Socialist Worker

How Blair has nobbled the BBC

Issue No. 1845

TONY BLAIR and his media henchman, Alastair Campbell, are going into overdrive to peddle lies to justify the war. The Independent reported on Monday, 'The government's chief spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, is said to have ordered the Whitehall press machine to counter individual stories from the field with the wider overview of the Ministry of Defence.'

The latest example of that 'overview' came over the slaughter of people in a Baghdad market by a US missile last Friday. 'Alarmed by the horrific TV pictures in the wake of the bombing,' reported the Guardian, 'Number 10 let slip an intelligence briefing which said the Iraqis might have been responsible.' There is not a shred of evidence to back this claim.

But, as the Guardian reports, 'The claims were lapped up by ITN which broke the 'exclusive news'.' Journalist Robert Fisk was in Baghdad and reported from the scene of the slaughter. He found a fragment of the missile that killed over 50 people. It was computer coded in English, not Arabic. Fisk reported the identification numbers printed on the missile and added, 'It can easily be verified by the Americans - if they choose to.'

The BBC has been particularly eager to pump out the government line over the war. On the eve of war Alastair Campbell wrote to head of news at the BBC, Richard Sambrook, to warn him off presenting the wrong image of the war. Sambrook ordered editors to ban anti-war 'extremists' from programmes. The corporation has repeated lie after lie. It headlines military briefings and Downing Street spin, but buries the corrections and rebuttals - if it reports them at all.

The pro-war message is reinforced by language. BBC presenters repeatedly use the phrase 'pockets of resistance' to describe major fighting against US and British troops. They report discoveries of protective gear as proof that Iraqis have chemical weapons.

They don't say that US forces have exactly the same gear. And they don't report that Iraqis may justifiably worry about gas attacks against them after US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly talked of using CS gas. When BBC chiefs are not reporting government briefings they sanitise the war and try to turn it into entertainment.

A leaked e-mail sent by BBC boss Roger Mosey talked of BBC coverage as 'extraordinary - it almost feels like World Cup football when you turn from Umm Qasr to another theatre of war somewhere else and you're switching live between battles'. Even this isn't enough for Blair.

His arch spin doctor Alastair Campbell went 'ballistic' at his press machine last weekend because too much criticism is still creeping in. And Labour Party chair John Reid attacked the BBC for adopting a 'friend of Baghdad' role. Blair, Campbell and Reid want to bully the BBC to take an even more uncritically pro-war line, and to pump out yet more lies to justify slaughter.

Debate sees fury over news bias

MANY MEDIA workers are furious at the way they are being forced to report the war. Deputy director of BBC news, Mark Damazer, debated with Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition, at a packed meeting last week.

Andrew Murray pointed out how the BBC had censored the anti-war movement. 'On 20 March around one million people took part in protest actions across Britain. The BBC should service these people but instead the news that night was devoted to speculation about Saddam Hussein's state of health.'

He went on, 'Nothing on the BBC has challenged the idea of a quick, easy and popular war. No one on the BBC challenges the government's idea of winning a triumphant victory. Now there is speculation about guerrilla action by Iraqis. I heard Gavin Esler on Newsnight referring to this as 'terrorism'. This is internalising the language of the aggressors. On Five Live, I heard the presenter talk about the 'liberation' of Iraqi villages. This is internalising the language of the military.'

Mark Damazer acknowledged that the BBC 'makes mistakes' and admitted it was wrong for the BBC presenters to use phrases like liberation when there was no evidence that people felt liberated.

But those who spoke in the discussion did not accept that the BBC simply made the odd mistake. They pointed out that the BBC systematically bows to government pressure and presents a distorted picture of the war.

One young woman said, 'I worked for an Arab TV station. We have been shut down because one of our key backers, an anti-war campaigner, has been arrested in Jordan. We were trying to show the human side of the stories from Baghdad. Why does the BBC show military strategy briefings and press conferences, but never talk to ordinary people in Iraq?' Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the journalists' union, told the meeting, 'I was supposed to be on Radio Four's Today Programme this morning to debate press censorship. It was pulled. We have had loads of complaints about interviews with anti-war campaigners being pulled, like one with Bruce Kent in Merseyside. Anti-war statements made by musicians at the Radio Three World Music awards have been cut.'

Abdul Hadi worked for the BBC Arab Service before he was summarily sacked four weeks ago. He told the meeting, 'The BBC has been hijacked by the government. It has become a state broadcaster. Last year I asked why have we sent three reporters to cover a meeting of the Iraqi opposition in London, but no one to a massive anti-war demo. I was told 'They wouldn't like it'.'

A woman in the audience appealed to Mark Damazer to end the use of terms like 'flush out' and 'neutralise' when referring to Iraqi resistance. She went on, 'These are stories about people being killed. They are human beings defending their country.'

A week of lies

THE LIES that accompanied the start of war have been kept up in the last week.

Tuesday 25 March, 5.30pm: first reports of popular anti-Saddam uprising in Basra. Wednesday 26 March, 7.40am: Al Jazeera journalist in Basra says no uprising. Wednesday 26 March, 12.30pm: Tony Blair reports 'limited uprising' to House of Commons.

Thursday 27 March, 10.10am: reports that Desert Rats defeat Iraqi tank column in 'biggest tank battle since World War Two'. Thursday 27 March, 2.40pm: only 14 tanks involved in one-sided battle.

Thursday 27 March: Tony Blair claims two British soldiers 'executed'. Bereaved families say he is lying. Downing Street press officer forced to apologise to the families the next day.

Barons who back the war

THE SUPER-RICH men who control much of Britain's media are doing their bit to lie and cover up the truth in order to back the war.

Rupert Murdoch owns 175 newspapers around the world. No Murdoch editor has opposed the war. To her credit Sun journalist Katy Weitz resigned her job in disgust on the day the paper ran the headline 'Show Them No Pity...They Have Stains On Their Souls'.

Regional newspaper boss Sir Ray Tindle owns 130 local papers across Britain. He has banned anti-war articles or letters from his papers.

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Article information

Sat 5 Apr 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1845
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