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Sunday, March 28, 2004

The Guardian reports that the rank and file at the BBC is upset. Management is conducting its own inquiry into the sexed up report about the government sexing up the WMD intelligence on Iraq.

Via InstantMan, of course. His reaction: Accountability is for other people. As ususal, I am a tad more long-winded.

This is a classic hatchet job. All of the allegations of one side are fully aired in eighteen or nineteen paragraphs, complete with references to Soviet style "justice" and Guantanamo, followed by two or three paragraphs of vague denials by the other side.

Senior BBC staff are threatening to take some flagship programmes off the air rather than face criticisms from an internal inquiry launched in the aftermath of Hutton. A remarkable series of internal battles, which has pitched some of Britain's most senior broadcasting figures against one another, has led to the threats. The inquiry, chaired by the BBC's director of policy, Caroline Thomson, has been described as a 'kangaroo court'.
Described by whom, please? Might it be the same people who are shouting "Politburo!" and "Guantanamo!" about those horrible management types who want to know what happened and how to avoid repeating it in the future?

Executives and presenters complained that the inquiry went against natural justice, was trying to find scapegoats for the Hutton debacle and had poisoned relations. The strength of feeling among senior BBC figures comes at a difficult time for Acting Director-General Mark Byford, who has been attacked for agreeing to the inquiry.
Inquiring into how and why the BBC came to broadcast extremely serious false and defamatory charges against the government "go against natural justice"? Does that refer to these guys? Or is the (unidentified) speaker stating that it is "natural justice" that the Beeb should be able to say anything, true or false, well founded or baseless, about anyone, prominent or obscure, and not be subject to any consequences whatever? Face it guys, Andrew Gilligan used the BBC to attempt to promote his personal political views by inserting into his report claims which he knew or should have known to be baseless and which he definitely knew to be extremely damaging to the government. Call me silly, but I think at an absolute minimum, Gilligan was extremely irresponsible.

Oh, and looking for scapegoats? Nothing in the balance of the article suggests that is a possibility. Did something get edited out? Well, not exactly. Some twenty three paragraphs into the article, "senior corporation sources" are quoted as saying that the inquiry is likely to focus on internal procedures, the letter sent to Alistair Campbell (the target of Gilligan's "sexing up" report) defending Gilligan and whether the Beeb could have done more to avoid much of the mess. But of course, that's not relevant to the claim that the Beeb is on a scapegoat hunt, so it shouldn't be reported for another twenty paragraphs.

I almost forgot: poisoned relations between whom? Management and rank and file? Question: Is it more important to avoid poisoning the relationship among people at the BBC or avoid poisoning public debate? And, I note in passing that Andrew Gilligan and the people doing the shouting about Gitmo, the Politburo and kangaroos have done the lion's share of the poisoning so far.

Byford hopes to become the next Director-General to succeed Greg Dyke, who resigned after Hutton. But staff said he could be presiding over 'mass walkouts' if individuals are attacked by the inquiry.
I guess that this is "the best defense is a strong offense" tactic. It is the same kind of thing that John Kerry is doing in the US Presidential race. Whenever someone from the other side quotes him or refers to one of his Senate votes, Kerry responds by saying that this is character assassination. By the same token, accurately reciting what someone did or didn't do in connection with Gilligan's sexed up report is "attacking" him.

Stars such as political editor Andrew Marr, Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, and Today's John Humphrys and Jim Naughtie have all raised concerns at the process that has been likened to 'the BBC's own Guantanamo'.
That's right, Andrew Marr is being held incommunicado thousands of miles away from home in a 6x12 cell. He's allowed out to play soccer an hour a day. I'll bet he isn't being given English lessons, though, so its probably worse than Guantanamo.

The inquiry was launched to discover 'what went wrong' following the notorious 6.07am broadcast on Today, when Andrew Gilligan claimed that the Government had deliberately 'sexed up' evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Notice the scare quotes around what went wrong? Nothing went "wrong" at all. David Kelly is alive and well and living in the south of France. No one ever made false accusations about the Blair government and its alteration of intelligence for political purposes based on something Kelly never said. And, by the way, it was a little more than the 6:07 am broadcast. It was the essential repetition of the charges in subsequent broadcasts and newspaper articles David Kelly's suicide, Gilligan's attempts to mislead the Foreign Affairs Committee in a July 14 email ... The list goes on. And while we're on the subject, why is the broadcast now "notorious" instead of "erroneous"?

'[The inquiry] is pointless but, worse than that, they might get a rush of blood and decide more heads must roll,' said one very senior figure.
Isn't it obviously pointless to try and avoid having the BBC used to promote the politcal goals of its reporters at the expense of accurate reporting? And, of course, the people conducting the inquiry won't be able to help but unnecessarily fire people once this witch hunt starts. No one here had anything to do with Gilligan or his report. Nothing to see here. Move on.

'I think people would down tools: not just presenters, but producers and editors, and it might go higher than that. They've got a fight on their hands if they do anything to anyone.'
Anything to anyone? For any reason? My god, Gilligan used the BBC in an attempt to bring down the Blair government with a false report and no one should dare to inquire as to whether or not a single person should even be so much as slapped on the wrist? As far as the threat to "down tools" goes, be my guest (or, in more current vernacular, bring it on). Do you really think that you are that important to the Beeb that it would be paralyzed without you?

Richard Sambrook, head of news, Kevin Marsh, the editor of Today, and Stephen Mitchell, head of radio, were all called to give evidence.
None of the witnesses called was told what allegations they faced, whether any of the evidence they gave would be used against them or others, or whether the interviews were a 'disciplinary matter'.
Who said they were "facing" any allegations? And if you want to run this like a criminal inquiry, then may I suggest that you stop complaining that the disciplinary rules were provided?

Many staff said the inquiry had simply furthered the BBC's reputation as 'caving in' to the Government. The fact that the corporation launched its own investigation, expected to report in the next month, after Hutton's exhaustive inquiry, has led many to question the BBC's ability to put the events behind it.
It is just terrible that the Beeb, when faced with overwhelming evidence, recognized that its reporter did what he accused the governement of doing: He sexed up his report for personal reasons. Clearly the BBC is far worse off having acknowledged this fact. It will develop the reputation for "caving in" to facts. It would be far more desireable for the Beeb to continue to bury its head in the sand, allow the abuse to continue and develop a reputation for airing unfounded falsehoods.

'This inquiry has changed everything,' said one Today staffer. 'There is an atmosphere of nervousness.
What are you nervous about, Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous Staffer? Have you done the same thing as Gilligan did? If so, then you probably should be worried. If not, then there is nothing to be concerned about. Especially in light of the fact that the BBC says that the inquiry will be focused on internal procedures, the letter sent to Alistair Campbell (the target of Gilligan's "sexing up" report) defending Gilligan and whether the Beeb could have done more to avoid much of the mess. But again, that's not relevant to the claim someone is nervous about something that isn't the object of the investigation, so it shouldn't be reported until the end of the article.

'The management see it as a "truth and reconciliation" process that will heal us, but that is not what is happening. Even if they don't come up with any concrete findings, as I suspect will be the case, it will still have a lasting and very bad effect.'
And precisely what will that lasting effect be, other than to emphasize that its a real good idea to base your reports on what people actually say, rather than what you wish they would have said? I need concrete examples of how the Beeb is going to go down the toilet regardless of the outcome of the investigation.

Another senior member of BBC staff said that 'screens would go blank' if further attacks were made on respected staff for their part in Gilligan's original report and the subsequent battle between the BBC and Downing Street over its veracity.
No one in the entire United Kingdom would be the least bit interested in replacing anyone striking because people were fired for "their part in Gilligan's original report and the subsequent battle between the BBC and Downing Street over its veracity"? I have some recommendations. The list starts with Andrew Sullivan.

The highly public nature of the battle, led by Alastair Campbell, Number 10's former director of communications, led to the eventual 'outing' of the source of Gilligan's claims, Dr David Kelly.
Problem: David Kelly wasn't Gilligan's source. Gilligan had no source.

Kelly, a Ministry of Defence expert on WMD, committed suicide after an internal departmental inquiry questioned his 'unauthorised contacts' with the media. 'We apologised for mistakes during Hutton, we apologised for mistakes when the Hutton report was published, what do they want us to do, apologise again?' said another senior executive.
No, they want to find a way of trying to assure themselves that it won't happen again. That's their job.

Another person involved said that, from the outset, the inquiry's tone was set. 'They said "What went wrong", rather than "What happened",' he said. 'I think that says a lot about what they thought they might find.'
Nothing went wrong? Gilligan lied, Kelly committed suicide, the BBC was seriously embarrassed about a false and clearly baseless "news" story and nothing went wrong?

News staff said that the BBC was now much more cautious with stories than it had been in the past ...
Caution as a means of assuring accuracy in reporting is such a bad thing!

... and that the internal inquiry had meant that many senior executives were still bogged down in the Hutton aftermath.
Damn those senior executives. Can't they just come to grips with the fact that we should be able to report anything we want to, whether or not its based on something someone actually, you know, said? Why do they have to get bogged down (quagmire alert!) trying to prevent us from doing that?

Thomson, who is the partner of Downing Street policy adviser Roger Liddle, is undertaking the inquiry with Stephen Dando, the director of personnel. Critics point out that Thomson was directly involved in putting the BBC's case to Hutton.
'It's ridiculous. Is Thomson meant to interview herself about "what went wrong"?,' asked one BBC executive.
Basically, this is complaint states that, because the conclusions that Hutton came to were not acceptable, we call a "do-over", and the one person who, because of his involvement in the official Hutton inquiry, already knows more about this than anyone else at the BBC is an entirely inappropriate individual to conduct further internal inquiries. I agree. Let's start all over again and, by all means, the new inquiry should be led by someone who has no clue what anyone is talking about. Let's not contaminate this inquiry with any of the facts we already learned in the course of the Hutton investigation.

Although witnesses did not have official legal representation, many of them have hired lawyers. After criticisms that the inquiry amounted to a Politburo-style investigation, each was allowed to take a 'buddy' to the hearings. Marr, for example, accompanied Mark Damazer, the deputy director of news.
Well, which is it, big bad American Guantanamo style justice or big bad Soviet style Politburo justice? Are you headed to Cuba or Siberia?

Marsh was so nonplussed by his first interview that he refused to answer questions. A second series was launched last week and will continue for the next few days.
Let me make sure I understand this. The head of Today was so rattled when asked a question that he could not answer it? What does he do when he is asked a question on the job?

The BBC initially said that it was not a disciplinary inquiry, but witnesses were angered when a copy of the corporation's disciplinary guidelines were attached to letters from the inquiry team.
It is always a bad practice to tell people what disciiplinary rules are in effect. Isn't that just what the Politburo did? Isn't that what they're doing now in Gitmo? The fact that the inquiry might have, as a secondary consequence, some disciplinary fallout means that you must never tell people what the disciplinary rules are.

In an attempt to head off criticism, the BBC has now written to witnesses outlining the main areas of the inquiry.
Senior corporation sources said that it was likely that the inquiry would criticise internal procedures, rather than specific individuals.
Ah! The first evidence that someone on the other side of this story was interviewed. How many paragraphs down? Twenty three. And the general language is directly contradictory to the complaints voiced in the first twenty two paragraphs. So of course it should not be placed near the complaints it contradicts.

It is likely to focus on the 'defence letter' sent to Campbell by Sambrook, outlining why the BBC believed Gilligan's story to be justified. It will also look at whether the Governors could have done more to defuse the row when they had an emergency meeting after Kelly's death.
Senior BBC figures said there could even be some criticism of the way the Hutton case was handled, with some pointing out that the BBC should not have apologised for its errors in front of Hutton when the Government refused to do so.
A BBC spokesman said the corporation was unhappy about what he described as the 'unfair names' for the process being repeated outside the organisation. He added that the 'internal process' team was working 'as quickly as they possibly can' to complete its inquiries, although there is no official end-date in view.
Well, if you don't like being referred to as the Politburo, stop threatening to send people to Siberia, and if you don't like being analogized to Guantanamo, stop holding Andrew Marr incommunicado. What? That hasn't happened?

Oh. Never mind.
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