Election '97: The gentle man in the white suit goes into battle

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The Independent Online
As Superman came to rid the world of crime, so The Man in the White Suit has come to save us from sleaze.

Known to millions of television viewers for braving some of the world's most dangerous battle zones in his medical-style garb, Martin Bell is Britain's most identifiable war correspondent.

As a BBC television reporter, he has dug fox-holes with the Desert Rats, invaded Iraq with the Irish Hussars, and most famously of all stopped shrapnel in Sarajevo in 1992 while covering the war in Bosnia. This incident, and the way that this gentle, unassuming man reported the horrors of what he saw in the former Yugoslavia, have made Mr Bell a household name.

Subsequently, he has sought to go beyond the normal role of a news reporter to try to influence broadcasting standards in general.

Last year, he clashed with his colleagues when he called upon the BBC to abandon neutrality in reporting war and genocide.

"I do not believe we should stand neutrally between good and evil," he said. "My answer is what I call the journalism of attachment, journalism which knows as well as cares."

Mr Bell was attacked by colleagues who said he sounded like a priest keen to abandon celibacy.

He has also joined battle with the BBC over "good taste", claiming that too much of the blood and gore was cut out of broadcasts.

"We are in danger not so much of glorifying war as prettifying it," he said. "If we don't show people wounded and dying, we don't show the cost at all."

Mr Bell's moral stance has inevitably resulted in him straying into politically controversial areas and last year he delivered a public tirade against the "cynicism" of British foreign policy.

"Clearly, we had a national interest in getting as good a deal as possible on Maastricht, and equally clearly it was not in the national interest to protect the people of Srebrenica.

"Our interest was to get the hell out," he said.

Conscious that he had become the oldest correspondent in Bosnia, he returned home and clashed again with his bosses as he asked to become a political correspondent.

"There has to be more to life than wars," he said recently.

This morning he was preparing for a different form of warfare.

Not that he is a total stranger to politics. Roger Barlow, the Liberal Democrat candidate who made way for him, said he was pleased that Mr Bell had been chairman of a Young Liberal branch before the BBC required him to be come apolitical.

Sources close to Mr Bell said last night that one reason he decided to stand was his admiration for Paddy Ashdown's commitment to solving the problems in Bosnia.

Mr Bell, 58, joined BBC TV news in 1965 and was Royal Television Society reporter of the year in 1977, and television journalist of the year in 1992.

His opponents may try to exploit the fact that the anti-sleaze campaigner is the veteran of two marriage break-ups, partly, he says, because of the pressures of work.

But the only funny money likely to be found on Martin Bell is the lucky silver dollar which he has carried into battle all over the world.

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