The BBC's defence rests on principles, not personalities

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The Independent Online

For all the Prime Minister's efforts to persuade us to "move on", the controversy about the Iraq war just refuses to be consigned to the past. If anything, the passage of time has only sharpened the argument. Ten days ago it was the bereaved relatives of a British soldier, Gordon Gentle, who had died in Iraq, expressing - along with their grief - their fury and frustration about a war that they, and we, believe to be unjust. Now it is the former BBC director general, Greg Dyke, who has revived the bitter battle that raged between the Corporation and Downing Street over coverage of the war.

For all the Prime Minister's efforts to persuade us to "move on", the controversy about the Iraq war just refuses to be consigned to the past. If anything, the passage of time has only sharpened the argument. Ten days ago it was the bereaved relatives of a British soldier, Gordon Gentle, who had died in Iraq, expressing - along with their grief - their fury and frustration about a war that they, and we, believe to be unjust. Now it is the former BBC director general, Greg Dyke, who has revived the bitter battle that raged between the Corporation and Downing Street over coverage of the war.

Mr Dyke revisits territory familiar from the volumes of previous recriminations and two official inquiries. But none of this renders his story less compelling or his charges against Mr Blair and his "spin machine" less persuasive. In many respects, his recollections only underline the enormity of the political misjudgements that took Britain into such an unpopular war.

Much in Mr Dyke's account still has the power to shock, not least the extent to which Downing Street tried to intimidate the state broadcaster into altering the balance of its reporting. Mr Dyke's disclosure of a personal letter from the Prime Minister criticising the BBC's Iraq coverage - a move which amounts to direct political interference in the BBC's prized independence - is a charge that Mr Blair needs to answer. To speculate, as Mr Dyke does, that Mr Blair regretted the letter almost as soon as he sent it is hardly enough.

But the BBC was not entirely without its faults in what Mr Dyke justly calls this "great political scandal". Had its chain of editorial responsibility been more effective, it would have been better able to defend Andrew Gilligan's contentious report about the misgivings of the intelligence services. Nor was the BBC's cause helped by the personal rivalries and vendettas that erupted after the Hutton report. When Mr Blair took Britain into a needless war with Iraq, he betrayed our trust. To reduce this violation of high principle to a series of personal betrayals, as Mr Dyke comes close to doing, diminishes what was, and is still, at stake.

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