Britain's independent media, Hutton and others

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The Independent Online

This has been a sad day for Britain's independent media

Sir: Lord Hutton's report spells the end of the BBC as we know it, and has no doubt severely damaged any critical, democratic public sphere that exists in this country.

It is curious that the summation of the report seems to bear little, if any, resemblance to the picture portrayed in the daily depositions to the inquiry where it was clear that the role played by Downing Street was at best ambiguous. With regard to the BBC, however, it seems likely that this is precisely the ammunition the Government and their sponsors, in particular Rupert Murdoch, have been waiting for.

It is essential for a properly functioning democracy to have a media outlet that is independent of the state, and, more importantly, independent of corporate interests. With their charter coming up for renewal, this judgement will no doubt be used to "rein in" the BBC and bring it more "on message". We will soon have a fully compliant media, as in the US, and when this happens it will be a very sad day for this country.

Dr NEAL CURTIS

Dr JOSS HANDS

Department of Communication Studies, Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge

Sir: I watched the whole of Lord Hutton's presentation on television, and I remain unconvinced by one recurring claim: namely that the identity of Dr David Kelly would inevitably have been revealed.

Journalists routinely protect their sources, if necessary even to the extent of going to prison. I cannot understand why the Government could not have done the same. Clearly it was under no obligation ever to name Dr Kelly to the media, whatever the suspicions. One of the two involved House of Commons committees meets in private anyway, and presumably the other could have gone into camera if necessary.

Or is it the case that Government and Parliament cannot keep secrets even when they are a matter of life and death, or of national security, whereas hacks can do so merely for the sake of their jobs?

MICHAEL WADSWORTH

Chislehurst, Kent

Sir: Just because Lord Hutton says it does not make it true. I urge the BBC governors to reject the chairman's offer of resignation and to reject the Hutton report. The BBC is more trustworthy than the Government.

PETER WILLIAMS

Beverley, East Yorkshire

Sir: In the wake of the Hutton Report, it's obvious that the BBC - and possibly the press too - should be taken under the Government's wing, renamed the Ministry of Truth, and run by Alastair Campbell.

MICHAEL J J DAY

Settle, North Yorkshire

Hutton washes unhealthily white

Sir: Did anyone keep a record of the number of times Lord Hutton in his broadcast summary referred to "the integrity of the Government?" I lost count. The Independent has been wrong on this issue in one respect: It should never have entertained the least hope of an establishment-minded judge proclaiming any serious ministerial fault.

Lord Franks, and before him Lord Denning, have made this journey and their reports command little historical respect. Governments do not act duplicitously. Governments do not respond to charges by threats and then working-up of hysteria. Intelligence services do not exaggerate a tenuous claim subsequently shown to be wrong, to please the Government; but subconsciously they may be influenced to that end.

And eminent judges contemplating the conduct of eminent men in public office have subconscious urges too. Even so, Lord Hutton's white looks rather whiter than anything healthily should, and his pudding is distinctly over-egged.

EDWARD PEARCE

Thormanby, North Yorkshire

Sir: So Lord Hutton has concluded that everything the BBC did or didn't do was wrong, and everything the Government did or didn't do was right. Surprised? Not me.

JAMES TURNER

Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Sir: Having watched Lord Hutton's report today I have one question. Do we now go to paint stores and, instead of asking for whitewash, ask for a tin of "Hutton"? I have lost faith in politicians and the judiciary.

GRAHAM CLIFF

Altrincham, Cheshire

Abuses of power

Sir: The big story behind top-up fees and the Hutton inquiry remains unresolved. The power of the Prime Minister to manipulate political developments is the issue which is corroding democracy, with top-up fees showing that a Prime Minster can tear up a clear manifesto commitment. On the Hutton inquiry, the bigger issue remains the unresolved question of whether Tony Blair took this country to war with Iraq without proper reason.

Underlying both is the power of No 10 and its political machine to determine what happens in Britain, and the weakness of a parliamentary system shackled to the executive. Blair will survive the events of this week. Until the elected dictatorship which runs Britain is removed, prime ministers will continue to rule without any effective check.

TREVOR FISHER

Stafford

A sorry mess

Sir: So there was no strategy to name David Kelly, just plain incompetence and thus, alongside sophistry and dishonesty, precisely what we have come to expect from this Government.

The only successful strategy in this sorry mess has been to limit the scope of the Hutton inquiry to the immediate reasons behind the death of one unfortunate man. Left unaccounted for are the reasons behind the deaths of many hundreds of coalition soldiers and many thousands of Iraqis. Is there no end to the hypocrisy of this administration?

PETER COGHLAN

Poole, Dorset

Sir: Which is worse? A prime minister who deceives Parliament or one who is pig-ignorant of the world? Dr Kelly was so concerned that the 45-minute claim was false that he told not one but two journalists. How was it that the JIC believed this rubbish? A prime minister so misinformed on the dread issue of war and peace should resign.

D COLE

Hastings

The scapegoat

Sir: Am I missing the point?

Was this an inquiry into the perception of the integrity of the Government? No.

Was it an inquiry into the 45-minute claim upon which we as a country went into the war? Conveniently not - beyond the "terms of reference".

Or was it an inquiry into the suicide of an eminent scientist whose maltreatment led him to take his life? It should have been.

Lord Hutton has legitimised the scapegoating of Dr Kelly. Nothing in this naive report will protect government officials who feel an obligation to inform the public where government misperception occurs. The exoneration of the Government and Tony Blair is so overwhelming as to render the report worthless in the eyes of the public. I am disgusted.

Dr KARL BRENNAN

Sheffield

Howard's tactic

Sir: The independent Hutton report has cleared the Prime Minister of all blame for the death of Dr Kelly. In addition, Lord Hutton has dismissed in their entirety the allegations that the Government "sexed up" claims about weapons of mass destruction.

With these facts in mind, would Conservative leader Michael Howard not be better spending his time drafting an apology to the Prime Minister over his attempt to smear him, rather than going round TV studios complaining about the leaking of the report 12 hours early?

Attempting to use the leak as a smokescreen to disguise Tony Blair's exoneration is a desperate and tawdry tactic from an inconsistent and opportunistic Leader of the Opposition. It seems Mr Howard hopes the public will ignore the conclusions of the report, just because the report does not deliver the political advantage he had hoped for.

SIMON TIERNAN

Loanhead, Midlothian

Wrong target

Sir: It is dispiriting, though perhaps not surprising, to learn that Britain's intelligence services were engaged during the run-up to the Iraq war in spying on friends and near neighbours in a manner most relevant to partisan politics ("UK intelligence told Blair 'Chirac is out to get you' ", 27 January). But perhaps this helps to explain why they were less successful in spying on far-away Iraq.

PETER DEROW

Fellow and Tutor in Ancient History

Wadham College

Oxford

Legal language

Sir: Lord Hutton certainly needs to sex up his delivery style.

NIGEL BOWKER

Banchory, Aberdeenshire

Iraq: the real issue

Sir: I have just listened to the Prime Minister's rather smug statement in the House with respect to the Hutton report into the tragic death of Dr Kelly. The PM was clearly inwardly rejoicing in the fact that Lord Hutton states that the Government did not "sex up" the report of September 2002, and that the content was agreed by the Joint Intelligence Committee and the intelligence agencies.

It is now known that much of the material in that report was gleaned from university research papers. After eight months of searching for WMD nothing has been found. Both before and after the war, the British and the US governments claimed emphatically that they knew exactly where the WMD were.

The Prime Minister (and the President) face a question which is perhaps even more embarrassing than the charge that they exaggerated the risk from Iraq. That question is this - why, with all the money we spend on them - are the intelligence services of both countries so completely and utterly incompetent that they are 100 per cent wrong on such a critical issue?

ROD GOULT

Billingshurst, West Sussex

Sir: With revelations about MoD overspending and lack of planning as well as the resignation of David Kay helping to build a crescendo to the Hutton report findings, we have yet again calls for an inquiry on being sent to war on a "false prospectus", and yet again Mr Blair is still insisting that Iraq's WMD will be found.

Journalists, TV documentaries, Robin Cook, Charles Kennedy et al continue to express views on whether or not these weapons existed, whether it was the fault of the intelligence services by supplying poor findings or whether they allowed government doctoring of the dodgy dossiers, and most importantly whether or not Mr Blair was sincere when he told us of the existence of massive Iraqi arms capability.

I find the constant rerunning of these arguments very tiresome when the answer is staring anyone with one iota of intelligence in the face. If George Bush and Tony Blair had thought that there was even the remotest chance of Saddam Hussein possessing devastating weapons of mass destruction they would not have attacked Iraq. Allied troops would only have been massed in such huge numbers if it was certain that they were not in danger.

JOHN DAKIN

Southend on Sea, Essex

Sir: Dennis Twist (letter, 27 January) suggests that Tony Blair was right to join in the war on Iraq because it would be better than leaving it "to the US alone".

So because we would do a better job of waging a war of aggression based on false (and exaggerated) intelligence against a non-existent threat in the interests of the religious fanatics in the White House and their corporate backers then we should do it instead. By this logic, chemists should join up with poisoners to develop a quicker poison, locksmiths would be giving burglars a helping hand and lumberjacks would be well employed helping axe-murderers develop a better swing.

ADRIAN LONGLEY

Addlestone, Surrey

Bring on the boar  

Sir: Wild boar meat is commonplace in season in Continental restaurants, particularly in less urban regions. It is more flavoursome and less fatty than from domestic pigs. Local human populations seem to welcome both the sport opportunities and the culling of game meat. Stuffed wild boar often adorn butchers' shops and delicatessens in Germany and Italy. We should welcome the reintroduction of our heritage.

JOHN DAVIES

Grimsby, Lincolnshire

Wrong kind of e-mail

Sir: I read P M Bywell's defence of the railways whilst waiting for my (delayed) train (letter, 27 January). I travel to central London to work three days a week and, on 5 January, queried WAGN's 19 per cent fare increase for my journey. Their reply to my e-mail was that their "franchise commitment is to respond to all enquiries within 15 working days excluding weekends and bank holidays". Their reply is late - as was my train this morning. Would travelling from Birmingham to Liverpool and back each day perhaps be a more enriching experience?

CELA SELLEY

London N21

Bricks of memory

Sir: Much as I agree with earlier correspondents regarding the merits of Minibrix, I feel that one of their alternative uses should not be forgotten. Being made of rubber, they were an ideal weight and texture to be used as missiles for attacking toy soldiers set up in a model fort. The smaller bricks were used for sniping shots targeting individual soldiers, whilst the white "sixers" were more suitable as weapons of mass destruction.

ALAN C JOHNSON

Bristol

Cliché warning

Sir: You report that Bill Gates is to receive an honorary knighthood. In the event of some severe malpractice being uncovered in regard to the award would this produce a Gatesgate scandal?

BRIAN OLDALE

Sheffield

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