Saturday, July 05, 2003

Constitutional Crises in Britain 

There is a crisis in Britain, and it is one involving the constitution, and the health of the office of the prime minister. It appears that the office of the prime minister is willing to cannibalize Britain's very well-respected BBC news, in an effort to justify its involvement in Iraq. We can only hope that the BBC board of governors continue to support their reporters, and the cause of free speech:

Governors want Mr Dyke and his director of news, Richard Sambrook, to justify their reasons for standing by the controversial story at the heart of the dispute. Mr Dyke's determination not to back down, and Downing Street's insistence that the BBC was wrong to run the story, has led to the most serious fall-out between the government and the publicly funded broadcaster since Norman Tebbit attacked Kate Adie's reporting of the Libyan air raids in 1986.

On Monday, MPs are expected to clear Alastair Campbell, Downing Street's director of communications, of "sexing up" an intelligence dossier that claimed Iraq would be able to launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

This would present a serious problem for the BBC: its original report by Andrew Gilligan, defence and diplomatic correspondent for Radio 4's Today programme, quoted an intelligence source who claimed there was concern in intelligence circles about Downing Street's role in the preparation of the September dossier.

It is obvious to every intelligent, informed human being that intelligence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was exaggerated to promote this war. You can call it "sexed up", you can call it lies, you can call it whatever you want to call it. It is the responsibility of the press to report on this. Someone lied somewhere along the line, and the lies were repeated and extended and condoned by those in power. This has to stop.

I urge everyone to send an email to the BBC's board of governors in support of the efforts of BBC reporters and others to expose the lies (newsonline@bbc.co.uk). I cannot judge the accuracy of Andrew Gilligan's article, but this controversy is deflecting from the main issue, that of deliberate attempts by Tony Blair to mislead the British public into believing in the cause for war against Iraq.

The BBC is already clamping down on freelance reporters as a result over this row between the BBC and the prime minister's communications director, Alastair Campbell. This is a wrong message to send to the public, and dispays a lack of trust in conclusions reached as a result of the original article that started everything, despite statements to the contrary:

The BBC's director of news, Richard Sambrook, today reiterated his support for Today programme defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan, whose May 29 story that an intelligence source was claiming the government "sexed up" last September's Iraq dossier is at the centre of the row with Downing Street.

Mr Sambrook sent an email to all BBC News staff rejecting claims in today's Times that Gilligan's position was "under threat".

But senior BBC insiders admit that an article Gilligan wrote for the Mail on Sunday, shortly after his May 29 Iraq dossier story, provided unnecessary ammunition for the prime minister's communications director, Alastair Campbell.

Is the truth "unnecessary ammunition"? The BBC needs to decide if it wants to remain in the business of journalism, or become an arm of the government, like the American network media. If the BBC were to issue a correction of some kind, perhaps it might read:

"We don't know who altered the intelligence on Iraq, but we do know that it was based on forged documents and exaggerations, and manipulations that the public has a right to be informed of." or

"We apoligize for the suggestion that Alastair Campbell was responsible for the "sexing up" of the dossier of Iraqi intelligence. We now realize this decision rests squarely on the shoulders of the Prime Minister himself, Tony Blair.

The is a crossroads for the BBC, and it looks as it they may not be choosing well.