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[casi-analysis] Pilger on BBC and Hutton

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Writing in the New Statesman, John Pilger says the continuing establishment
campaign against the BBC is both bizarre and deeply political. : Pilger : 09
During the war against Iraq, the BBC's Today programme sent Andrew Gilligan
to Baghdad. Gilligan's reports were unlike anything the BBC had broadcast.
They contradicted the official Anglo-American line about "liberation" and
made clear that, for a great many Iraqis, the invasion and occupation were
at least as bad as life under Saddam Hussein.
This was heresy, prompting Alastair Campbell to move Gilligan to the top of
his list of "rants", as Greg Dyke has described them. "Gullible Gilligan"
was Campbell's term of abuse, which meant that the reporter was on to
something. Like his subsequent report that the government had "sexed up" its
Iraq dossier, Gilligan's conclusion was right, and has since been repeatedly
proven right. There is no liberation in Iraq. There is a vicious colonial
occupation. The government "sexed up" not one, but two dossiers.
Campbell's attacks were reminiscent of those orchestrated against other
journalists who have distinguished themselves by departing from the script.
For telling the truth about the carnage of Queen Victoria's favourite war,
in the Crimea, the Times correspondent William Howard Russell was damned as
a traitor. For revealing the human cost of the American bombing of North
Vietnam in 1965, James Cameron was smeared as a "dupe of communism".
"When they call you a dupe," Cameron told me, "what they are really
complaining about is that you are not their dupe." The BBC bought the
exclusive rights to Cameron's film, then suppressed it; just as it
suppressed The War Game, Peter Watkins's brilliant recreation of Britain
under nuclear attack; just as it suppressed or doctored countless works that
sought to explain the British war in Northern Ireland, such as Article 5,
Brian Phelan's play about torture, and Colin Thomas's film City on the
Border. Thomas was ordered by BBC chiefs to cut a scene which showed a
gravestone that read, "Murdered by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday." He
refused, and resigned.
A barrister called Brian Hutton, representing the Ministry of Defence, is
remembered from the Bloody Sunday inquest in 1973 for his tirade at the
coroner, who had dared suggest that the soldiers had no justification for
shooting 13 people dead. "It is not for you or the jury," said Hutton, "to
express such wide-ranging views, particularly when a most eminent judge has
spent 20 days hearing evidence and come to a very different conclusion." The
eminent judge was Lord Widgery who, as we now know, oversaw yet another
gross miscarriage of justice. In the obsequious Hutton, Blair had the right
The parallel of Iraq with Ireland is instructive. Among those currently
mentioned as a new BBC chairman is John Birt, the former director general
made a lord by Blair. During the late 1980s, Birt decreed that the views of
Irish Republican representatives could be broadcast only if an actor mimed
their words. This was finally abandoned after a group of journalists (myself
included) took such an abuse of freedom of speech all the way to the
European Court.
The current exhumation of Birt may be a joke, but I doubt it. For in many
ways Birt was an authentic voice of the BBC. He was a champion of what the
more pompous at the BBC call "rigour". He demanded corporate discipline and
built a Kafka-like bureaucracy to order. Will Wyatt, one of Birt's
executives, has written the following about the current acting
director-general, Mark Byford, another Birt man: "I expect him... to restore
the level of rigour that existed under John Birt."
Ah, the "rigour". Not once was Blair called to account for the human cost of
his sanctions policy in Iraq, let alone his invasion. Alastair Campbell was
allowed to walk away from Newsnight without serious challenge to his
preposterous "vindication" by Hutton. How is this "rigour" viewed from afar?
In the Australian Financial Review on 31 January, Brian Toohey, his
country's most distinguished investigative journalist, recalled that
Panorama on 23 September 2002 claimed to have "hard evidence" about Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction. "It did no such thing," wrote Toohey. "Instead,
it presented a load of nonsense which bolstered the case for subsequent
invasion. One of the programme's prime sources was an Iraqi, whom it
described as "credible". The programme fell hook, line and sinker for his
claim to know that a secret biological weapons laboratory existed under a
major hospital in Baghdad [and] Panorama had the gall earlier this month to
attack a BBC radio news item (Gilligan's), which correctly reported concerns
among officials about the accuracy of British government dossiers on Iraq's
That edition of Panorama was not untypical of the BBC's coverage of the
build-up to the invasion, and the "war on terror", or indeed any war fought
or supported by the British establishment in living memory. None of this is
conspiratorial; it is a venerable tradition. Following the example set by
the BBC's founder John Reith, who secretly wrote propaganda for Stanley
Baldwin's Tory government during the General Strike, the hallowed principle
of impartiality is invariably suspended when the establishment is
threatened, especially when it decides to pursue its imperial tradition and
join the United States in subverting other nations by violent or other
means. By channelling and amplifying established agendas, devoted
practitioners of "impartiality" minimise the culpability of governments,
prime ministers and their allies.
It was hardly surprising that a recent German survey of the world's leading
broadcasters' coverage of Iraq found that the BBC gave just 2 per cent to
demonstrations of anti-war dissent - less than even American broadcasters -
even though the demonstrators probably represented a majority of the British
This is the "rigour" whose recent lapse Wyatt and Byford lament. It is the
rigour, as Robert Louis Stevenson put it, of "your sham impartialists,
wolves in sheep's clothing, simpering honestly as they suppress". It is the
rigour of false respect for a corrupt elite, of "that combination of
mediocrity and ambition: death to the spirit", as the historian Norman Stone
There have always been honourable exceptions, and the emergence of one of
them explains why the Blair gang became hysterical when Andrew Gilligan told
the truth about their "liberation" of Iraq and a deception intended to cover
their violence - a violence that took up to 55,000 lives, including 9,600
civilians: a violence that kills or injures 1,000 Iraqi children every month
as a result of unexploded cluster bombs that the British military scattered
in urban areas: a violence which has again contaminated much of Iraq with
uranium. This crime, and this alone, is the single issue crying out to be
reported with genuine rigour, not "inquired into" by yet another
establishment panel clearing an exit for those responsible.
First published in the New Statesman -

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