Pirate Radio Violence
The real story behind the headlines. From August 1987.
John Butcher, DTI minister responsible for cracking down on pirate radio, has accused the pirates or terrorising investigators working for the DTI's Radio Investigation Service (RIS).
He produced a dossier of alleged attacks on investigators stretching back to 1984. These included:
- Investigators vehicles being chased by gangs.
- An attack on investigators by masked men with baseball bats off the Edgware road, on their way back from monitoring duties in West London.
- One investigator having a ladder pulled from under him whilst trying to reach a transmitter on a tower block.
- The death of an investigator in Birmingham from a heart attack after being dragged from his car by a gang.
- Threatening calls and letters to investigators and their families.
He also accused an anarchist group of coordinating and organising attacks on investigators. He gave figures which showed an increase in the number of attacks: 1 in 1984, 2 in 1985, 3 the year after and 7 already this year.
However, these incidents have been exaggerated. We have established that in one case of an investigator's vehicle being followed there was no intention of violence. In another case of an investigator being assaulted, the person concerned was subsequently charged. Police have also said that they do not link the attack in Birmingham with the man's pirate radio investigations.
The allegations of anarchists coordinating or organising attacks are completely unfounded. The anarchists referred to by John Butcher are from a loose collective of anarchist groups centred around The Hooligan Press / Crowbar Squatters Magazine. They were also involved with Our Radio in 1982/3 and more recently Radio Interference. They have little, if any, contact with the rest of the unlicensed stations in London. The tactics they propose in their pirate radio manual, Radio Is My Bomb, would certainly not be considered by most stations.
Along with the vast majority of people working in unlicensed radio, we condemn any violence or intimidation or RIS officials. It is only a very small minority who would consider such action. It should also be remembered that in the past stations that have been violent to the RIS have often been hit harder in the future. They have also often raced condemnation from other stations for damaging the image or pirate radio.
But, why has there been an increase in violent incidents? We consider that there are two main reasons.
First, there is an increasing heavy-handedness on the part of the RIS. For example, the raid last September on Border Radio, which used to serve the elderly in the Twickenham area. Serious damage was caused to the home of station's founder, including smashing the door down. He was later admitted to hospital with a complaint thought to have been brought on by the raid. The chief RIS investigator in London was also convicted of assaulting a member of one station.
Second, is an increasing frustration with the Government's interest in licensing stations. It is over 20 years since pressure first began for the licensing or a large number or stations – and we're still told that these changes are not to happen for at least another 2 years. The new Home Office Minister for broadcasting has also made clear that he does not regard the licensing of new stations as a priority.
Singling Out of Stations
We have also established that the flash point for two incidents is the singling out or stations by the RIS for no apparent reason. In the past, stations have not been raided on the basis of the interference caused to other services. The RIS are now beginning to move towards this, but they would be doing themselves a service if they made clearer their motives behind the apparent singling out or stations.
There seem to be several reasons for the timing of these allegations.
John Butcher has spoken about how he hoped that members of the public would help in the fight against the pirates. This is right at the time when the Government is proposing cutting another 30 to 50 staff from the present 200 employed by the Radio Investigation Service. There have also been stories of reluctance among RIS officials to risk injury in closing down stations.
The RIS have themselves admitted that they could not cope with a large number of pirates on the air. At a meeting of the Community Radio Association (CRA), a member of the RIS urged the CRA not to condone unlicensed broadcasting, as they would not be able to cope.
Police sources have admitted several times that they are unhappy with having to devote manpower to helping the RIS in their work in closing down the pirates. It has also been admitted that the pirates have often helped the police. Appeals for help in solving crimes have been aired on pirate stations in the past.
Major Campaign Against Pirates
These allegations could mark the start of a major campaign, with the RIS channelling their efforts into a huge round up with the aim of silencing them for good. Already there has been a massive raid at London Greek Radio when not only did they lose their third studio in a row, but their office was also raided and almost completely stripped in a search for evidence relating to unlicensed broadcasting. Many pirates saw this as the first signal of the start of a new campaign.
The RIS could not embark on such a campaign without greater support from the public. They certainly wouldn't have done so before the General Election. Turning the public against the pirates does look like the main reason behind the allegations. Older readers may wish to draw a parallel with the Oliver Smedley affair in the sixties, when the Marine Offences Act was only able to be brought in after one station owner was shot by a shareholder in another.
This is where the RIS has probably failed. There is still a massive support for the pirates, from the young kids today who've grown up listening to the stations to people who remember how the pirates were treated in the sixties when they were young. The pirates will never go away until listeners have a legal alternative.
Final word must to Soca B from JBC in an interview in The Times "We have never heard of this anarchist group and we detest violence, we just want a licence".
- Offshore 1987
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