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Fulluja and BBC Newsnight

Robin Beste | 10.11.2004 16:59 | Anti-militarism

I have reproduced below an exchange I had yesterday with the editor of
BBC's Newsnight programme. I have sent this exchange to MediaLens, the
essential website which monitors the British media.

The fact that such a senior figure at the BBC should reply at
length shows just how defensive broadcast journalists are when accused
of presenting the establishment view of current events. They really do
feel they are "good people" providing "impartial" reports (see below).
This pressure on the media is very important. I would urge people to
visit the MediaLens website regularly and when you see a news bulletin
or current affairs programme which particularly infuriates you (where
to start?), write to the jounalists and editors involved (MediaLens
provides email addresses). You will be surprised how often you get a
reply (but not by how often you do not!). Send copies of all your
emails and any replies you receive to MediaLens:

Robin Beste
Muswell Hill Stop the War Group

Dear Mr Barron,

Next time you have Mark Urban playing his computer simulations on
Newsnight, would it be possible to include just a little indication of
what those pretty maps and tank and aircraft icons on his computer
screen mean in the real world? Here is just one description I found
today on Reuters:

Sami al-Jumaili, a doctor at the main Falluja hospital who escaped
arrest when it was taken, said the city was running out of medical
supplies and only a few clinics remained open. "There is not a single
surgeon in Falluja. We had one ambulance hit by U.S. fire and a doctor
wounded. There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we
can't move. A 13-year-old child just died in my hands," he said by
telephone from a house where he had gone to help the wounded.

As a BBC license payer for over forty years, I would like to know how
you can justify the Newsnight programme of Monday 8 November. This was
simply a one dimensional justification of the assault on Falluja, which
violates numerous Geneva Conventions (why no coverage of these
violations?). You had a long cast of pro-war commentators, with no
counter-balancing opinion to represent what is, according to all recent
polls, the view held by 50 per cent of the British public, who oppose
the war in Iraq. Is this the kind of post-Hutton servility we should
expect from all BBC news bulletins and current affairs programmes? BBC
News presentation of the Falluja assault has been nothing more than
government/military press releases represented as news reports. It
would appear from last night's programme that Newsnight intends to
follow suit.


Robin Beste

Dear Mr Beste,
Thanks for your e-mail. I'm sorry you were unhappy with last night's
programme. I completely agree with you that the issue of whether the war
in Iraq was, and is, right or wrong is an extremely important one. We
have debated that issue on literally scores of occasions before and
since the invasion of Iraq and I have no doubt will continue to do so in
the future. But that was not the primary purpose of last night's
programme. The events were unfolding in the course of the evening and
our primary aim was to find out what was happening and attempt to
explain it. We certainly didn't attempt to justify or condemn the
assault on Fallujah, and we didn't have a long cast of pro-war
commentators. We had an Iraqi eyewitness telling us what was happening
in Fallujah last night, we spoke to a Sunday Times correspondent who had
recently been in Fallujah who explained that the streets had been booby
trapped, and we spoke to an ABC correspondent with the US army on the
outskirts of Fallujah, and to the Iraqi Foreign Minister. The purpose of
all these interviews - and of Mark Urban's piece - was to try to find
out first hand was was going on rather than to discuss the rights and
wrongs of the action.

I completely accept that many people in Britain oppose the war and the
latest assault on Fallujah - a poll today suggests the figure has risen
to 57% - and we are committed to reflecting this. But we are also
committed to reporting what is happening on the ground and to do this
impartially. I can assure you - and hope you accept - that the Hutton
controversy has absolutely no bearing on the editorial decisions we make
on Newsnight.

Best wishes

Peter Barron
Editor, Newsnight

Dear Mr Barron,
Many thanks for your reply. I am grateful for your swift response,
although I still disagree with you as to the lack of true balance on
Newsnight last night and generally on the issue of the war (why only the
rare token appearance of Pilger, Chomsky, Ritter etc but countless
interviews with pro-war advocates such as David Fromm, Richard Perle,
James Rubin, Kenneth Adelman etc?). I don't believe that any objective
view of yesterday's Newsnight could conclude that it was "impartial" but
I will look with added interest over the coming days to see the extent
to which the views of the 57% majority in Britain who oppose the war are
reflected in your coverage of events in Falluja and in Iraq generally.
My thanks again for your reply.
Robin Beste

Robin Beste
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  1. true or false — shardana