Death on the Rock

    Thursday 13 October 2005
    Frontline Club

    Frontline Club Public Forum.

    A screening of the controversial ‘This Week’ programme. Followed by QandA with reporter, Rosie Waterhouse, whose Sunday Times Insight Team memo enabled a successful libel action by the victims of the Murdoch press and security service killings.

    Originally broadcast as part of ITV’s Thames Television current affairs series ‘This Week’ in April 1988, ‘Death on the Rock’ investigated the killing of three members of the IRA – sent to Gibraltar on an active service mission – by members of British special forces in March of 1988. It examined conflicting evidence about the manner in which the killings were carried out; the degree to which it was an “execution” was the subject of much debate.

    Claiming that its transmission prior to the official inquest into the deaths was an impediment to justice, the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, attempted, and failed, to stop ‘Death on the Rock’ from being broadcast.

    Such was the debate which developed around the programme following its transmission that an independent inquiry was conducted at the behest of Thames Television. Set in the context of long-standing tension between the Conservative government and the media – particularly investigative journalists – on the matter of ‘national interest’ and on limits imposed on work which brought into question the activities of the state, the inquiry’s findings largely cleared the programme of any impropriety.

    Widely viewed as the Conservative government’s revenge for ‘Death on the Rock’, Thames, one of the most innovative of the major companies, eventually lost its licence to broadcast under the new system of allocating ITV franchises instituted by then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.