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The Hutton Report and its Condemnation of the BBC
Last uploaded : Sunday 1st Feb 2004 at 00:54
Contributed by : The Editors


In the space of three weeks, the mood of the British public has moved from a wave of loathing of the BBC to a near-mass hysteria about its incomparable greatness.

Three weeks ago we wrote about the demise of ?Kilroy,? a popular BBC television programme hosted by former MP Robert Kilroy Silk. The BBC management had decided it was inappropriate for a presenter to write a passionate editorial about the human rights abuses in Arab states. Kilroy?s article, in ?The Sunday Express,? had , unwisely, referred to ?Arabs? in a highly critical diatribe and thus provoked the wrath of the Commission for Racial Equality, who in turn referred the Kilroy article to the police for offences under the incitement to racial hatred statutes. End of ?Kilroy,? end of his career.

A wave of support arose in the nation, and there were calls for the BBC?s charter to be reviewed. Scores of newspaper readers wrote in threatening to withhold their Licence fees. (In the UK viewers have to buy an annual licence to keep a television in their homes or face prosecution.)

Now, three weeks later, Kilroy is out of the news but the release of the Hutton Report on the death of Iraq weapons expert Dr David Kelly has put the BBC back under the microscope. Those of us who have spent the past three years lamenting the bias of the BBC in its coverage of Israel and of American 'neocon' culture will have had a private chortle over recent events. Lord Hutton?s report has angered the scientist?s family by not addressing the death of Dr Kelly in the context of government culpability in the ?outing? of Kelly but putting the bulk of the blame on the BBC. Many in the country would have liked to have seen the head of Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon roll; his handing of the ordeal Kelly endured was seen by some as callous. He was, to those who abhor Hoon, throwing Kelly to the wolves. From the Ministry of Defence?s point pf view Kelly violated strict guidelines by providing BBC reporters with his own editorial assessment of the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan would have undoubtedly enraged Washington and Downing Street on the BBC ?Today? programme on 29 May 2003 and in newspaper articles by suggesting that the Prime Minister?s office had ?sexed up? the threat of WMD in the lead-up to war on Iraq.

This week the Chairman of the BBC, Gavyn Davies; the Director-General Greg Dyke and Gilligan himself have resigned in quick succession following the Hutton Report. Tony Blair is looking healthy -- literally -- for the first time in eight months. His pallour has turned to a rosy glow and his former ?spin doctor? Alastair Campbell is at last able to vent his fury at the BBC with the cushion of knowing that Hutton has roundly condemned the Beeb.

However, the public reaction has been extraordinary. On the BBC?s live ?Question Time? programme of January 29, the Blairite representative on the panel, Margaret Beckett, could barely finish a sentence without the audience stomping its feet and shouting her down. After all, on the same day Dr David Kay, a colleague of the late David Kelly, had declared before a Senate Committee that ?we all got it wrong.? The crowd on ?Question Time? felt we had ?got it all wrong;? and the results of a telephone poll showed that of 23,000 viewers some 82% felt the BBC had been wronged. The public outcry over the condemnation of Auntie Beeb escalated today when a group of BBC employees bought an advertisement in the national press declaring their anger at the departure of Greg Dyke.

What does this all mean? First, anti-war sentiment in the UK was huge and it is believed that a million people marched against war a year ago across Great Britain. Now David Kay has resigned amid the revelation of his empty WMD basket, scandalising Democrats, British dignitaries like Robin Cook who resigned in the wake of war and anti-war politicians across the globe. The groundswell in Britain has risen to the defence of the BBC.

The British nation has always been known for its tolerance and fairness. However, the burning of the American flag in Trafalgar Square during the visit of President Bush was a watershed in the perception by the British public of ?the special relationship.? (Frankly, I have never seen such vicious journalism as that proliferating during the Presidential visit. London?s Mayor refused to attend a State dinner in his honour.) The public passion for the BBC, just three weeks after the unpopular removal of much-loved Kilroy by the same organisation, has more to do with hatred of the Blair-Bush symbiosis than with affection for Greg Dyke or Andrew Gilligan.

In the meantime, Muammar Gaddafy has been welcoming Tom Lantos, a Jewish- American Congressman and Holocaust survivor, in the Libyan leader?s efforts to break down barriers with the United States and (as some have reported) with Israel. It is thought that Libya did not want to be shocked and awed and that Iran and Syria may soon follow suit. At the same time Saudi Arabia has called on all Arab states to make peace with Israel and for those nations to absorb Palestinians who regard themselves as refugees from what they deem the 1948 ?Naqba.?

If the fallout from the Iraq war is a sea-change in the Gulf, North Africa and the Middle East then it could be said that the conflict brought a profound mitzvah to the region. It could be said that the absence of WMDs should not be the cause of continued anger. However one doubts the rancour will subside. At the time of this filing there have been widespread calls in Britain and in the United States for a formal inquiry into the causes for the commitment of British troops to the Iraq campaign. Clinton-appointed CIA director George Tenet may be the sacrificial lamb. The mood in Britain is angry and noisy, and President Bush is reported to have been confronted by Republicans in Philadelphia today on the issue of pre-war intelligence. With ?Super Tuesday? approaching in the American Presidential primaries, it could be a turbulent time for Bush and Blair.

To me, the defining moment of the new year has been the sight of Gaddafy shmoozing Tom Lantos. It has not received any attention from the BBC, but is a major story just the same. The American neo-conservatives are hated around the world but the transformation of the Middle East is beginning to unfold in front of our eyes; if a disarmed Libya, Iran and Syria are by-products of the Iraq intervention, the fate of the BBC is not nearly so important to me as the long-yearned for renewed prosperity of the Holy Land.



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