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Disavowing democracy: the silencing project in the South

Four Courts Press
Publication Date
  • Mass Media
  • Political Science
  • Irish Broadcasting
  • Censorship
  • Northern Ireland
  • Ireland
  • Law
  • Political Science


Microsoft Word - disavowing_democracy_2005.doc 1 From Corcoran, M. & O’Brien, M. (2005) Political Censorship and the Democratic State: The Irish Broadcasting Ban. Dublin, Four Courts Press, pp. 48-58. DISAVOWING DEMOCRACY: THE SILENCING PROJECT IN THE SOUTH MARK O’BRIEN The invoking of Section 31 was only one of a range of legislative measures enacted to cope with the outbreak of the Northern conflict. When looked at holistically, all the legislative measures combined to create a silencing project in the Southern state. The term ‘silencing project’ carries with it the trappings of a conspiracy theory but essentially refers to the canalling of legislation and government policy so as to amplify one interpretation of a situation and demonise any competing interpretations. The articulation of public opinion is effectively a vocalising project by citizens or media professionals to articulate a commonly held view that may produce political consequences. A silencing project reflects the reverse of this whereby legislation or government policy makes citizens or media professionals wary of expressing a contrary opinion for fear of attracting a negative sanction or public odium. The concept is derived from Elizabeth Noelle-Newman’s Spiral of Silence theory which postulates that society threatens individuals that deviate from the perceived consensus with isolation and exclusion; that individuals have a largely subconscious fear of isolation; that this fear of isolation causes people to constantly check which opinions are approved or disapproved of in their environment; and that the results of these assessments affect people’s willingness to speak out. If people believe that their opinion is part of the consensus they have the confidence to speak out. Conversely, if people feel they are in the minority, they become more cautious and silent. This process may then become a spiral wherein one opinion is routinely expressed in an o

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