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e-mail the beeb

1) Yesterday's Independent had a long piece (see below) exposing how the
World Service was duped into broadcasting what was essentially a piece of
RAF propaganda about the Feb. 16th bombing of Iraq.

One of our members has suggested that folk e-mail the BBC's Feedback
programme (a programme whose content is 'entirely directed by the letters,
emails and faxes it receives from listeners') to ask for some sort of
right-of-reply. Their e-mail is

You can also mail a complaint to the World Service at

2) The following page on the Independent's web-site contains a link to an
e-mail debate 'Iraq : should sanctions be lifted' :

I wasn't able to figure out how to participate but some of you might have
more luck!


The curious case of Esther's sidekick, the BBC, the RAF and the bombing of

By Liz Kershaw

The Independent
1 March 2001

This is a tale from the twilight zone, involving a dictator and a radio
commentator, surgical strikes and Esther Rantzen, the Pentagon and the Babes
in the Wood. And it all began when most of us were safely tucked up and
sleeping soundly in our beds.

At 4am last Thursday, the most unbelievable Boy's Own-style account of the
bombing of Baghdad was broadcast around the globe on From Our Own
Correspondent (FOOC) by the Foreign Office-funded World Service.

It began, "Last Friday, Howard Leader was by chance in the Coalition Command
Control Centre sitting behind the general commanding the air operation."
Gosh. Then, after a concise and clear-cut resumé of the region's history and
a round-up of recent posturing by Saddam Hussein, Leader launched into his
main offensive. "And so it was that an armada of fast jets screamed over
Iraq's borders on their way to reduce the odds of Saddam's gunners getting
lucky. [What ho!]

"Behind a small Union Jack, four British officers served tea from flasks
which they passed round in china cups as they followed their Tornados
leading the sortie. There was an air of professional calm and concerned

He then assured us of "the extreme care taken to ensure that the target
sites are well away from passing civilians", and detailed the challenge for
the pilots which was to "put their bombs straight into the very manhole
covers of the hardened bunkers.

"This would be like throwing seven treble-twenties on a dart board and in
the following 30 minutes, their aim was faultless. Running the gauntlet of
surface-to-air missiles, the pilots pressed home their surgical strikes.
Every target was an isolated military facility."

Last week, the Pentagon disclosed that fewer than half of this oper- ation's
missiles actually hit their targets. Computer software was being considered
as one possible cause for this failure rate and it described the results as

But not Leader. "More amazing to me was the pinpoint accuracy of the weapons
which found their targets almost to the inch. Communications equipment was
comprehensively wrecked while adjacent huts were left untouched."

Well, he was there, wasn't he? "Having personally seen the assessment of
every strike on Friday night, it was with some incredulity that I read
Saddam's claims of civilian casualties. As ever, he was quick off the mark
to invite film crews into his hospitals to see the victims, but has been
reluctant to take them to the sites where these injuries were allegedly

And then Mr Leader just lost it completely. "Playing the martyr as cleverly
as he [Saddam] does, even prominent members of the British Parliament have
been drawn into the chorus of condemnation" Oh, dear. That's so un-BBC.

This gung-ho claptrap went hurtling unintercepted towards its target. That's
500 million listeners worldwide and a fair number of insomniacs at home.
Later the same morning, at 11.30, the domestic version of FOOC went out on
Radio 4 to the UK audience. Minus Leader's exclusive eyewitness report. The
Radio 4 editor had decided not to take up the World Service's offer of the

So who was this sinister-sounding, sycophantic,
on-the-spot-with-special-access reporter that nobody seems ever to have
heard of ?

"Absolutely no idea," said the World Service FOOC team with characteristic
candour. "As far as we know, he's never been used before. He's not staff.
Somebody said he might be a producer, but he's not even on our e-mail
system." The editor of the programme, Mike Popham, hadn't heard of Leader
either, before last Tuesday when he took his call out of the blue. Leader
told Popham that he'd been in the Gulf making a documentary (he didn't
specify for whom) and happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Popham accepts that, in hindsight, Leader's assessment of the action was
rather rash. But, he told me, it all seemed such a scoop and time was tight.

But surely, I hear you cry, he did some checking? For instance, he must have
discussed the story with Leader in the Gulf? "No. He only got in touch with
us once he got back. He told me he'd worked on That's Life for five years.
And he works for BBC Radio Kent." But a call to Radio 4 producer Richard
Bannerman confirmed Leader was currently working for him – on a documentary
about fire-engines.

That's Life! Can it be true, that our intrepid Boy's Own Paper scribe used
to appear on Sunday nights as one of Esther Rantzen's sycophantic young men
in sensible suits, investigating consumer outrages in Kent and guffawing at
willy-shaped Jerusalem artichokes from the Wirral? And a second's thought
will confirm – Yes, now I remember Howard Leader. He wasn't the short one
who's now on Ballykissangel, nor the tall one who developed a speech
impediment, nor the wall-eyed chap in the smoking jacket who chuckled over
saucy misprints. No, Howard was the insipid, baldy one who could play the
accordion, who didn't own a TV set, who had a party piece that involved
woodlice doing tricks – and he was kicked off the show as it went into its
final series in 1994.

No one quite knows why, but he caused a mild scandal two years earlier, by
appearing to take the mickey out of blind people. Attempting to demonstrate
how hard it was for people to reach a telephone box installed in the middle
of a roundabout, Leader had donned a pair of dark glasses and a white stick
(for added emphasis) and had fallen over a wall. This stunt was deemed
"insensitive"to blind people by the Broadcasting Standards Authority, and a
viewer's complaint was upheld. But it's not the sort of thing you want on
your broadcaster's CV, is it?

A namecheck on the internet confirmed that Howard has had a chequered
career. He's been in pantomime (Babes in the Wood in Bournemouth with Roy
Hudd, and a season at the Palace Theatre, Newark). He's been seen in two
episodes of 'Allo 'Allo, as a train ticket seller and a German sergeant, and
also hosted a mortgage seminar at the Moat House, Cambridge. So tell us: how
do you get from being Baron Hardup in Cinderella to the BBC's man in the

Time to touch base with a call to BBC Radio Kent. "Sorry. He doesn't work
here any more. Used to until last October. Went off to work for the RAF
press corps. His job now is to come up with stories about the RAF and place
them in the media."

"He's not on the list that I've got." said an emphatic chappie at the MoD
before passing me over to his oppo, who said: "Never heard of him! But if he
was in Saudi, we wouldn't necessarily." How odd.

Not long after that, the phone rang. It was Leader himself, ringing to put
me in the picture. "RAF press corps? Absolutely not! Look, I'm just a
freelance reporter, especially since the acting petered out." Acting? "Oh
yes, I used to be in 'Allo 'Allo playing General Von Shmelling on stage
before I was in the TV version." (Is there no end to this man's talents?)
But how did he get into this particular theatre of conflict? "I was invited
in." Of course. Simply tell the RAF you used to play a Jerry on telly and
enjoy a front-row seat while they bomb a few baddies.

"No, no, no." By now Leader was eager to share his credentials. "I've been
doing stories about defence for a while now." He then described a chance
meeting in Bosnia with an air commodore who suggested he was just the chap
to become a reservist helping out with "special projects".

"So I belong to the Volunteer PR Unit now, which is a little interface
between the RAF and the media. And before you say anything, I know what
you're thinking, and let me just pre-empt you by stating that it's by no
means a propaganda machine for the RAF." Oh, righty ho.

"It's only like being in the TA. I'm first and foremost a jobbing
journalist. I told them I'd really like to tell the story from a personal
perspective." And now that the world knows this perspective was so very
distorted and that his claims were quite clearly codswallop, as a "jobbing
journalist" he must be absolutely mortified.

Not at all. "Look, it's just what I saw. From where I was sitting, to a
layman like myself the targets were right on the nose. To my eyes they were
spot on. But, of course, I'm not a weapons analyst."

Well, quite. But is he or is he not on the RAF payroll? "Yes." Thank you. (A
later call to the MoD finds the press office a little more forthcoming: now
it agrees Leader was in Saudi as part of his Royal Auxiliary Air Force
duties – but that he offered the story to the BBC without reference to

By now I was dying to hear his more detailed Gulf documentary. But sadly,
he's been forced to call that off, due to an unforeseen leg injury. And
anyway panto and Baron Hardup still beckon, because "If people like what
you, they tend to ask you to do it again."

I expect the RAF is chuffed to bits with its new recruit. So look out
listeners! Those bombs are right on target! Oh no they're not.

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