Today Lord Hutton finally presented the findings of his investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly, a former weapons inspector. Dr. Kelly was the source for a report by the BBCâ€™s Andrew Gilligan in which he claimed the government had "sexed up" the intelligence in its dossier on Iraqâ€™s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Dr. Kelly committed suicide after he was outed as Gilliganâ€™s source, leading to a furious conflict between the Government and the BBC.
The BBC has born the brunt of the blame for the whole controversy, and already the Chairman of its Board of Governorâ€™s has resigned. However, in the aftermath of the report, the narrowness of Lord Huttonâ€™s brief must not be obscured. The inquiry was neither an investigation into the supposed reasons for the illegal invasion of Iraq nor an investigation into the deceitful roles of the Blair administration and the intelligence services.
Lord Huttonâ€™s brief was only to assign blame for the death of one man: Dr. Kelly. Notably, it was not to investigate where the blame for the deaths of between twenty and fifty thousand Iraqi civilians and conscripts might lie.
Given the narrowness of the investigation, the Hutton proceedings should properly be seen as a media-sponsored diversion from the more serious issues of the Iraq war. With all due respect to the family and friends of Dr. Kelly, his death simply did not warrant the coverage it received when compared with the miniscule attention devoted to Iraqi victims of British propaganda.
With all due respect to the family and friends of Dr. Kelly, his death simply did not warrant the coverage it received when compared with the miniscule attention devoted to Iraqi victims of British propaganda.
As well as diverting attention from the crimes of Blair and his administration, the fight between the BBC and the Government effectively masked the reality of the BBCâ€™s war coverage. The public debate played out in the pages of the national press was between essentially two positions.
The first stance was that the BBC was virulently anti-war and biased against the Government. Media mogul Conrad Black, in a letter to his own newspaper, accused the BBC of being "pathologically hostile to the government" as well as to "most British institutions" and to "American policy in almost every field." He remarked that it should not be the function of the BBC to "assassinate the truth about the Iraq war."
The second position, which found its home in the Guardian and the Independent, was that the BBCâ€™s coverage was fair and impartial and that the Government was bullying the BBC.
Curiously, it appears that the only systematic studies of the BBC and its coverage of the war support neither position. A study of British broadcasters carried out by Cardiff University concluded that the BBC had the most pro-war agenda of the lot. In a summary of his report, Professor Justin Lewis revealed that the BBC relied on government and military sources to a far greater degree than did other broadcasters. It was also more likely to relay false stories provided by official sources. First, we heard about the non-existent scud missiles supposedly fired at Kuwait in the early stages of the war. And who could forget the mythical Basra "uprising". Lewis also refers to Tony Blairâ€™s claims that British soldiers had been executed by the Iraqi authorities; a claim Downing Street retracted the next day. According to Professor Lewis, the BBC relayed that claim but (unlike other broadcasters) not the retraction.
In an article for The Guardian, David Miller cited the findings of a second study, carried out by the Media Tenor group, which looked at broadcasters in five countries. According to Miller, it found that the BBC provided the least space to dissenting views of all the media outlets surveyed, with just two percent of airtime given over to anti-war opinion; this in a country where opposition to the war was around 40 percent during the invasion.
The world happily inhabited by Britainâ€™s political and intellectual elite is a place where facts such as these rarely intrude. Today responsibility for the death of just one man was uncovered. Meanwhile the great game of deceiving and manipulating the general public, by government and mass media alike, continues largely undisturbed.