Bloody Sunday – how the Murders of the Parachute Regiment were Feted by Britain’s Yellow Press
Bloody Sunday – how the Murders of the Parachute Regiment were Feted by Britain’s Yellow Press
An excellent article reposted from Mick Hall’s Organised Outrage blog. It recalls the reaction of Britain’s yellow press to the massacre in Derry that was instantly christened ‘Bloody Sunday’ when the paratroopers went on the rampage killing 13 Catholics in Derry. Their story was that they were fired upon but anyone with a sense of history will know that Derry wasn’t the first such massacre and certainly isn’t the last one. Undoubtedly Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered far worse massacres. Names such as Amritsar, when some 400 Indians were murdered, still resonate down the years.
But Bloody Sunday was a text book example of how the British Establishment, the BBC et al. lies and covers up. In the interests of ‘balance’ the BBC of course ran with the army story of how its forces were attacked and the Sun and others of the gutter press fell over themselves to praise ‘our boys’ as they murdered and pillaged their way across Northern Ireland.
And yet there are those who had not a trace of embarrassment as they denounced IRA violence. The violence of the British army was taken for granted. The violence of those who opposed them was wicked, diabolical etc.
In the case of Bloody Sunday, it wasn’t just the Army spokesmen who lied. The Tory Government under Ted Heath set up an Inquiry, fixed from the start. It was presided over by the Lord Chief Justice, ex-Brigadier-General Widgery. Mind he was probably in the advanced stages of senile dementia by that time, being covered up for by fellow judges but some would ask how they could tell the difference. Heath had a quiet word in Widgery’s shell-like to ensure that nothing would be found that would be at all damaging to the Parachute Regiment murderers.
So when people like Roy Greenslade of Media Guardian talk about the halycon days of the Sun, you know they are lying through their teeth about this anti-working class newspaper which accused Liverpool fans of urinating on the dead at the Hillsborough stadium. People of Liverpool responded with a boycott which is still adhered to 23 years later. The Sun has never been a newspaper in any meaningful sense of the term and when on occasions they attempted to gain information as ‘journalists’ at anti-fascist demonstrations they were treated like the enemy and given a slap (not that I approved of course!). There isn’t one strike of workers that this Murdoch paper has supported and its lies about the Miners’ Strike were legion.
It is no surprise that the Sun has been up to its eyes in bribing Metropolitan Police officers. The belated arrest of 6 reporters (the rest of them are complaining that they were dobbed in it by the Standards (what standards?) Committee which had the audacity not to delete but hand over old e-mails. One wonders what they would have made of this pathetic whinge that they should not have been grassed up by their fellows if used by any other paper. The Scum has, of course, been completely hostile to Irish Republicanism and one can only hope it goes the way of its stablemate, the News of the World.
Mícheál Mac Donncha in his monthly AN PHOBLACHT column ‘Remembering the past,’ reminds us of just how low the British establishment and its tame media can sink. When he looks back at press coverage in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday, when 13 innocent Irishmen were gunned down on the streets of Derry by the 3rd battalion of the Parachute Regiment. In many ways, the British government dealt with the aftermath of this atrocity in much the same way as they have dealt with similar shameful situations in recent years.
1. Get the lie in first, 2. Base it on existing fears and prejudices, 3. Make sure all the mainstream media outlets sing from the same songbook.
We are often told these days soldiery is an honourable profession, in some armies perhaps, but when an army is led by men for whom no lie is too foul, then you end up on the road to hell, or in the case of the six counties the decades of conflict and bloodshed which followed Bloody Sunday. Only hours after the murders in Derry, the Commander of British land forces in Ireland, Major-General Robert Ford, appeared on BBC TV to justify the parachute regiments murderous behaviour, and in the process he told the most blatant lies about that day’s tragic and unnecessary events. Lies I might add which every English journalist in the room new to be untrue, yet most still reported them as fact. Was it any wonder by the following morning across the north, the Provos had lines of young men and women demanding the right to join their ranks.
In Ireland and throughout the world, the British Army’s murders in Derry on Bloody Sunday 1972 brought condemnation of the British Government on a scale not seen since the ravages of the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries in Ireland 50 years earlier. However, in Britain itself the British Government was shielded from the worst of the reac- tion by the news media, most of which accepted the lies issued by the British Army immediately after the massacre and in the Widgery Report.
The BBC was probably then at the height of its influence over public opinion and was seen as the official voice of Britain. So when, on the Sunday night of the Derry massacre, British Land Forces Commander General Ford gave his version to BBC TV it was to set the agenda. He lied that the soldiers of the Parachute Regiment “did not go in there shooting . . . they did not fire until they were fired upon . . . the 3rd Battalion fired three rounds altogether, after they’d had something between 10 and 20 fired at them.”
Later that night, an official British Army statement elaborated on this lie, claiming that nail bombs and hundreds of rounds were fired at the Paras before they returned fire “only at identified targets”.
The next day, the British Ministry of Defence released to the national and international media a totally fabricated version of the Derry killings which claimed, ludicrously, that “all the army shooting was at identified targets in return of fire under the terms of the Yellow Card, which lays down when fire may be returned.”
The scene was thus set for the conflict in the British media between the eyewitness accounts from Derry — including from British journalists — and the self-serving lies of the British Government. Guardian journalist Simon Winchester’s account contrasted starkly with the fiction of the Paras while Times reporter Brian Cashinella said he had heard General Ford say: “Go on the Paras, go and get them!” Cahinella said the Paras “seemed to regard the Bogsiders and people who took part in the parade as legitimate targets”.
When the newspapers appeared on Monday it was clear that the British Army lies had done their work. They were far from universally accepted in the media but they served to muddy the waters and to prevent the full exposure of what happened in Derry and the due condemnation of the British Army. The Times headline ran: “13 civilians are killed as soldiers storm the Bogside” and “March ends in shooting”. Despite the damning eyewitness account of Winchester, The Guardian’s headline was also passive: “13 killed as Paratroopers break riot” (rather than ‘Paratroopers kill 13’).
The Daily Telegraph ran “13 shot dead in Londonderry” and “Banned march erupts into riot” and “IRA fired first, says Army.” The Daily Express headline was “Gun Fury” and “Paras face ‘fusillade’ then open fire”.
The editorial writers faced the problem of addressing the stark reported facts of murder in Derry and the ‘official version’ from the British Government. Their solution was to blame the people of Derry for organising and attending a march that had been banned. The Times opined:
“It must be presumed that those who are inciting the Catholics to take to the streets know very well the consequences of what they are doing. Londonderry had a taste of those consequences last night. The dead are witness to them.”
The Guardian editorial said the British Army has “an intolerably difficult task in Ireland. At times it is bound to act firmly, even severely.” This hand-wringing was slammed in a stream of letters to the editor over the following week, including one which said that “because Derry is nearer home than Sharpeville, Stormont, Westminster and the British Army will escape with little more than mild tut-tutting from liberal editorials.”
The Daily Express, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail all blamed the IRA for Bloody Sunday. Only the Daily Mirror came near to outright editorial criticism of the British Army, while still ‘balancing’ the eye- witness accounts with the Paras’ version.
One of the most important aspects of the Widgery Tribunal, which was established by the British Government, was the fact that in the period between Bloody Sunday and the publication of the tribunal report in April, the British media was effectively silenced on the Derry massacre.
The British Government claimed that any media coverage that anticipated the findings of the tribunal could be held legally in contempt. This dubious claim was comfortably accepted by most of the media and they turned their back on Derry. Then, when the Widgery Tribunal report was published, it was seized upon eagerly and there were numerous headlines saying that the British Army had been ‘cleared’.
The British media (for the most part) successfully concealed from the British public the truth of the murders the British Army carried out in their name in Derry on 30 January 1972. This pattern, set 40 years ago this month, was to continue throughout the conflict.