Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Blood On The Grass, Blood On The Sand

The Dr. Kelly tragedy and the case against the BBC represents a serious escalation in what has been a long running battle between Blair's government and the grand old lady of journalism. From a peak of 'objective reporting' during the war, where the BBC openly congratulated itself for the penetration it had made particularly in the US market, it has fallen far. During that peak, the BBC was under sustained pressure from Downing Street to stay on message, to report 'appropriately', although that word was never, to my knowledge, used. Alistair Campbell repeatedly, insistently communicated his distaste at the off-message reporting, particularly from the flagship Newsnight and Today programmes. He even went so far as to suggest that the BBC was anti-war.

That the government and the BBC have been at loggerheads over the latter's support (or otherwise) for the government is nothing new - all media bodies will editorialise, and some will praise the government (Berlusconi's Italy) and others will condemn it (Chavez' Venezuela). Different political forces invariably have a degree of control over media, and will direct it as they see fit. However, what is unique about the BBC is that there is no apparent political direction. They have positioned themselves firmly on the fulcrum. It is truly ironic that it appears that Blair would politicise the BBC (and polarise Britain) by accusing it of anti-government editorialising. Campbell is, as ever, the hatchet man.

The tragedy of Dr. Kelly's death has proved a focal point. Blair's government has reacted coldly and true to form - roll out a new face (in this case Peter Mandelsson in Sunday's Observer, and later on Channel 4 news) and keep on message. Keep on attacking. Force the surrender. Pretend that you didn't know he was speaking. The perceptive foil on the Channel 4 news programme asked Mr. Campbell whether or not he was speaking on behalf of the governement - he was never quite sure these days. Mandelsson dodged that bullet by ignoring it.

The BBC have of course lost this battle. They have relented in naming Kelly as the primary source, so they believe stemming the flow of blood from a gaping wound. But more could follow.

The real blood of course has been lost many hundreds of miles away in what has become a desolate warzone. A once prosperous people - with compromised liberty, admittedly - torn apart by external forces hell bent on destruction for destruction's sake - it's good for the economy, apparently. It looks really presidential, George. Real statesmanlike, Tony. But hey, it's miles away, it's off the news screens, and this inoffensive looking professor from middle England is taking up all the headlines. Tony and Alistair are home free.

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