Media gag over Derry arms factory occupation
Anti-war protestors in Derry are charged with criminal damage to the Raytheon factory in the city. The courts in Northern Ireland have placed a gag on all reporting of the case and even on any reference in the media to Raytheon. By John Duggan
On 2 August the last nine members of the Derry anti-war movement, including socialist Eamon McCann, occupied the Raytheon plant in Derry, smashed several computers, and removed the mainframe of the company's computer system. They then occupied the plant for eight hours and were subsequently arrested and charged with criminal damage.
They engaged in this action following the Israeli bombing of Lebanon, claiming that a missile which fell on an apartment building in Qana in southern Lebanon on 30 July, killing 28 people, half of them children, had been guided by Raytheon technology.
Raytheon is the third largest manufacturer of missiles in the world, and the largest supplier to Israel. It operates in more than 40 countries and employs, on its own estimate, 77,000 people worldwide.
The Raytheon plant was established in Derry in 1999. The announcement was made at a reception in the Guildhall hosted by the city council and attended by local MP, John Hume, and First Minister, David Trimble. This was the first formal appearance of the pair together since receiving the Nobel Peace Prize eight months earlier. Both explained the arrival of the arms' company was the first installment of the peace dividend.
The case against the nine has yet to come to full hearing. On 14 September last, the prosecution asked for a change of venue because, it said, protests outside the court might intimidate jurors, and coverage in the local media might prejudice them. At this point, the judge, Derry Recorder, Corinne Philpott, ordered no publicity, but in general terms. Journalists present were left confused as to what they might report. There was no reporting of the application for a change of venue.
On 10 December last, The Recorder of Londonderry, Judge Philpott, ordered that no matter relating to this trial shall be reported by any media organisation until further notice, including anything relating to Raytheon in general; such as their recent expansion announcement.
Such sweeping restrictions on media reporting are almost unheard of.
Recently the prosecution request for a change of venue has been granted and the trial will now take place in Belfast. But because of restrictions on media reporting, the media has not reported even this innocuous information.
Meanwhile, Suzanne Breen (formerly of Village, now writing for the Sunday Tribune) has been referred to the Attorney General for possible contempt in an article published on18 November in the Sunday Tribune. She had mentioned possible witnesses from the USA and Lebanon, and that, if convicted, defendants could face lengthy jail sentences.
Also RTE has ordered Belfast independent production company Below the Radar to delete sections on Raytheon from a film about I reland and the arms trade transmitted on 14 January. The effect of the ban is that all discussion of Raytheon's presence in Derry has been shut down. This has been a long-running local controversy, ongoing for eight years. Now, silence.
The fact that the trial has been moved to Belfast has been reported nowhere.Newsroom journalists at BBC Radio Foyle tell me that they have been instructed to be very careful about references of any kind to the arms' trade.
No local media outlet has been willing to challenge the ban. The NUJ offices in both London and Dublin have declined to intervene, on the grounds that, since the union's Irish Executive last year passed a resolution calling for the charges to be dropped, and one of the defendants is a member, the union is compromised.