Campbell, Hutton and the BBC

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How Alastair Campbell made us all dance to his tune

Sir: Lord Hutton has singularly failed to understand the events which his inquiry was established to investigate. The row concerning the infamous 29 May Today report was fading from the public eye and would most probably not have resulted in the naming of Dr Kelly had it not been for Mr Campbell's appearance before the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee on 25 June. This was the day after Jack Straw had described Mr Campbell's actions concerning the "dodgy dossier" in February as "a complete Horlicks".

The truth is that the Foreign Secretary had directly pointed the finger at Mr Campbell. In turn Mr Campbell sought to deflect attention from himself and start a furious row with the BBC. The reputation of the BBC, Greg Dyke, Gavyn Davies and most tragically Dr David Kelly have been the victims. That Lord Hutton has failed to recognise this narrative casts a shadow over his competence.


Sir: Appropriately enough, Alastair Campbell has chosen this moment to launch a new career for himself as a one-man show (report, 31 January). In the course of an evening in the North East I believe he twice referred to "when I was in government". What an extremely interesting revelation. Until now we were all unaware that Campbell was "in government".

Do any of your readers have a recollection of voting for this man? Unbeknown to us, is there a constituency somewhere in the UK that he represented, apart from himself? For a man who is so intensely aware of the implications and subtleties of language, this indeed seems a strange slip to make...

Lewes, East Sussex

Sir: Alastair Campbell has been vindictively strutting his macho stuff in the media, arrogantly venting his spleen against individuals, institutions, and anyone who crosses his line of fire. Listening to him, I began to understand how and why the relationship between No 10, the press and the BBC has steadily deteriorated in recent years.

When Campbell complains about cynicism in the media, he should ask himself about his own contribution to this. It chills the blood to think that this awful man was one of the British Prime Minister's closest advisers.


Sir: The Penguin Dictionary Of Surnames records that the name "Campbell" is derived from the Gaelic for "crooked mouth". I wonder if any reader can find evidence to corroborate this single source?


Don't take the BBC for granted

Sir: As any expat will tell you, the BBC is the most respected broadcaster in the world. It creates a standard which plays a huge role in keeping Britain's tradition of an independent free press safe. In light of the fact that successive Labour and Conservative governments have harboured a desire to dismantle the institution, we should be assured that this reputation is duly deserved. Let's face it, the NHS, the railways and other grand state projects undertaken in Britain, have hardly been resounding successes. The BBC is the exception to this pattern of failure.

Much of the contribution the BBC makes to the sophisticated media culture of the UK goes unseen - compare Spanish, French, German, Italian or US mainstream TV and radio. In the late 1950s America was being swamped by mindless game shows and incessant commercials, but the denizens of the UK were invested with the intelligence to watch programmes such as Play for Today where Pinter, Potter, Osborne and Mike Leigh, all, at one time or another, earned their stripes.

We take the BBC for granted at our peril. If it disappeared or was privatised, we would soon notice our cultural life being dumbed down. And once the media is dumbed down, it rarely re-ascends, because such an end state is exactly what government spin doctors and corporation bosses want, as it makes it much easier for them to manipulate the flow of information to their own ends.

Department of Philosophy
McGill University
Montreal, Canada

Sir: Dr Richard Drayton (letter, 31 January) on the subject of Hutton makes a mistake by minimising the culpability of the BBC. The BBC is in breach of its statutory obligations under the agreement of its charter which demands: "Maintenance of high general standards in all respects (and in particular in respect of their content, quality and editorial integrity)"- clause 3.1.

And in the detail it requires the BBC to: "Treat controversial subjects with due accuracy and impartiality, both in the corporation's news services and in the more general field of programmes dealing with matters of public policy or of political or industrial controversy" - clause 5.1

Even if Gilligan's report was, according to Dr Drayton, "more or less on the nail", the BBC has openly acknowledged there were journalistic lapses. In the light of the BBC's legal obligations this represents a serious dereliction.

Eastleigh, Hampshire

Sir: My arrival in life as a little boy who could formulate a thinking process in the mind coincided with my ability to tune to BBC World Service on the 9.74MHz on the shortwave of my dad's valve radio. There was stench outside from open drainage of household effluent. Kids played tennis ball cricket in the streets against wickets marked by charcoal on the front face of houses. This was the late Sixties in the provincial townships of southern India and the air was thick with a lack of hope and there was little awareness of the world outside.

The BBC has provided me, and people like myself in the Third World, a lifeline and sanity amongst mayhem and ignorance. I cannot think of another organisation that meant so much to so many millions in the world. I would hate to see it melted down to suit the political elite of this country.

I am interested in the BBC being able to report independently and people of this country should strive to uphold what the BBC stands for and the noble status it has held for 70 years. Andrew Gilligan clearly overstepped the mark but the Hutton report only addressed the issue of who shouted the loudest. In a way I would hope that this lopsided ruling, which has so dismayed the general public, may force the Government to back off from weakening the BBC when its charter comes up for review.


Sir: The response of the media to the Hutton report shows how removed they are from the real world. Many of your readers, if they applied the standards shown by Mr Gilligan and the BBC to their own jobs, would face dismissal, possible fines or a court case. Indeed in many professions they would face being barred from continuing to work in their chosen field.

People expect to be given truthful, accurate reports even when the media reports on politics. If we cannot do so I fear that the democratic process can only suffer but then perhaps the public are at least realising the amount of spin employed by the media to fit their own agenda.


Sir: My sympathies to the staff at the BBC for their recent chagrin in their tussle with Downing Street. Though my opinion of the BBC is based only upon what can be viewed or listened to in the US (too little) I have yet to see or hear any production which was less than excellent. For these I applaud the BBC.

True, in the US, we have our own Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), but it lacks the depth, richness, and yes, the class of what I have enjoyed over the years from BBC. The BBC is a true standard-setter, a cultural landmark, or as once commonly said by your "backwoods" brethren over here: "A catseye among aggies."

Bend, Oregon, USA

Sir: I write as someone who spent over 33 years in the BBC's employment before retiring in1985; my job carried a much lower profile than that which Fergal Keane and his colleagues enjoy. Nevertheless, I have the same kind of feelings for the BBC which Fergal expresses so eloquently in his article (Opinion, 31 January).

I am very pleased to know that there are still people around in the BBC who share my feelings towards an organisation which quite justifiably carries the complimentary name of "Auntie". Long may it continue to be so. I too am still proud to be able to say: "I worked for the BBC".

Milnthorpe, Cumbria

Sir: At the next general election, will there be any way that I can vote for the BBC rather than a politician?

London SW2

Hutton for dinner

Sir: After castigating my 11-year-old son during dinner, for aggravating behaviour towards his younger brother, he accuses me of "doing a Hutton". I wonder if the issue of favouritism is rearing its head again?

Kirkcaldy, Fife

Justice dreaming

Sir: Lord Hutton says that John Scarlett may have been "subconsciously aware" of the Prime Minister's desires about the dossier. But is there any evidence that His Lordship was "consciously aware" of the evidence presented during the hearings? If so, why is there so little sign of it in his report?

London WC1

Not in the know

Sir: In the light of recent events, is it now time to stop referring to our security services as "Intelligence"?

Wareham, Dorset

Double bluff

Sir: Imagine you were asked to write a report and then came under intense pressure to slant it in favour of one side. Wouldn't it be a clever solution to your problem to produce a report that was so utterly one-sided that no one would believe it?


Well hidden

Sir: "Totality" means the moment of total eclipse of the sun or moon. This presumably was what the Prime Minister was hoping for from Lord Hutton. And got.

Dartington, Devon

Whiter than white

Sir: How long before paint manufacturers change the name of their white paints from "Brilliant White" to "Hutton White"?