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A black day and a white-washSunday 1st February, 2004
by Rehna Azim
Ironically the first effect of the Hutton report was to give the BBC some truly memorable televisual images. Who can forget:
Alastair Campbell looking more sinister in interviews while wearing his 'calm, reasonable head' than he ever does wearing his finger wagging, media bully one. Tony Blair looking confused as to whether to put on his official 'sad' or 'happy' face for the cameras - because although Hutton made him out to be more fragrant than the odious Mary Archer, the polls said the public trusted him even less now than before the report! Margaret Beckett looking down her horsey nose at Ian Hislop on Question Time, as he dared to suggest (to wild applause) that the report was a 'disgraceful, establishment whitewash.' Greg Dyke looking tearful as thousands of his staff cheered him, demanding that he stay. A Tory MP looking uncomfortable as Jeremy Paxman gave him a mauling."You now want an inquiry about why we went to war," thundered Paxo "when at the time you were more gung ho than the government, couldn't wait to start the bombing?" The reptilian Peter Mandelson looking, well, reptilian.
Condemnation of Hutton is not simply sour grapes. There is a horrible stink coming from the pile of damning evidence that has effectively been ignored.
If this had been a court case, Hutton would almost certainly be appealed.
Further, his decision to look at the narrowest of points in the most clinical way possible was inappropriate in this situation. On such a basis one can come to a conclusion that a wider analysis of the same evidence might not support. In fact, one can often come to a completely different conclusion.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. This was a hugely controversial war. Gilligan had a story but he handled it sloppily with terrible consequences although not as terrible as a war. Let's put things into perspective here.
Who would be a Gilligan right now? And that is the true danger that may flow from this unbalanced report. Journalists may simply think it is not worth their while to 'rock the boat' when it comes to big political stories - a frightening possibility.
Most people care passionately about the independence of the media they watch, read and listen to. It is their only real protection from the politics of politicians. The BBC does not belong to this government or to any other. It belongs to us, the public. We pay for it.
When anything major happens, ratings show, we instinctively turn to the BBC. There is something reliable and reassuring about this great institution that its competitors can't match. That is why many people who have no professional link with the corporation are saddened and angered by recent events.
Thousands have bombarded the media with messages of support. They didn't want Dyke to resign.
They don't want apologies to this tarnished government. They want the truth and they believe they are more likely to get that from the BBC than politicians.
People are sick of lies, hype and cover ups. They just want the truth. That, however, is something they will never get. The original truth is now too covered in layers of half truths, political necessity, covering your back exaggerations, baloney, etc to ever come out.
But, as Greg Dyke told his staff, it is the duty of those in the media to keep doing their job with integrity and to try and get at as much of it as they can- they owe their public that.Thousands of dissidents suffering under repressive regimes risk their lives to hear a BBC broadcast because it is their only source of truth. Let's hope that in this country we are not reduced to having to rely on the Sun or Fox news for ours
PS. Lord Mutton for the Diana inquiry anyone?
Rehna Azim is a barrister, editor of Memsahib magazine and also behind Britain's Asian Assets list. She will be writing for AiM occasionally.