Northern Ireland Information Service: Planting Stories

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This page consists of an extract from David Miller Don't Mention the War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda and the Media, London: Pluto Press, 1994, p. 124-5 and is reproduced by permission of the author.

Perhaps the most effective way of disguising the source of government information is to pretend that it is not government information. Official sources in Northern Ireland do this in two ways. Firstly, they attempt to 'place' ready made news stories or features in suspecting or unsuspecting media and second they try to use academics, journalists or others to promote their perspectives.

Both the Northern Ireland Office and the Industrial Development Board employ staff whose function is to write and distribute good news stories. Such material is issued free of charge without copyright restrictions. Indeed, the features issued by the NIO do not state that 'Northern Ireland News Features' are produced by the British government, instead there is a contact address which mentions only the 'Northern Ireland Information Service (Features Section)'. Each of the regular packages are issued with the simple statement that 'The enclosed articles highlight some of the many positive aspects of life in Northern Ireland. You are welcome to use the material as you wish, and cuttings of what you publish would be appreciated'. A typical issue includes the following stories 'Belfast shows its other face', 'New life for Irish boglands', 'Peace village at folk museum' and 'University and Industry work together'.

The production and distribution of Television items used to be quite important for public relations efforts. Started in the late 1950s under the control of the Unionist government they were still important in the early 1970s. According to the Director General of British Information Services in New York, W.E.H. Whyte:

We take a specimen radio newsline and check how many radio stations in the end actually have used it. If it is a good one - for example, a piece of two minutes by the Prime Minister - we can get about 4,500 radio stations using it once or more across the USA... We can do the same for TV clips, TV news briefs, TV news features that we disseminate. One can do this also with some precision for commercial publicity. We keep a score sheet of the number of press releases on new commercial products and processes which are published. The percentage over the last two years has been 100 [1]

However the increasingly wide dispersion of television broadcasting and the comparatively well resourced nature of US television has meant that TV is no longer so widely used.


  1. Commons Expenditure Committee 1973:16.