SOMETHING strange is happening. Although Netflix continues to make inroads into viewing habits – posing more threats to the traditional landscape of British broadcasting – does it necessarily follow that public service television is being undermined?

When it comes to Netflix, most viewers cheerily talk about binge viewing, while industry professionals worry about streaming services drawing young viewers away from the conventional habits of television. There is a third question, one that is rarely posed by broadcasters – is Netflix challenging or reinforcing the time-honoured role of public service broadcasting?

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This week, I found time to watch a documentary on the Miami Showband massacre, a film that has been on my watch-list for weeks now. I came away wondering why this riveting story has not been told by Channel 4 or the BBC.

In July 1975, three members of popular Irish dancehall group The Miami Showband were stopped at a fake army checkpoint as they travelled home to Dublin from a live show in Banbridge, County Down.

A gang of armed men from the UVF paramilitaries stopped their van, searched it and took down their names. Unseen by the band, two of the UVF gunmen planted a camouflaged bomb in the rear of their Volkswagen mini-van.

The faulty timer was set to explode after the band crossed the border back into the Republic, tricking people into assuming they were cross-border terrorists. But the bomb exploded prematurely, killing the two UVF men. Panicked by the explosion, the remaining members of the UVF unit began shooting at the band.

Two members of the Miami Showband survived the night: bass guitarist Stephen Travers – who had been shot by a dum-dum bullet – and Des McAlea, both of whom pretended to be dead in the fields beyond the rogue checkpoint. The UVF gang who shot the three dead band members was led by Robert “The Jackal” Jackson, the worst mass murderer in the grisly history of the Troubles, suspected of killing up to 50 Catholics.

Significantly, the false checkpoint operation was led by an officer with a cut-glass British accent, who oversaw the stop-and-search.

The Netflix documentary recounts the story through the eyes of Travers, whose dogged search for the truth exposes British Government collusion in the murders.

The officer at the scene was the notorious Captain Robert Nairac, a member of the 14th Intelligence Division of the British Army and a cavalier double-agent whose handlers reached to the very top of the British secret service. Nairac was executed by the IRA two years later.

One reason there has been such a poverty of output about the Troubles in Northern Ireland is that it’s a subject that uniquely spooks network broadcasters.

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This is partly for commercial reasons. There is a settled belief within the minds of London broadcasters that the Troubles don’t rate. The rationale is fairly crude. The most valuable and populous areas of British broadcasting for both advertisers and licence fee revenues are the home counties, the south of England and the Midlands.

The ingrained attitude there was that the Troubles in Northern Ireland were a turn-off, confusing, complex and blood-curdling. It was an attitude that was not restricted to the south either. It spread throughout the UK and most drearily into the mindset of commissioning editors. I cannot count the number of times I’ve witnessed great films about the Troubles die an instant death in commissioning meetings in London.

Another reason is the anxiety that followed The Death On The Rock documentary in 1988, when Thames Television broadcast the recounting of an SAS operation on Gibraltar which killed three IRA operatives. The Conservative government of the time tried to ban the film, delay its transmission and undermine it in the press, but it went on to win a Bafta and became something of a symbol of broadcasting freedoms.

Reaction to the transmission of Death On The Rock was divided even within the television industry. Thames Television subsequently lost its ITV franchise to Carlton in a ‘‘silent bidding auction’’ but many still believe that a government vendetta lay behind the decision and the whole bitter dispute left broadcasters touchy and nervous about covering controversial incidents in recent Irish history.

A broadcast “ban” and voice restriction brought in by Tory home secretary Douglas Hurd prevented Sinn Fein politicians appearing on the airwaves as themselves, an intervention loved by voice-over artists, including the actor Stephen Rea who often voiced for Gerry Adams and was later nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Crying Game.

The outcome of these now fading histories is that films such as Netflix’s ReMastered: The Miami Showband Massacre are thin on the ground.

Of course, there have been landmark films about the Troubles. There was a 1993 Yorkshire Television broadcast called Hidden Hand, a documentary about the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings of 1974, and BBC journalist Peter Taylor of Panorama has dedicated the large part of his career to unearthing stories about the paramilitaries. But these are the exception, not the rule.

An element of national shame still casts a shadow over broadcasting decisions and Britain is not alone. Dutch broadcasters have commissioned preciously few films about the failures of the Dutch UN forces in preventing the genocide at Srebrenica and to this day Belgian broadcasters shy away from King Leopold’s “hidden holocaust” and the colonial atrocities meted out in the Congo.

Some may think that with the peace process, TV’s anxieties about the Troubles have receded, but the morning of August 31, 2018, put paid to that.

Filmmaker Trevor Birney was arrested at his home in Belfast after the successful launch of his film No Stone Unturned, a documentary about the killing of six Catholics in a bar in Loughisland, County Down in 1994, in the so-called “World Cup Massacre”.

The filmmakers have been accused of violating the Official Secrets Act when they took receipt of an advance draft of the police ombudsman’s report on the massacre, anonymously posted to them.

Like the Miami Showband killings, Loughisland’s “World Cup Massacre” raises uncomfortable questions about the complicit role of the British army.

On the night in question, Ireland was playing Italy in the World Cup finals in the USA and bars were packed with patrons cheering on Ireland.

A car pulled up outside the Heights Bar and two UVF members wearing boiler-suits and balaclavas shot into the crowded lounge, killing six of the spectators. The attack appeared to be sectarian, and in the tense aftermath, the police vowed to find the perpetrators, promising the families of the victims that they would “leave no stone unturned”.

It proved to be a miserable promise. The investigation was fudged, important evidence was overlooked and leads only barely followed up and the subsequent film raises yet again the spectre of British state collusion in the killings.

Although it is more obviously associated with films about Narco villains and American urban murders, Netflix is building up a small but significant library of documentaries about the Troubles including Bobby Sands: 66 Days and the prison escape film, Maze.

Although the range of Netflix’s factual output is much narrower than either the BBC or Channel 4 it is significant that a US streaming service seems less nervous about the Troubles than decision-makers closer to home.