Richard Ingrams: Some things are too sensitive to be discussed openly


It takes a foolhardy person to criticise the saintly figure of Sir Bob Geldof, but this course was embarked on earlier this year by one Martin Plant, the BBC World Service's Africa editor.

In an Assignment programme it was claimed – wrongly – that money raised by Geldof's charity, Band Aid, had been diverted by rebel groups in Ethiopia to buy weapons.

A unique BBC apology – the first ever to be broadcast on all the corporation's various networks – apologised for making the suggestion as well as personally to Sir Bob for implying that he had declined to be interviewed about the allegation "because he thought the subject too sensitive to be discussed openly".

We do not know if Sir Bob was invited to comment this week on the BBC's humiliating climbdown, but if the aim was to stress the total integrity of the Band Aid project, it was a little unfortunate that the person from the charity who spoke on the matter was Michael Grade, who is one of its trustees.

Because it so happens that this is not the first time that Grade has encountered allegations of money being diverted into the wrong channels, as happened with ITV during his watch as chairman. Two years ago, readers may recall, ITV was fined £4m for accepting millions of pounds from the viewers of Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway when the results of the phone-in competition had already been decided.

It's the time of year for poppy hypocrisy

The controversy over whether Jon Snow ought or ought not to wear a poppy when appearing on Channel 4 News has become an annual event, rather like Bonfire Night or the end of British Summer Time. But it might be healthier if more people were offended by the sight, not of the poppyless Snow, but by the ranks of politicians on frontbenches of the House of Commons all of them sporting poppies on their dark suits. And it is not simply because they are doing it on the orders of their party's PR men. That may be offensive enough.

More pointful is the thought that if we are to mourn the deaths of servicemen over the past 10 years, or to raise money to help those who have lost limbs, or who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, then the politicians bear a heavy responsibility for what has happened to those men and women. Most of them voted for our involvement in Afghanistan, and they endorsed Tony Blair's 2003 invasion of Iraq, which even to this day is resulting in terrible atrocities such as the recent attack on Baghdad's Catholic church.

But how many of those frontbenchers would see a link between their disastrous decisions and the poppies they are pleased to flaunt as a sign of their public-spiritedness? The answer I fear is regrettably few.

All quiet on the Scientology front

While viewers may protest about Jon Snow's lack of a poppy, no one as far as I can tell has so far complained about the appearance on Channel 4's short 4thought slot – which comes on after the news – of a 16-year-old girl called Hannah Lycett.

Pretty and smartly dressed, Hannah told us she had been a Scientologist since the age of nine. In the course of a short address she held up a book, The Way to Happiness, allegedly written by the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard, which she explained preaches the need for simple basic morals without which none of us can obtain the happiness we all desire. It is unlikely that this little girl is aware that the author of that book of morals was one of the 20th century's most successful conmen – a liar, a charlatan and latterly a madman who ended his life on the run from the FBI in 1986.

But you might expect that there would be someone at Channel 4 who would know better. You might also expect that there would have been some kind of protest and that questions would be asked about how a teenage girl came to be converted to Scientology at the age of nine and how she came to go on air to endorse Hubbard's sinister movement. Once again, I appear to be a feeble little voice crying in the wilderness.