HC Deb 19 July 1973 vol 860 cc691-3
7. Mr. Sydney Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with his Department's relations with the mass media.

Mr. David Howell

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Chapman

Is my hon. Friend aware of the deep anxiety felt by many people in this country when they read a front page article in a national newspaper suggesting that our troops were not being issued with the safest form of personal armoured vests? As this story was completely unfounded, will my hon. Friend agree that either liaison between his Department and the mass media needs improving or the Daily Mirror was not acting with its usual objectivity and fairness?

Mr. Howell

I know that there was concern about that article, but the question it raises is for my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Fitt

Though the Government may be satisfied with their relations with the mass media, is the hon. Gentleman aware that many reports have emanated from Army circles in Northern Ireland which have caused great disquiet among the population? In particular, a story that appeared in the Daily Mirror a fortnight ago cast a sad reflection and made a scurrilous attack on the women of the Ardoyne area. Has he taken any steps to ascertain where the report emanated from, and will he give an apology to the people living in that area for the scurrilous and vicious attack, which obviously emanated from Army public relations?

Mr. Howell

As the hon. Member knows, Northern Ireland is a place where many reports emanate from many areas on many things. The question of what appears in a newspaper is not a matter for my right hon Friend or the Government. I think that the hon. Member will accept—I hope that the House will, too—that immense difficulties face reporters in Northern Ireland, and they do an excellent job in very difficult conditions. Aside from any particular case such as that raised by the hon. Member, that general point ought to be borne in mind.

Mr. McMaster

Is my hon. Friend aware that the mass media have been used all too often as a willing and ready vehicle for Republican propaganda in Northern Ireland over the past three years? Will he take whatever steps are necessary to counter the Republican propaganda which has been carried by the mass media on every possible occasion?

Mr. Howell

My hon. Friend expresses his view. I have expressed the view that can fairly be held about the work of the Press and broadcasting. I think that it is a reasonable view to take.

Mr. Paget

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether it was the ladies of this area who held down a young soldier when he was separated from his unit and murdered?

Mr. Fitt

It was not.

Mr. Howell

This is a matter for dispute with the newspapers and the report. I do not know the precise details.

Mr. McNamara

The Minister of State will be aware of the constructive proposals put forward by the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in the Republic on the need to exchange radio and television functions between the Six Counties and the 26 counties of the Republic. Granted that that is not the immediate concern of the hon. Gentleman's Department, it must nevertheless be of the utmost importance to him. Will he give an undertaking that he will, as far as possible, progress the development of the discussions so that a healthy interchange of information, in order to improve relations between the various parts of Ireland, will be carried forward?

Mr. Howell

I am aware of these proposals, but, as the hon. Member will accept, it is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. I shall see that the hon. Member's comments are brought to my right hon. Friend's attention.