BBC hits back over 'rhetoric' claims

By Andy McSmith
Wednesday 29 January 2014 05:53
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One of the BBC's senior correspondents was accused yesterday of being "carried away by his own rhetoric" in the verbal onslaught on the media by the Government.

Chris Bryant, a fast-rising Labour MP and member of the Commons culture committee, claimed that the "big story" coming out of Iraq was the success of the American and British military campaign, and attacked journalists who concentrated on reporting the rioting and looting in the captured Iraqi towns.

He singled out the BBC's Andrew Gilligan, who infuriated ministers by implying that some of Baghdad's residents had been more frightened by the looting than by Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.

It was the second time Mr Gilligan has been under sustained fire from the Government. He had been criticised the previous day by the Prime Minister's official spokesman and by the Armed Forces minister, Adam Ingram, who said that his comments "cannot possibly be accurate".

He warned that the BBC would be receiving complaints "from Alastair Campbell down". Downing Street refused to say whether or not Mr Campbell had made a complaint. Mr Blair's director of communications spent yesterday preparing for the London Marathon, in which he is running to raise money for leukaemia research.

Mr Bryant kept up the attack yesterday, though he shifted some of the blame on to BBC programme editors.

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Bryant claimed: "Andrew Gilligan got rather carried away with his own rhetoric. Sometimes that happens and the important thing is obviously how the editor back in London puts together the news." He also criticised Mr Gilligan for saying that an explosion in a Baghdad market place, which killed more than a dozen civilians, had been caused by a coalition bomb. The Government's version is that the explosion was probably caused by a misfired Iraqi missile.

He added: "It's perfectly legitimate for the Government to criticise some of the reporting as perhaps not the whole truth."

The BBC said last night: "We stand by the integrity of Andrew Gilligan's reporting. Andrew has been in Baghdad since before the war started and has witnessed the events there first hand.

"He reported the violence that has developed in the city, including the beating to death of a young boy. Similar reports have been carried by many other news organisations."

Meanwhile, there have also been cases of journalists in Britain trying to take advantage of the conflict between government and front-line reporters to get themselves posted out to the war zone.

At least one television producer has submitted a demand for permission to go to the war zone, quoting Alastair Campbell as a reference, and claiming to have information on atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein's regime which the Government would want publicised.

Government irritation with war coverage surfaced late last month when John Reid, then Labour Party chairman, accused the BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, of working for "Baghdad Radio".

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