TV Review

'Panorama' scarcely had any more independent evidence for its charges of abuse and coercion than the Saudi police did for theirs of lesbianism and calculated murder
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Indy Lifestyle Online
As injured innocents go Lucille McLauchlan isn't exactly top drawer material. To begin with there's the embarrassing matter of her dismissal from a Dundee Hospital and a police warrant against her for allegedly stealing money using an elderly patient's cash-card. And then, as Panorama (BBC1) conscientiously revealed in its programme about the ordeal of the two British nurses jailed in Saudi Arabia for the murder of an Australian colleague, there's the awkward fact that her statements about the aftermath of the crime don't all tally. She now categorically denies ever having been in the bank where the Saudi police claim to have caught her withdrawing money with Yvonne Gilford's cashcard, though in an earlier statement to her lawyer she gave a fairly detailed account of her presence there, explaining that she had gone to transfer money home. It's entirely possible that this was a white lie designed to mitigate a black one told by the Saudi police, but in an argument for her innocence that rested so heavily on the discrepencies in forced confessions such details niggled a bit, to say the least.

What's more, Panorama scarcely had any more independent evidence for its charges of abuse and coercion than the Saudi police did for theirs of lesbianism and calculated murder. As a viewer you were bound to make a judgement on the coherence and plausibility of the narrative that had been constructed out of the nurses' letters and diaries, and that judgement couldn't help but involve prejudice - about the Saudi justice system in particular (an informed prejudice, given their record of xenophobic judicial murders) and about swarthy foreigners in general (an uglier, more subterranean prejudice). By and large Panorama was careful about this - though there were some shots of the Saudi interrogators which hovered dangerously close to a kind of B-movie caricature, and the rough-cast wall which served as a backdrop for John Ware's pieces to camera also served as a presumption of guilt. I suppose it might just have been a realistic representation of conditions inside the Dahrahn police station but it was really there to say "third world police state", a quotation from all those films and adverts in which the innocent white West falls prey to corrupt foreignness. Still, by the end it was clear that you couldn't hang a cat on the "evidence" the Saudis had assembled - a transparently manufactured collage of suggestion and second thoughts and misogynist sexual fantasy. If they had wanted to frame these women convincingly they probably should have swallowed their national pride and asked for help from a police force that has had long practice in getting such things exactly right. I'm sure there would have been some former West Midlands officers who would have been happy to take the consultancy fee.

The Party's Over (C4) chronicled the turbulent relationship between the Labour Party and the standard bearers for Cool Britannia - an association that began in mutual infatuation and ended in disappointment and cat-calling. This storm in a champagne glass made for an entertaining documentary (excellent soundtrack, for one thing and some jolly footage of Peter Mandelson clapping along to a rock band as if his rhythm chip had crashed). But it was hard to decide in the end who had been more naive - those artists who thought that a Labour victory would immediately inaugurate a new Jerusalem (a nationwide rave with policy discussions in the chill-out room) or the politicians who believed they could safely co-opt the boorish heroes of youth culture, whose heroism, after all, depends on their distance from any perceived establishment. The culturati who listened to Tony Blair declaring that the arts weren't just something "that we talk about on Page 24 of the manifesto - I think it's something that's central to a vision of a decent and good society" should have realised that such promising words might not always lead to deeds. The arts actually only made it onto Page 31 of the manifesto, which was presumably determined to have more demographic clout. In any case the youth heroes soon found that it was one thing to cheer-lead for Tony Blair before his victory, quite another to do it afterwards, when their hand-clasping photo-opportunities might coincide with an unpopular vote in the House of Commons.

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