On March 21 we noted that the BBC’s Diplomatic Correspondent, Bridget Kendall, had said on the Six O’Clock News:

“There’s still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it justified or a disastrous miscalculation?” (Kendall, BBC Six O’Clock News, March 20, 2006. See here)

We asked how the war could possibly be justified when Tony Blair had identified the “serious and current threat” posed by Iraqi WMD as the justification. We also asked how “disastrous miscalculation” could be presented as the opposing argument to the claim that the war was justified.

We pointed out that many people believe that launching a war of aggression is “the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”. (Quoted, Walter J. Rockler, ‘War crimes law applies to U.S. too,’ Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1999) This was the judgement of the prosecutors at the post-WW2 Nuremberg trials.

Dozens of Media Lens readers wrote to the BBC repeating our questions and asking more of their own.

Helen Boaden, the BBC’s Head of News, responded as follows:

“Thank you for your email about Bridget Kendall’s report on the Six O’Clock News on Monday (March 20th), pegged to the third anniversary since the start of the war in Iraq.

“I’ve consulted Bridget and I have to confess that we are both surprised by your criticism of her having contrasted the word ‘justified’ with ‘disastrous miscalculation’ in the phrase, ‘There is still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq – was it justified or a disastrous miscalculation?’ Strictly speaking, the opposite of ‘justified’ would be ‘unjustified’ but that more neutral word would not point to the extent to which the war’s aftermath has proved extraordinarily problematic, which was the subject of this report. Bridget’s phrasing was much stronger.

“The focus of this report was very much on the post-war difficulties and distress experienced by Iraqi people – not on the legality of the invasion of Iraq in the first place. Before the war, one ‘justification’ for it was that it would improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis and the anniversary gave us an opportunity to examine whether so far this has proved correct. The report gave a picture of the extent of post-war difficulties in the round, including daily violence, economic set-backs and political turmoil.

“I hope you find this explanation of the intention behind the phraseology helpful.

“Yours sincerely
Helen Boaden
Director, BBC News” (Email dated March 27, 2006)

We responded:

“Dear Helen Boaden,

“Thank you for your email. You say that both you and Bridget Kendall are ‘surprised’ by the criticism. But you do not answer the central challenge that the BBC ignored the large constituency of public opinion who believes that the invasion of Iraq was not just a war crime, but the ‘supreme international crime’, to cite the Nuremberg judgement after WW2. Why did Ms Kendall’s report, and BBC reports generally, blank this view?

“What is also extraordinary about your reply is your insistence that ‘one “justification” for [the invasion] was that it would improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis.’ This is a shameful rewriting of history. +The+ justification, repeated endlessly by government ministers and relayed faithfully by the BBC, was the supposed threat of Iraqi WMD.

“You conclude by saying that you provided an ‘explanation of the intention behind the phraseology’. It is not your intention that is the central concern; it is the fact that Ms. Kendall’s report, and BBC reporting as a whole, has consistently downplayed our government’s culpability in international crimes of the highest degree: this includes both the invasion itself and the ongoing occupation.

“The BBC has a duty to represent a wide spectrum of viewpoints. BBC producer guidelines include this one: ‘No significant strand of thought should go un-reflected or under represented on the BBC.’ When will you live up to this publicly-funded commitment in your news reports on Iraq?

“best wishes,

David Cromwell and David Edwards

Co-Editors, Media Lens” (Email dated March 27, 2006)


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Bridget Kendall, BBC Diplomatic Correspondent
Email: [email protected]

Write to Peter Horrocks, Head of BBC Television News
Email: [email protected]

Write to Helen Boaden, Head of BBC News
Email: [email protected]

Please consider submitting an official complaint to the BBC at: