In all the excitement of the House of Commons vote on the principle of armed intervention in Syria, one example of the increasingly partisan role of BBC news editors seems to have gone unnoticed and has attracted no critical comment.
I must admit that I did not watch the entire seven hour commons debate as it was necessary to take regular breaks to bang my head against the wall every time an overweight middle-aged man with no experience of war demanded the immediate bombing of civilians. Outraged at images of utter barbarity and fuelled by a rather good lunch funded by the tax payer, it is disappointing that our “something must be done” MPs lack the imagination or political logic to offer any policy other than firing high explosives at people. Labour wanted proof of atrocity before unleashing the six or maybe eight Tomahawk cruise missiles from our single available submarine. The Conservatives wanted to shoot first and ask questions later and the Liberal Democrats dribbled a lot and were told to keep their hands in full view. The arguments for war were preposterously weak with the government insisting that the Assad regime had crossed a red line in its use of chemical weapons. To re-enforce the urgency of armed intervention, Cameron told the house that Assad had crossed the same red line on 14 previous occasions.
If there is a case for entering another open-ended conflict, and there might well be one, then Cameron failed to make it. By contrast, John Kerry the following day set out a more convincing America position proving that Kerry has a better voice coach and better script writers than Cameron. Strangely, both men did not mention the use of white phosphorous by Israel or the use of Sarin by Saddam Hussein against Iranian ground forces guided by satellite imagery provided by the United States. As a decorated Vietnam War veteran, we can only assume that post traumatic stress disorder and the after effects of the wounds he received has resulted in Mr Kerry`s memory of the tons and tons and tons of Agent Orange and Napalm dropped on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia being mercifully erased. Both Cameron and Kelly assured the world that they had incontrovertible evidence of crimes against humanity but for some strange reason did not wish to share the proof with each other or with anyone else.
Cameron`s defeat in the commons brought out the very worst in our politicians. On the Labour benches, they laughed and roared and cheered and pointed in triumph at the Tory benches. The government, foaming at the mouth with rage, talked of weakness, global humiliation and political opportunism. It is alleged that Michael Gove had to be physically held back from attacking Tory rebels. It is a shame he was restrained. In a fight between Gove and an insane, drunk, fat, old backbencher, there could only be one winner and it wouldn`t be the odious little twerp. Very few MPs were thinking about the poor, little Syrian children that they had just spent seven hours trying to protect. Regardless of the petty politics, some good did come out the utter shambles. Two days later, Barak Obama drew back from another war to allow a Congressional debate on intervention and hold a vote on September the ninth. If the vote took place two days later and produced a UN enforced ceasefire to allow compulsory negotiation between the Syrian combatants, irony would allow us to erase the memory of the Bush Blair folly.
During the commons debate, the BBC did what it now does best. The parliament channel broadcast images from fixed, automatic cameras without commentary, interpretation or analysis leaving the public who bothered to watch to make up their own minds and not be told what to think by Nick Robinson. When the speeches were done and the division bell rang, Robinson got his chance on the 10 o`clock news. If Cameron gave a bad performance, Robinson`s, who was chair of the Young Conservatives in 1986, was worse. As egomaniac MPs clustered around television sets in the lobbies to see if their contribution made it to the bulletin, the BBC broadcast footage of another atrocity against civilians in Syria with the warning that “some people” might find the images “extremely distressing”. The BBC, for once, was right. Anyone seeing the appalling and horrific burns of the people caught in an incendiary attack would have shared my emotions of disgust and anger that so-called human beings are capable of such barbarity and would support any means to bring the criminals responsible to justice. The BBC, however, has some serious questions to answer regarding the decision to broadcast the report and the timing of that broadcast.
After decades of reporting all manner of horror, the BBC has established clear codes of conduct regarding what is suitable for broadcast in terms of the dignity of victims and the sensibilities of viewers. The same standards apply to accuracy and balanced impartiality. The report by Ian Pannell of Panorama stated that the attack took place in Northern Syria somewhere near Aleppo sometime during the last ten days. He did not tell us that the video footage that “emerged” was taken by and uploaded by rebel forces. After interviewing eye witnesses, Pannell claimed that a fighter jet had circled the area “looking for a target” and then bombed a school with a “napalm-like substance”. He did not explain how even the most skilled of pilots flying fast and low over a densely built-up area could firstly identify and then drop an unguided bomb on children. The BBC reporter visited the scene of the atrocity where 10 children died and many, many more received horrendous burns. I am no expert on “napalm-like substances” but the building in question seemed generally intact and the playground did not appear to have suffered very much fire damage. I am not for a moment suggesting that the deaths and injuries are not the result of a war crime, but the “evidence” broadcast by the BBC may actually be in breach of its charter.
Usually, when in possession of footage deemed not suitable for broadcast, the BBC states that the images are too graphic and distressing to show leaving it to our imaginations to contemplate the inhumanity. Interestingly, during the Syrian conflict, the BBC has broadcast footage with the caveat that it originated from “state-run television stations and so cannot be verified”. In crossing the red line between the end of the debate and the vote on Thursday night, conspiracy theorists might conclude that our state-run television station`s target audience that night was the 200 to 300 MPs considering voting against armed intervention without UN evidence or a UN resolution. Once, when governments concocted dodgy dossiers to justify war, the BBC would question the evidence. Some of us still remember what happened to Greg Dyke and the BBC Governors as a result. Now, in a subtle change to editorial policy, it is the BBC who concoct dodgy reports to justify war and once that has been achieved it`s over to our correspondent Hugh Pym to tell us how well the economy is doing and just how dangerous it is in an NHS hospital.
The recently appointed Head of News at the BBC is James Harding, former News International employee, editor of Rupert Murdoch`s Times and, in earlier days, a consistent and repetitive critic of BBC left-wing bias. The chair of the BBC Trust is Lord Patten, private health care company executive and former Conservative cabinet minister. Such a serious allegation of a crime against humanity and the timing of its broadcast must have had the approval of these two men together with that of the Director General. Ian Pannell`s report is nowhere to found on the BBC news website.
It would seem that red lines are being crossed out by some serious blue pencils.