Friday | June 27, 2003
Blair vs the BBC
In an unprecedented attack on the British Broadcasting Corporation, the world's most respected news provider, Tony Blair's spokesman, Alastair Cambpell has accused reporter Andrew Gilligan of lying about the now infamous dossier Blair used to claim Saddam was a threat, was "sexed up" on the orders of 10 Downing St.
The BBC, in response to Mr Campbell's attack, has given a statement again - the like of which I don't think we have seen by the BBC to government ever before.
The BBC is not just simply saying we stand by this story.
It is saying that all the way through the run-up to this war, which has split Britain down the middle, the government has been trying to intimidate BBC journalists.
It is an absolutely extraordinary unprecedented confrontation.
Campbell hits back as corporation accuses him of vendetta
Nicholas Watt and Janine Gibson
In its strongest ever attack on Tony Blair's government, which was cleared by director general Greg Dyke, the BBC insisted that it was standing by the contentious story by its defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan.
Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of news, wrote to the prime minister's director of communications: "I do not accept the validity of your attacks on our journalism, and on Andrew Gilligan in particular. We have to believe that you are conducting a personal vendetta against a particular journalist whose reports on a number of occasions have caused you discomfort."
Mr Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications, swiftly replied with an equally accusatory public statement, claiming that the BBC was damaging itself through "the defence of the indefensible" and reiterating his belief that the BBC's story contained "outrageous" allegations. He later denied suggestions that he should resign during a live interview with Jon Snow on Channel 4 News where he had turned up unannounced.
What is this really all about?
It seems that in his determination to go to war, Mr Blair believed his trump card would be the publication of "secret intelligence", a kind of exotic substance that, he hoped, when released, would convince even the most sceptical. Yet intelligence of this kind is rarely, if ever, foolproof as any practitioner of the art will tell you. It certainly cannot be used to stifle suspicion that we were all taken to war under a false pretext.
The BBC has no American counterpart. Our public broadcasting serves as an adjunct to educational services, not as a public newsgathering organ. The Voice of America is rarely heard by Americans in the US, their reporters are anonymous to anyone who isn't an expat. NPR is tiny compared to the BBC and it's audience comparable to frosting on a cake to the BBC, which is listened to world wide.
With the growth of the BBC's website and forays into original reporting, it has made many enemies, especially in Israel, where its reporting is attacked for being biased on a regular basis. But the idea of a government official attacking Auntie Beeb with such ferocity indicates something else going on.
In Thursday's Independent, they openly called Blair a liar , calling him on several statements he made prior to the start of the war surrounding the now "dodgy" dossier.
This row, which seeks to force the BBC to back down, isn't about the BBC, but about the fact that Blair's credibility is sinking like a lead weight on a pond. People simply no longer trust him or his decisions. And in a week where six British MP's die like something out of some posting on the Raj's Northwest Frontier, he has increasingly little room to manuever.
So they pick on Gilligan, call him a liar and seek to force the BBC to back down in what is clearly a diversionary attack. Campbell seeks to attack on a narrow point about intelligence sources disliking the dossier and not the wider fact that most of it was as full of crap as a pasture. By launching this distraction, they hope to salvage time and space for Iraq to start turning around.
But no one is fooled. Such an attack usually works for a little while, but six dead and eight wounded speak for themselves.
Tony Blair is beginning to launch desperate gambits to save a policy which has little public support. Maybe this spoiling attack on the Beeb may work, but even if it does, it won't for long. Blair's Iraq policy stinks like the uncollected garbage festering in Basra's 117 degree heat.
Steve Gilliard.Posted June 27, 2003 09:55 PM | Comments (45)