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Email to Helen Boaden, BBC news director

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David C
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Joined: 12 Jan 2004
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Post Post subject: Email to Helen Boaden, BBC news director Reply with quote

From: Media Lens Editors []
Sent: 13 June 2011 10:38
Subject: Value of Journalism Speech: missing section

Dear Helen Boaden,

I enjoyed reading your well-written and interesting speech (
You said that: “Our ratings for trust, impartiality and independence have [...] continued to rise over the last three years.”

But you do not provide any figures to back this up. Could you possibly point to the relevant references, please?

You also said that:

“In each decade, from its inception to the present day, the BBC bears the scars of its entanglements with those in power.’

However, what followed was as a rather selective and debatable list.

Here is some of what you missed:

The BBC was founded by Lord Reith in 1922 and immediately used as a propaganda weapon for the Baldwin government during the General Strike, when it was known by workers as the "British Falsehood Corporation". During the strike, no representative of organised labour was allowed to be heard on the BBC. Ramsay McDonald, the leader of the opposition, was also banned.

In their highly respected study of the British media, Power Without Responsibility, James Curran and Jean Seaton wrote of "the continuous and insidious dependence of the Corporation [the BBC] on the government". (Routledge, 4th edition, 1991, p.144)

Thus, at the start of the Second World War, an official wrote that the Ministry of Information "recognised that for the purpose of war activities the BBC is to be regarded as a Government Department." He added: "I wouldn't put it quite like this in any public statement." For forty years, from an office in Bush House in London, home of the BBC World Service, a brigadier passed on the names of applicants for editorial jobs in the BBC to MI5 for “vetting”.

John Pilger has reported:

"Journalists with a reputation for independence were refused BBC posts because they were not considered 'safe'." (John Pilger, Hidden Agendas, Vintage, 1998, p.496)

In the leaked minutes of one of the BBC's weekly Review Board meetings during the Falklands war in 1982, BBC executives directed that the weight of their news coverage should be concerned "primarily with government statements of policy". An impartial style was felt to be "an unnecessary irritation". Prior to the opening of hostilities, a Peruvian plan for a negotiated settlement came close to success. On May 13, 1982, the former British prime minister Edward Heath, told the broadcaster ITN that the Argentineans had requested three minor amendments to the peace plan. According to Heath these were so trivial they could not possibly be rejected, but prime minister Thatcher rejected them out of hand. The Heath interview was the only time the peace plan was mentioned on British television - the story was blanked.

In 2003, a Cardiff University report found that the BBC "displayed the most 'pro-war' agenda of any broadcaster" on the Iraq invasion. Over the three weeks of the initial conflict, 11% of the sources quoted by the BBC were of coalition government or military origin, the highest proportion of all the main television broadcasters. The BBC was less likely than Sky, ITV or Channel 4 News to use independent sources, who also tended to be the most sceptical. The BBC also placed least emphasis on Iraqi casualties, which were mentioned in 22% of its stories about the Iraqi people, and it was least likely to report on Iraqi opposition to the invasion.

On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Andrew Bergin, the press officer for the Stop The War Coalition, told Media Lens:

"Representatives of the coalition have been invited to appear on every TV channel except the BBC. The BBC have taken a conscious decision to actively exclude Stop the War Coalition people from their programmes, even though everyone knows we are central to organising the massive anti-war movement..." (Email to Media Lens, March 14, 2003)

David Miller, professor of sociology at Strathclyde University and co-founder of SpinWatch, concluded:

"BBC managers have fallen over themselves to grovel to the government in the aftermath of the Hutton whitewash... When will their bosses apologise for conspiring to keep the anti war movement off the screens? Not any time soon." (Miller, 'Media Apologies?', ZNet, June 15, 2004,

In a speech at New York's Columbia University, John Pilger commented:

"We now know that the BBC and other British media were used by MI6, the secret intelligence service. In what was called 'Operation Mass Appeal', MI6 agents planted stories about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction - such as weapons hidden in his palaces and in secret underground bunkers. All these stories were fake." (John Pilger, 'The real first casualty of war,' New Statesman, April 24, 2006)

In truth, the BBC's relationship with the establishment was accurately summarised long ago, in a single diary entry made by Lord Reith:

"They know they can trust us not to be really impartial."

I hope you will respond, please.


David Cromwell
Co-Editor, Media Lens
Thu Jul 07, 2011 10:30 am
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