Thursday, 9 November 2006

BBC role in War of Terror

From: Tim Wilkinson Sent: 06 November 2006 18:58 To: PM Feedback Subject: Monday's programme

Dear PM,

I was disappointed to hear a member of the terrorism industry being invited to put forward her views on so-called 'dirty bombs', without any opportunity for a more objective person to discuss the issue. I look to the BBC to maintain a sober balance on these issues, especially since the government is clearly so committed to pushing a scaremongering line on the so-called 'War on Terror'. The BBC risks losing credibility of it falls in with this distorted view and fails to question the information it is fed. I would have liked to have heard something about the circumstances under which confessions and other evidence were obtained in this case. The government appears to be spinning circles around you and setting the agenda - for example the recent release after three months' imprisonment of two of those detained in connection with the alleged aircraft plot was hardly reported, not to mention the Robert Cottage arrest. This kind of failure really doesn't reflect well on the BBC, which risks giving the impression that it has reverted to its fifties role as a government mouthpiece.

yours faithfully,

Tim Wilkinson



From: Roger Sawyer To: Tim Wilkinson Sent: 7 Nov 2006 13:40 Subject: RE: Monday's programme

Dear Mr Wilkinson,

Thank you for your email.

I am not sure what you mean by "member of the terrorism industry". Our interviewee, Sandra Bell, is director of Homeland Security & Resilience at the independent think tank, the Royal United Services Institute. To be honest, I can't think of a more objective speaker on the issue.

I don't know what you mean by 'scaremongering' either. We are reporting on and analysing the proceedings of a court case, in which a guilty plea has been entered. As far as I am aware, no member of Dhiren Barot's defence team has raised any questions about the manner in which the confessions or other evidence were obtained. Had such complaints been made, we would have reported and investigated them.

The Robert Cottage case is at a very early stage. The trial has not yet begun and so we are constrained by very strict legal reporting laws as to what we are able to say. So far, we are able to report very little and it is not possible yet to tell whether the case is of any significance.

Regarding the other case you mention, the information you supply is vague, so I am unable to respond.

If you do not agree with my response, you can take your complaint to the Editorial Complaints Unit. Details of how to do so can be found at

Yours sincerely,

Roger Sawyer

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From: Tim Wilkinson To: Roger Sawyer Date: 7 Nov 2006 15:38 Subject: Re: Monday's programme

Dear Mr Sawyer,

re: terrorism industry, spin, the independence of the BBC.

Thank you for your reply. I do not expect you to enter into an ongoing correspondence, but I do feel strongly about these issues and felt I should reply to your response.

Surely "Director of Homeland Security & Resilience" describes a job which is very clearly dependent on the perceived terror threat for its existence - and somewhat more subtly, clearly describes someone who sees things through the prism of the so-called War on Terror. The US-style job title suggests that the position came into existence quite recently. And think-tanks almost always have some sort of agenda, so may be independent of government, but are hardly ever unbiased.

Perhaps you might have interviewed an expert on radiation like Dr Theodore Rockwell, say, who might have been able to tell you how realistic such a plan actually was. And possibly a demolition and explosives expert might have been able to assess how effective the use of the limousine/gas bottle tactic would be in a space like an underground car park.

It might have crossed your mind to wonder why someone would plead guilty to an offence like that, especially when the evidence was more suggestive of a deluded loner than a serious criminal. Without proof of another conspirator, the activities of this person would not have been criminal, unless under one of the more draconian recent 'anti-terror' laws - which are unlikely to impress a sentencing judge worth his salt.

Perhaps, you might have thought, he pled guilty because he was under indictment for a similar crime in the US. He pled guilty on the express understanding that the plea related to US charges too. Maybe he hoped to avoid being sent into the black hole of the US anti-terror system from whence, according to George Bush, his initial accusation emanated.

I'm not sure how to go about explaining the idea of government scaremongering. The Today programme featured the concept in the era before the highly suspicious, un-inquested and largely unquestioned (by the BBC anyway) death of David Kelly.

As for Robert Cottage, I wasn't making a recommendation, just a criticism of the fact that there was no coverage of the arrests at the time.

"The recent release after three months' imprisonment of two of those detained in connection with the alleged aircraft plot" refers to this: which was barely reported by the BBC, even though two innocent people were held for three months, and even though it was, in a way, analogous to a partial retraction, which is generally supposed to have similar prominence to the original story.

I have my own ideas about the so-called 'War on Terror', as well as the illiberal and undemocratic nature of the Blair premiership in general. I don't expect the BBC to agree with me on every point. But I do think that you are in danger of allowing politicians and those with their own agenda to manipulate your coverage, by the timing or content of official announcements, and thus indirectly by influencing the broader news agenda and presuppositions - as in this case. You must be aware that Blair would like if he could to write (or spike) every story for you, and you have seen the lengths he will go to to distort and misinform. Those two considerations ought to lead you to be much more thoughtful and critical than it appears you ( i.e. the BBC) in fact are.

I complained to you at the BBC, and not to the Murdoch media, because I have a genuine affection for the corporation, and faith in its essential independence. I would hate to see the coverage of this unique organisation slip into an easy acquiescence in state manipulation of the content and agenda of the news.

yours faithfully,

Tim Wilkinson


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