Why ITV is the real scandal

BY THE end of the week there was little doubt that the credibility contest between the two Diana investigations on TV had been won by Channel 4's Dispatches, which exposed the inconsistencies and downright foolishness of the conspiracy theorists as represented by ITV's Diana: Secrets Behind the Crash. But the conspiracy show won the ratings battle with an incomprehensible interview with Mohamed Al Fayed and a lot of daft allegations about carbon monoxide in the driver's blood. It claimed an audience of 12 million viewers, while Channel 4's solid piece of work attracted 4.5 million.

This must be of great concern to the Independent Television Commission, which is charged with watching standards on ITV and is these days the only organisation connected to commercial television that is not obsessed with ratings. Already the programme's fragile claim to airtime - chiefly the contention that Henri Paul was not drunk - has been blown apart by Tom Bower, who is preparing the biography of Mr Fayed. Bower had the bright idea of ringing up the pathologist retained by Mr Fayed to ask him about the high levels of gas in Paul's body. Professor Peter Vanezis replied that it was explained by Paul inhaling fumes from the car's engine in the last seconds of his life.

Why did it not occur to the presenter Nick Owen and his team at Fulcrum Productions to ask the same question? Why was it not suggested by Granada under whose aegis the programme was made? The answer comes in an article in this week's Spectator by Nicholas Farrell, who worked on the programme as a researcher in Paris and says that the production was interested only in "evidence" that either blamed MI5 or the paparazzi - ie it was biased from the outset.

Given the frailty and dishonesty of the rest of the programme, it must now be right for the ITC to investigate the standards of journalism current at Fulcrum, Granada and the ITV network. The story of how the network was embroiled by Mr Fayed's propaganda machine is a very great scandal indeed.

Meanwhile all complaints may be sent to the ITC, 31 Foley Street, London Wl. The ITC has a website which will tell you all you need to know about making a complaint. Its address is www.itc.org.uk.

THERE was a moment in 1992 when Lord Carrington, commenting on developments in the former republic, exhaled in gentlemanly frustration and said: "The trouble is that the Serbs are behaving vay vay badly." His remark characterised the distaste for the Balkans in the Foreign Office. Everyone knew that the Serbs were behaving vay vay badly and there were clear signs that things were going to get worse. But the Government wanted nothing to do with military intervention and the Foreign Office prevaricated until the siege in Sarajevo and Srebrenica massacres forced its hand.

During those years of peace shuttles and international conferences the person who spoke most sense was always the Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown. He seemed to grasp the Serbs' motives far earlier than anyone else and had no qualms about recommending military action. It was a great pity that more people, particularly Douglas Hurd, did not listen to him.

Well, the Serbs are at it again and there is a depressing familiarity about the West's response. Milosevic's troops are persecuting the Kosovo Albanians and practising a scorched-earth policy along the borders with Albania, possibly in expectation of more extensive military action. Rumour of large-scale war crimes circulate, and yet the West's reaction is muted.

Again the one person who is recommending immediate action is Ashdown, who has suggested that Nato place a screening force along Albania's border with Kosovo and that a stern warning be delivered to Milosevic, the Serb president, about the way he is treating the local population. Anyone who has read an excellent little booklet called The Prima Facia Case for the Prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic, published in America a couple of years ago, knows that he will not take the slightest notice of a warning. But it has to be on record before the West makes any military move and Ashdown understands this.

Late last year I was sitting at the same table as President Clinton's special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, who was in London on his way to talk to the Serbs. I asked if he was carrying a big stick. "Sure," he said, lifting his mobile phone a couple of inches from the table. "I'll have the navy send an aircraft carrier up the Adriatic." He may have been showing off, but it's the kind of gesture that works with the Serbs.

I find myself wishing that Ashdown had the same sort of big stick for his trip to Kosovo later thismonth. Meanwhile Robin Cook can signal that things have really changed at the FCO by listening to Paddy vay vay carefully.

THE Church Times reports that parishes are preparing to provide succour and comfort to women ignored by their husbands during the World Cup. At St John's Buckhurst Hill, Essex, a football-free zone will include a discussion on the art of perfect plate-spinning and feminine pampering at the Metropolitan Police Sports Club, Chigwell. The mind reels.