Fracking, hacking and video tape

I've been looking through the BBC's archive in recent days, selecting a few clips of past reports for an anecdotal talk on Tuesday of next week, for which you can find more details here.

One clip I came across from an old Spotlight programme features the former direct rule minister Richard Needham talking about his mobile phone conversations being intercepted by paramilitaries.

With the Leveson inquiry in full flow, the clip is a reminder that phone hacking is not an entirely new phenomenon. However, the illicit recording wasn't being carried out directly by the press and the Northern Ireland Office minister was considered more fair game than the likes of the Dowler family or others targeted by the tabloids in recent times.

The fact that Mr Needham's taped call included his injudicious reference to the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as "a cow" ensured the papers didn't hesitate a moment before reproducing the embarrassing transcript.

I am in a privileged position in being able to trawl through the BBC's archive. But advances in technology mean others can now access material previously hidden from view.

The BBC's Democracy Live project, for example, is already proving its worth in relation to assembly footage. If you aren't interested in hacking, but want to know more about fracking, you can watch Arlene Foster's Stormont question time from earlier this month.

The Green MLA Steven Agnew's demand that the enterprise minister should be sacked over the issue of shale gas extraction may be premature in the DUP's view.

But the assembly exchange (48 minutes and 40 seconds in) shows the minister mercilessly lampooning the Green leader's attitude as tantamount to sitting "in a dark room with a blanket over our heads and hoping it all goes away".

It's not a debating style designed to endear her to the normally mild mannered North Down MLA, and helps explain why he was so quick to demand her removal.

Alternatively take the story about the Stormont Employment and Learning Committee considering a possible trip to San Diego. If you look at the Democracy Live video of the Committee's meeting back in mid September you can watch (2 hours and 15 minutes in) an interesting discussion about the Committee's need to submit a budget for trips.

The chair, Basil McCrea, is clearly keen on some travel, whilst the DUP's David McIlveen suggests that bringing experts to Northern Ireland might be more beneficial. The TUV's Jim Allister warns about the likelihood of the public viewing committee visits as "junkets". All this two-and-a-half months before the latest controversy broke.

Democracy Live is a recent arrival, but elsewhere on the web, such as on this BBC Panorama site or this BBC Northern Ireland site you can look back at the early days of the troubles. Or if you prefer to remember quieter times, try this site which includes advice on what you needed to do if you wanted to spend a penny in Bessbrook back in 1960.

The BBC director general has talked about liberating the 99% of BBC material left on the corporation's library shelves. However, the project is complicated, involving considerable financial, legal and logistical obstacles.

Moves are afoot locally, involving the Ulster Museum, to make more archival material available to interested academics.

Whilst there's still no consensus on how to deal with Northern Ireland's troubled past, ensuring much of the film record is accessible to the public could be an important contribution to setting the troubles in an accurate context.

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