political crisis, as well as the role of the mass media in the propaganda war surrounding the 'troubles' (Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 12(4), December 1995: 485-486).
sticks to the facts as stubbornly as possible... the issue which will distinguish Don't Mention the War from the dross... is the systematic collation and deployment of hard fact... the depth and quality of research which Miller draws upon as background information lends great authority to his work. It is all the more impressive, then, to find that his original research is also first class... Lucid and clear - indeed, compelling at times - Don?t Mention the War will surely find its way on to reading lists wherever media studies and Northern Ireland is taught. It is an important and timely study... it deserves nothing less than wholehearted endorsement (Contemporary Record, 9(2) Autumn 1995: 474-476).
This is surely - and likely to remain for some time - the definitive study of ?public relations' and the Northern conflict. It is not only a disturbing systematic study of what the media reports and how, but also of the perceptions of media consumers... a professional and thorough job... it is superb. (Books Ireland, December 1994)
written in an accessible style and provides authoritative commentary based on numerous sources of information and detailed references... essential reading for anyone interested in the media's involvement in the propaganda war... Breaks new ground... in two important theoretical respects. (Irish Studies Review, No. 10, Spring, 1995).
The best analysis I have read of the politics of news production in this country. (Lobster, No.28, December 1994)
No assertion is made or fact given without it being backed up by statistics, quotations and referenced sources... This is a very interesting and informative book (Linenhall Review, Winter 1994: 29-30).
Miller skilfully catalogues the creeping intimidation and censorship of the mass media by the Thatcher administration in the 1980s... Don't Mention the War offers us a clear insight into the dynamics of the multi-sided battle for opinion over Northern Ireland (Bullan, Autumn, 1995).
an important gap-filling study (Parliamentary Affairs, 48(3) July 1995: 543)
The Guardian MEDIA GUARDIAN: 'HIDDEN CONFLICT ', Richard Norton-Taylor November 28, 1994 Pg. T17
Michael Fry, The Scotsman Weekend, 18 February 1995, p. 14.
David Miller's Don't Mention the War is a blast from the past. The conflict in Ulster, he says has been 'effectively marginalised in the minds of the public at large', whatever that is supposed to mean. The reason lies in the manipulation of the media by the Government, which prevents us all seeing that a war with an 'objective social basis' is going on. His grounds for this assertion are laboriously documented without, however, making the case that terrorism is something other than what it is.
Tom Mallon, Andersontown News, 5 November 1994, p. 30.
In a new publication on the Troubles, 'Don't mention the War: Northern Ireland Propaganda and the Media', Glaswegian author David Miller alleges that the British Government is engaged in semi-covert and illegal propaganda operations in the US, particularly in relation to the North.
The book reveals the existence of the propaganda unit, the London Radio Service (LRS), based at the Central Office of Information (COI) in London.
The service produces its own news reports mainly featuring government ministers and excluding opposition parties and other government critics. According to the COI sources, the Service is more sophisticated than previous Foreign Office-run propaganda efforts.
One LRS journalist is quoted, "you can't take the old approach by saying there's good guys and bad guys, and the bad guys have to be shown bayonetting babies. Now you have to be totally impartial, while still pushing the line." LRS bulletins are supplied free of charge and copyright restrictions to radio stations around the world.
Their most important target is the USA where a potential market of 10,000 radio stations is available. According to the COI, LRS bulletins are broadcast by the recipient station 'as if it were its own.'
In the US, the British Government has expended considerable effort in managing news coverage of the conflict in Northern Ireland. This is evident in recent attempts to counter the publicity generated by Gerry Adams on his recent US tour. Under US Foreign Agents Registration Act, all publicity and propaganda material emanating from a 'foreign principal' is required as such. Yet, as Miller reveals, the products of the London Radio Service are not identified as the product of the British Government, nor are copies lodged with the Department of Justice as required. This constitutes a criminal offence under US law.
Don't Mention the War also chronicles the continuing use of misinformation and deception by official sources in Northern Ireland. The British Government claims that disinformation is used only for 'absolutely honourable security reasons.' However, Miller demonstrates that disinformation has been used to protect security forces personnel from the due process of the law.
Sean McDougall (University of Birmingham) Contemporary Record, pp. 474-476. Review of Don't Mention the War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda and the Media by David Miller. London: Pluto
Just occasionally an academic produces a study which, drawing inspiration from Lesage rather than Tom Clancy, sticks to the facts as stubbornly as possible. David Miller's Don't Mention the War is a case in point.
There are, as with every study, a few problems with the text. The title, for instance, drawn from a Fawlty Towers transcript, shows the extent to which the serious study of impingements on civil liberties has become a parody of itself. It is not the sort of thing which such a talented and serious writer should do. Other'Fawlts' , reflect the need to keep one foot in the anti-establishment camp and the other in that of the academy. In his choice of nomenclature, for instance, Miller explicitly rejects such terms as'Northern Ireland' and the 'United Kingdom'- both of which appear in quotation marks within the text ' arguing that such terms are no more neutral than "Six Counties" or "North of Ireland". He adds: ' to use the term UK implies an acceptance of current constitutional arrangements, which are of course precisely what are under dispute.' Such sensitivity to terms which historians scatter around like seeds is welcome, but there is no building process to accompany his demolition act: instead, one set of partisan terms is replaced by another. Throughout the text, and not appearing in quotation marks, Miller uses terms such as'the six counties of Northern Ireland', 'North of Ireland' 'Republic of Ireland' ' odd, that last one, given that usage of the term 'implies an acceptance of current constitutional arrangements, which are of course precisely what are under dispute.'
This tendency to condemn but not consider can be seen in other ways too. Early in the book, Miller implies that the Murdoch empire owes much to the ineffectiveness of state legislation on press matters: later, the state is criticised for interfering too much with our TV. The state, of course, has always been a master of hypocrisy, but like all great acts it deserves a wider audience, and Miller might have made more of the performance. Similarly (and here is the only real criticism of the book) Miller spends a great deal of time showing how the Northern Ireland Office controls access to information, but never asks if this is because journalists have abused that information in the past. This, undoubtedly, is one of the reasons why television producers seldom get a second chance, but one suspects that Miller prefers anti-establishment prosecution to pro-establishment defence. Perhaps that is why, when assessing overseas coverage of Northern Ireland, he seems content to observe that the IRA is given credibility on a level far above that seen in British newspapers: the glaringly obvious point, however, that of course foreign terrorist groups are treated differently to domestic ones, is passed over at this point, though it is made later.
The issue which will distinguish Don't Mention the War from the dross, and which makes it such a worthy successor to Liz Curtis' Ireland: the Propaganda War, is the systematic collation and deployment of hard fact. The depth and quality of research which Miller draws upon as background information lends great authority to his work. It is all the more impressive then, to find that his original research is also first class. The only exception to this is the surprising absence of discussion of Omnibus, a Northern Ireland Information Service publication which is sent to influential figures. Given the thrust of his argument, it deserved special, rather than no consideration. On the other hand, Miller's experiment in recall of news information, in which he asked representative groups throughout the UK to write a TV news script based on stills taken from coverage of Gibraltar, is a classic. Unlike other studies, which express recall as a percentage of information offered, Miller's is able to focus on what people recall. As such, his work provides empirical proof that propagandist agencies can confirm prejudice much more effectively that they can create it. Taken with his critique of other approaches, and especially because he tends to normalise rather than sensationalise results (Miller spends a long time proving that children in Northern Ireland are not particularly affected by the coverage of the conflict) it offers a view on the power of propaganda and the methodology of its study which will soon be cited widely.
Elsewhere, Miller builds upon this concept of perception versus reality. In a series of interviews with press officers from the UUP, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the DUP, he explores the issues of selective coverage, budgets and the language of communication. Most of the parties recognise that journalists believe political questions to have more value as news than socio-economic questions' hence the DUP effort to hold press conferences on issues such as housing ' but Miller then shows how this has an effect on the understanding of Northern Ireland' s problems. In 1984, for instance, the appearance of two IRA volunteers at a funeral cortege displaced coverage of Shorts, which had just won its largest ever contract. Even Sinn Fein seems to have regretted the fact.
This emphasis on reality, so often absent in scholarly work, is perhaps the book's greatest strength. Lucid and clear ' indeed compelling at times ' Don't Mention the war ill surely find its way on to reading lists wherever media studies and Northern Ireland is taught. It is an important and timely study and, despite occasional lapses, it deserves nothing less than wholehearted endorsement.
Eamonn McCann (Sunday Tribune Columnist) The Tribune Magazine, 20 November 1994, p. 22. Review of Don't Mention the War by David Miller (Pluto Press)
Paul Wilkinson of Aberdeen University, the standard issue 'terrorism expert' who pops up on television programmes explaining that there is only one language terrorists understand and that Margaret Thatcher was the only recent world leader who could speak it, is cited 15 times in the index here. This is a tactical mistake. Miller has been round long enough to know that operators like Wilkinson thrive on the oxygen of publicity and that this sort of coverage only encourages them. But then Miller is very concerned to challenge the credentials of the establishment'experts' and to expose their hidden political agenda. This is a worthy aim and well-enough achieved, but it does make for a book which never quite decides whether it is a political polemic or an academic treatise and ends up convincingly as neither.
For all that the study ' subtitled Northern Ireland, propaganda and the media ' is well worth reading, particularly by journalists who have worked in the North, many of whom persist in the perverse belief that they have been recording events rather than participating in them. Miller, a lecturer in Media Studies at Stirling University, has been doggedly tracking coverage of the'Ulster conflict' for years and has been a regular presence at conferences, seminars and ardfheiseanna since the 80's frequently spotted in quiet corners earnestly interrogating interviewers and interviewees.
He supplements his considerable first-hand knowledge with impressive mastery of the burgeoning literature and with a 'laboratory' study in which the detailed perceptions of a number of groups were examined and others were invited to write their own 'news stories' about the Gibraltar killings around a series of photographs of the SAS shootings. His specific conclusion here ' that the initial line of British political and military establishment, eagerly amplified by most of the media at the time, continued to shape understanding of the Gibraltar events long after it had been exposed as a damnable lie' is dispiriting.
As against that, the more direct experience of the North respondents had, the less likely they were to be taken in. This will come as no surprise to residents of the North but serves as a useful reminder to Southerners and Britons that if they are confused about what is happening in the North it is probably because they've been reading the papers. In this connection it's something of a pity Miller published before the 'peace process' got into its stride. He might usefully have examined the latest ideological tyranny whereby to question the 'process' is to invite accusations of hankering after a resumption of the war. The fact that it is both possible and desirable to be for the peace and against the process is nowhere acknowledged in mainstream coverage at the moment. This may change, of course, when the process collapses.
The book would have been better shorter, and a more invigorating read if more openly opinionated. Miller has his own perspective on the early days of the British Military's 'Lisburn lie machine', for example, but this ground has already been well-trodden, by Liz Curtis and Paul Foot among others. And Miller's careful striving after academic objectivity ' admirable in itself ' an result in excruciating statements of the obvious: "Consider a government which hosts press conferences and stage-manages appearances by its personnel. We would be justified in thinking that the government's aim is to get publicity, and possibly good publicity, from such appearances, but it would be absurd to argue that the reason that governments engage in press conferences is simply so that the can gain media coverage. The object of a press conference is indeed t obtain media coverage and even favourable coverage but it also functions to help the government carry out its political objectives.' This is intended to illustrate, by way of parallel, that although the Provos wanted broadcasting restrictions lifted, "the aims of the republican movement are much more substantial than the regular appearance of Gerry Adams on News at Ten." A bit of editing needed here.
A solid, honest, assiduous book and generally speaking much to be welcomed.
SAOIRSE- Samhain, November 1994, p 13. Review of Don't Mention the War, David Miller
In a new book published early in November entitled Don't Mention the War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda and the Media, author David Miller alleges that the British Government is engaged in semi-covert and illegal propaganda operations in the United States, particularly in relation to the Six Counties.
The book reveals the existence of the propaganda unit, the London Radio Service (LRS), based at the Central Office of Information (COI) in London. The service produces its own news reports mainly featuring government ministers and excluding opposition parties and other government critics. According to COI sources, the Service is more sophisticated than previous Foreign Office-run propaganda efforts. One LRS journalist is quoted on page 126 as saying: "''you can't take the old approach by saying there's good guys and bad guys, and the bad guys have to be shown ''. Bayoneting babies. Now you have to be totally impartial while still pushing the line."
LRS bulletins are supplied free of charge and copyright restrictions to radio stations around the world. Their most important target is the USA where a potential market of 10,00 radio stations is available. According to the COI, LRS bulletins are broadcast by the recipient station "as if it were its own."
In the USA, the British government has expended considerable effort in managing news coverage of the conflict in Six Counties. Under US Foreign Agents Registration Act, all publicity and propaganda material emanating from a'foreign principal' is required to be identified as such. Yet, as Miller reveals in his book, the products of the London Radio Service are not identified as the product of the British government, nor are copies lodged with the Department of Justice as required. This constitutes a criminal offence under United States law.
Don't Mention the War also chronicles the continuing use of misinformation and deception by official sources in the Six Counties. The British government claims that disinformation is used only for "absolutely honourable security reasons." However, Miller demonstrates in the book that disinformation has been used to protect British Crown Forces personnel from the due process of law and to legitimise what would otherwise be regarded by the media, the public and the legal process as extra judicial executions.
The author was, according to the publishers, Pluto Press, 'given unprecedented access to senior officials and senior spokespersons for all the major political groupings in the Six Counties.' He paints a disturbing picture of the success of the media managers in manipulating the news and public opinion.
Sean Kelly, The Big Spoon, Summer 1995, p. 44. Review of Don't Mention the War, David Miller
As the Violence raged in the North at the height of the 'Troubles', a war of similar intensity was taking place in the corridors of the BBC and the boardrooms of News International, in the offices of the NIO and news desks at the Republican Press Centre. The battle was for hearts and minds' a struggle for legitimacy fought through the media in which, as David Miller's perceptive study points out, power is clearly insidiously skewed towards the state.
With admirable clarity, Miller details the variety of strategies employed by official media handlers over the past twenty-five years to substantiate the legitimacy of their claims. These measures have ranged from indirect censorship via pressure, intimidation and the use of law, to direct censorship imposed under the Broadcasting ban (1988). The study scrutinises the journalistic self-censorship that arises out of such a climate where broadcasters have routinely erred on the side of caution and where the cost to genuine investigative enquiry has been incalculable.
Don't Mention the War consolidates and brings up to date previous work on this subject, notably Liz Curtis' authoritative Ireland ' Propaganda War (1984). Yet Miller's study comes into its own in its examination of the complex and dynamic relationship that often exists between state and the media. Miller eschews simplistic ideas that directly tie government media management to public beliefs by examining amongst other things, other information available, prior beliefs, view and experience. Yet his research clearly shows that such a link exists. Two years after the killings in Gibraltar for example, his survey reveals the widespread belief that explosives were present, that IRA personnel were armed and that the evidence of Carmen Proetta was wholly discreditable.
Another strength of Miller's study lies in the analysis of the complexities and even contradictions that emerged since the mid-Seventies between the main sources of media information on the North: the British Army, the RUC and the NIO. Such is the competition between these state agencies and sometime differences in aims, resources and strategies, that complete'ideological closure' has not always been guaranteed.
Don't Mention the War is an exhaustive and exhausting study into media practices. Anyone inclined to question the democratic credentials of a political system that so profoundly polices the'fourth estate' will find this both plausible and disturbing. A right riveting read, in fact.
Kieran McEvoy, Just News: Bulletin on the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Vol 10, No. 5, p. 6. Review of Don't Mention the War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda and the Media by David Miller, London: Pluto Press 1994
"Don't mention the war ' So it's all forgotten now and lets hear no more about it. So ' that's two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Herman Goering and four Colditz salads ' no wait a moment, I got that a bit confused there, sorry '."
For those of us a bit obsessed with the intricacies of our conflict, it is often a salutary lesson that so much inaccurate information is common currency both at home and abroad. Reading David Miller's book it is not difficult to see why.
This is an excellent book, clearly written, well referenced and theoretically succinct. Supported by sound empirical research of the local, Irish, British and international media outlets; numerous personal interviews and a good audience analysis study, Miller charts the contours of the propaganda war over the past twenty years.
From the crude ill-prepared days of 1969, to the heady 70's of Colin Wallace, black propaganda, psych ops et al, the public relations disaster of the hunger strikes in 1980/81, the Gibraltar killings, the media ban and so on; Millar handles his subject matter with considerable skill and a ring of authenticity.
I particularly liked the fact that Millar avoids, indeed critiques, the crude propagandist model whereby the views of the state are slavishly reproduced by journalists, wooed by large gin and tonics and dependency upon official sources. Of course the relationship is a much more complex and fluid one than this model allows. Inevitably, all sides to the conflict have in the past and continue to engage in propaganda.
Rather, it is by virtue of the development of a sophisticated organic infrastructure, the nuts and bolts of the media/state relationship, that the government have by and large proved the most effective at news management.
Miller exposes the importance of the particular market in which the information is being received. For example, following the controversial killing of the three men robbing a bookmakers on the Whiterock Road, the London and Dublin editions of the Daily Star reported the story in the following manner. Under the headline of "Its IRA Who Shoot to Kill", the London edition berated "whining do-gooders joined by Sinn Feinn', concluding "the army must not waste time on a ridiculous inquiry into these absurd allegations." In the Dublin edition under "We Want the Facts" referring to the former Secretary of State's refusal to have an independent inquiry, the paper opined "Not good enough Mr Brooke ' all the facts must be brought fully into theopen. Nothing else will satisfy decent people."
The process of press briefing is also examined. The get your lie in first staged withdrawal from it to previously prepared positions, and the persistent undermining of any critical voice, (well illustrated by the Gibraltar case), is dealt with in some detail. He looks at the "off the record briefings,' usually going under the name of 'sources close to the NIO say".
Upon hearing that phrase, I have often had the image of a wee man who lived up close to Stormont spending his day with a glass on his wall. He looks at the habit of placing stories by sympathetic academics, journalists etc., the tour guides for foreign journalists of the positive sides to Northern Ireland; cartoons, including the Private Eye cover where one SAS man asks the other,'why did you shoot him sixteen times'", SAS man number two replies "because I ran out of bullets", in short the range of cultural representations of the conflict.
David Miller placed a postscript to this book as it was going to press regarding the IRA cease-fire. He concludes that previously hidden information will become available as now'retired' participants emerge into public roles. The truth of what has happened here over the past twenty-five years, deconstructed from the propaganda of all the protagonists, will be necessary to build peace. David Miller's analysis will play an important part in that deconstruction process. Like Basil Fawlty himself, I don't think we are quite ready yet to mention the war.
Basil Fawlty (to Polly) "Listen …. Don’t mention the war …. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it."
Censorship and disinformation or in David Miller’s words, not mentioning the was and getting away with it, have been key components in te British Government’s propaganda war in the six Counties. In a detailed analysis, Miller explores the British state’s relationship with the media, the propaganda strategies pursued by the British government and the role of the media in manipulating public perceptions of the conflict in the Six Counties.
Miller traces the introduction of restrictive legislation and its escalation into overt censorship with the introduction of the broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin. He also considers the more subtle mechanisms of control through which the British government can bring pressure to bear on the media, particularly the broadcasting media, in which "the intemperate language of vetting and censorship translates into co-operation, consultation and responsibility."
Identifying some of the key ideological components of the British government’s propaganda, Miller highlights television programmes which have, often inadvertently, challenged the British position. Thus the fairly innocuous inclusion of footage screened by the BBC’s Real Lives programme, of martin McGuinness at home with his family contravened Britain’s criminalisation strategy.
"To portray McGuinness as a rational human being who lived in many deeply familiar ways was beyond the pale of acceptable coverage. "detailing the growth of ‘public relations’ units within government agencies and the military, Miller traces the more covert aspects of the propaganda war, from Colin Wallace’s psychological operations to the development of the RUC’s Force Control and Information Centre. Miller argues that active psychological operations were scaled down because Britain’s normalisation strategy could not support an active disinformation policy.
"Ireland was too close to home and too vulnerable to the spotlights of the international and British media to be treated in precisely the same way as previous colonial counterinsurgency campaigns.
However, Miller argues that official government agencies in the Six Counties continue to engage in propaganda which is not simply more sophisticated but more closely aligned to changes in British policy.
'Disinformation continues today. The government has claimed that its use is for ‘absolutely honourable security reasons’. The evidence, however, is that disinformation is also used to protect ‘security force’ personnel from the due process of law and to legitimise what would otherwise be regarded by the media, the public and the legal process as extra-judicial executions.'
Focusing on the Gibraltar killings of three unarmed IRA Volunteers by the SAS, Miller attempts to evaluate the success of the British, first in exercising control of the media coverage and second in shaping, through the media, the public perception of what happened. Miller contends that the manipulation of the media as a means of controlling public opinion is most successful when people have no alternative sources of information or experience of the conflict in the North.
In conclusion, Miller argues that there is not a straightforward relationship between the media and public opinion or the media and the state.
Rather 'the media provide an arena in which battles for definition are fought out. The institutions of the state command the greatest resources in this area, and the means that the media institutions are, in general, orientated towards the state, but they can on occasions, be harnessed by non-governmental organisations, especially if the state is divided.'
Don’t Mention the War provides a detailed account of the mechanisms of media control and its role in the production of public opinion. The detail of Miller’s account reflects the complexity of the propaganda war being waged around the conflict in the North of Ireland. It is a war of words in which the British government is continually forced to respond to the challenges of perception presented by their opponents.
Tony Shaw, Bullán. Review: David Miller, Don’t Mention the War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda and the Media (London: Pluto Press, 1994)
Over the past 2 decades, the Glasgow University Media Group has established itself as one of the most assiduous scrutineers of Britain’s mass opinion-formers. Detailed studies of the manner in which British broadcasting and the press have covered issues from domestic industrial disputes through to East-West relations have painted a disturbing picture of systematic distortion and manipulation in favour of Whitehall and the status quo. Unfortunately, the credibility of this work has often suffered from an over-emphasis on the ideological motivations of reporters, combined with a questionable methodology. Nevertheless the Group’s research has contributed significantly to our understanding of what constitutes ‘the news’, how the mass media shape it and the relationship between journalists and the authorities in contemporary democracies.
Don’t Mention the War marks the first comprehensive analysis by the Glasgow Group of the mass media’s role in the Northern Ireland conflict. Miller’s thesis essentially mirrors that long-promulgated by Chomsky, Herman, et al. In the United States: that, contrary to the usual image of the media as ubiquitous searchers for truth, an underlying consensus favourable to the elite largely structures all facets of the news. In the case of Northern Ireland, this has impoverished reporting and led to the media’s portrayal of the conflict over the years as an irrational confrontation — a war that was not called a war and had no objective social basis. The effect of such coverage has been to marginalise the conflict in the minds of the general public and thereby help to stifle meaningful debate. The British people have, for the most part, effectively been looking at ‘the troubles’ through the murky lens of a state-held camera.
The British people have over the years shown a remarkable lack of interest in the Northern Ireland situation; not since 1974 — owing to the mainland pub bombing so that year — have the hostilities forced themselves onto a general election agenda. To what extent this indifference should be attributed solely to a compliant mass media is of course open to question. What Miller demonstrates forcibly, however, is the increased sophistication and efficacy of official public relations strategies over the past 2 decades. As with any other counterinsurgency operation (of which the British state has had ample experience — Kenya, Cyprus etc.), the twin aims have been to contain events whilst vilifying a readily identifiable enemy. The lengths to which the Northern Ireland Office and the security forces have gone in seeking to target the ‘terrorists’ have at times surfaced controversially. The case of Collin Wallace’s black propaganda ‘Information Policy’ unit clumsily pedalling disinformation from the army’s HQ in the mid-1970’s stands out particularly in this regard. Beneath these scandals, however, lies a discreetly resourceful propaganda machine, funded by the British government in 1989 to the tune of £20 million. Money does not necessarily guarantee success, but it has given official sources a huge inbuilt advantage over its opponents. By contract, Sinn Fein cannot cannot afford to pay its press officers.
Miller skilfully catalogues the creeping intimidation and censorship of the mass media by the Thatcher administration in the 1980’s. For a Prime Minister who appeared more concerned bout the ‘enemies within’ rather than without — be it during the Falklands conflict, the miners strike, or in Northern Ireland — denying ‘subversives’ the ‘oxygen of publicity’ was essential. What Miller fails to explain sufficiently, however, is the official thinking behind the introduction in 1988 of the actual ban on representatives of Sinn Fein and the UDA appearing on broadcast media. Such overt censorship was very un-British, and only served to strengthen Sinn Fein’s cause, especially abroad. Wasn’t Downing Street warned of the potential disaster — confirmed when lip-synching was employed to circumvent the ban? Could it be that in the wake of the Stalker affair, the continuing controversies surrounding the ‘Birmingham Six’ and the Guildford Four’, and the Gibraltar killings, the government felt it was falling behind in the propaganda war and consequently had to resort to drastic measures?
These questions raise the issue of miller’s sources. Research into propaganda, like intelligence is bound to be problematic given the secretive nature of much of the subject material. Miller has had access to some BBC and Central Office of Information files, but otherwise has had to rely on interviews of public relations personnel and journalists (many non-attributable). His content analysis of media output is certainly more rigorous than other Glasgow work, and is supported by a balanced appreciation of communication theory. An understanding of the complexities involved in news making prevents him from jumping to the misleading conclusions commonly favoured by terrologists and conspiracy theorists.
Overall, therefore, Don’t Mention the War offers us a clear insight into the dynamics of the multi-sided battle for opinion over Northern Ireland. We shall have to wait many years until we can reach firm conclusions about many aspects of the propaganda conflict, including ultimately whether it has helped to prolong or shorten the period of armed hostilities. In the meantime, a precarious peace exists in the province, punctuated by the sounds of megaphone diplomacy. The war of words continues.