BBC apologises after Sinn Féin minister complains over ‘SF/IRA’ label

Party makes formal complaint about Question Time programme

The picture of the floor plan from the BBC programme emerged this morning. Photograph:  Simon Whittaker

The picture of the floor plan from the BBC programme emerged this morning. Photograph: Simon Whittaker

Fri, May 24, 2013, 15:56

The BBC has apologised after Sinn Féin minister for education in Northern Ireland John O’Dowd was labelled “SF/IRA!” on a floor plan for a current affairs programme in Belfast.

Mr O’Dowd took part in last night’s Question Time, a popular current affairs programme presented by David Dimbleby.

Other guests on the show were Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jnr, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and former Islamist radical and chairman of the Quilliam Foundation Maajid Nawaz.

The words “DUP/Goodies” were written on the plan to indicate where Mr Paisley was sitting.

Mr O’Dowd, who has submitted a formal complaint to the broadcaster, said he agreed to take part in the programme on the basis of “respect and equality”.

“After the programme was finished I was made aware of the floor plan pinned to a camera branding me a member of ‘SF/IRA!’. This was not on the floor plan previously shown to me before filming,” he said.

He described the issue as serious.

“The ‘SF/IRA’ tag was one created at the height of the unionist murder campaign against my party colleagues in the late 1980s and early 1990s,” he said. “It was an attempt to justify attacks on Sinn Féin members and our families. For the BBC to adopt the tag 20 years into a peace process is beyond belief.”

He said the party lodged a formal complaint last night with the BBC seeking an immediate explanation for the sign and what action is to be taken against those behind it. “We await with interest their response. But one thing is for sure we will not let the BBC simply sweep this issue under the carpet,” he said.

Today, a spokeswoman for the BBC told The Irish Times it was “very sorry” for any offence caused. “The note was written by one of the technical staff on the programme for his own use,” the spokeswoman said. “It was not authorised or endorsed by anyone on Question Time. The person responsible has been left in no doubt that it was insensitive and extremely naïve.”

She said the BBC was sure viewers of last night’s programme would be clear the note had “absolutely no bearing on the content of the show”.

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