By Ray O’Hanlon
The British Broadcasting Corporation has been cited in a United Nations report for bias in some of its reporting on Northern Ireland.
The UN Commission on Human Rights, which is headed by former Irish president Mary Robinson, has singled out the BBC for failing to give former republican prisoners a chance to tell their stories.
This failure, according to a UN special rapporteur who compiled the report, is hindering the process of reconciliation in the North spawned by the Good Friday Agreement.
The report follows complaints by a republican ex-prisoners group, Coiste na n-Iarchimi, that a number of taped interviews of former prisoners had not subsequently been broadcast by the BBC.
One of the prisoners who failed to secure air time is former IRA man Joe Doherty, who spent nine years in U.S. prisons before being deported back to Northern Ireland.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
The critical UN report follows a $5 million lawsuit against BBC Northern Ireland initiated by Irish American hip-hop artist Chris Byrne. Byrne is suing the documentary program "Spotlight" for breach of copyright laws following a three-minute unauthorized use of his song "Fenians" in a documentary shown last October.
Byrne has also been critical of the BBC’s reporting of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The BBC has defended its position on broadcasting interviews with former prisoners on the grounds that its guidelines demand that the families of victims also had to be taken into account when such interviews take place.
The special rapporteur has acknowledged that these guidelines are valid but has also urged the BBC to revise them in the interests of contributing "to a general movement in favor of peace."
A BBC spokesman told the Scotland on Sunday newspaper that the corporation’s primary concern was to avoid causing distress to the relatives of victims.
"We continue to report fully the program of prisoner releases which began in 1998 and have interviewed a number of former prisoners across a range of our programs," the spokesman said.
Coiste Director Mike Ritchie said that the group did not want to be unkind to victims. "But the current attempts by the media to find a victim and whip up a panic every time a prisoner is released is not helping things," he said. "These guidelines are one element that makes it difficult for the peace process to truly bed down."
Meanwhile, a BBC spokesman in Belfast declined to comment on the Byrne lawsuit on the grounds that it was a "legal matter." The BBC has 20 days to respond to Byrne’s filing of legal papers in a Manhattan federal court but is likely to seek an extension to that deadline.