Newsnight editor Peter Barron has just sent out an email defending his programme's transmission of an interview with The Taleban. The very fact he's seen fit to send the email might indicate to some people that he's under some pressure from above and from HGM. Here's what it says...
The Taleban are fighting to kill British soldiers in Afghanistan, they burn schools and support al-Qaeda. So is it right to talk to them? For Newsnight, David Loyn spent months trying to make contact with the Taleban leadership, and on Wednesday we showed his extraordinary film in which he travelled to Helmand province to interview their official spokesman for the first time (you can see it here). The Conservative defence spokesman Liam Fox called that "obscene", and the Daily Mail reported the views of the father of one British soldier who thought the BBC has acted irresponsibly, "undermining the war effort". Should the BBC report from the other side of the lines? We believe we should as long as we act with careful thought and do nothing to put the lives of British soldiers at risk. David Loyn's report showed how the Taleban operate in southern Afghanistan, how they view the British and Americans and how they plan to take their campaign forward through suicide bombings. He challenged their spokesman on the Taleban's campaign of violence against Nato's efforts at reconstruction, their burning of schools and rejection of democracy. Some believe it is disloyal to our armed forces to film the enemy. But if we agreed not to show them, isn't that just a small step away from censorship and pro-government propaganda? Peter Barron is editor of Newsnight.
Tim Montgomerie discussed this issue with former Tory Spin doctor Nick wood on his 18DoughtyStreet programme last night. Tim defended the BBC's transmission of this interview as he felt it important that people knew what the Taleban were like and saw the threat they posed. Nick Wood thought it was a disgraceful betrayal of our troops and agreed with Liam Fox that its transmission was a disgrace.
I am totally on the side of the BBC here. Surely this is what good journalism is all about? The film was a warning to us all and if anything should strengthen our resolve in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Why don't we show the Taleban... but get their voices dubbed over by actors? That worked a treat last time, eh? Soon got Adams & co. around the negotiating table that did, rather than have themselves portrayed with a voiceover from some 'B' movie reject. Put a downtown Woverhampton accent on to some be-turbaned, bearded geezer with a kalashnikov and show it on Taleban TV... they would pack up within the month, no trouble.
The only legitimate dissent from the BBC's decision would've been if the broadcast put UK troops in danger or they were providing the Taleban with a media opportunity otherwise far beyond their means.
Since neither of those conditions is true the BBC was perfectly entitled to bbroadcast the interview.
I have no problem with the principle of the broadcast, but it was so unbalanced. It was sympathetic to the Taleban and glossed over much of the atrocities that they have committed - beheading those that dare teach young girls, in front of them.
Broadcast fine, but with balance.
HMG have already given the BBC a good hiding which led to the resignation of Greg Dyke and the Chairman of the BBC,and therefore feel they are a bit of a pushover, Des Browne has precluded ITN from front line filming over filming Casualties being brought into Birmingham in the small hours, CNN have suffered the same fate from the Department of Defense (sic) details on my blog. So the BBC should stand firm and tell us as it is, with the proviso no servicemen were put at risk. Things must be bad when Governments start contolling output. Liam Fox should stop the flag waving, it was the unconditional support from the Conservatives, that now make it so difficult to land punches on this discredited government.
Yes, and I well remember fondly how our whole family used to enjoy gathering round the wireless and listening to the embedded BBC reporter interview Waffen-SS troops inside Caen in July 1945.
It was a real treat for us children and it brought warmth to my heart to be reminded that they were quite nasty people after all. Made it all seem worthwhile.
I agree with you 100% Iain. The piece only tended to show that claims that the Taliban are, for this year, a busted flush, are somewhat wide of the mark.
See my own thoughts at http://desertonfire.blogspot.com
The point about freedom of speech is not that it is there for the speaker, in this case the Taliban, but for the listener. If we are only ever told the government side then democratic choice is a travesty.
My opinion of the BBC, however, is not enhanced by their willingness to broadcast the Taliban but not to give remotely as much coverage to the Yugoslav as to the Nazi side of that war, or indeed their censorship of the Dragodan Massacre in our zone of Kosovo or the failure of his "trial" to find any evidence against Milosevic.
If you are committed to reporting the news impartially you must at least try to be impartial.
Having served in Iraq (although not Afghanistan, yet) I believe the BBC were right to show this. You are not going to get a balanced interview with a fanatic of any sort (Taleban, Home Secretary, Hazel Blears), so the lack of focus on Taleban offences doesn't bother me.
The democracy the British Services are committed to believes in freedom of the press, whether or not we personally agree with what the press are saying (and very few of us care in the slightest about whether politicians of any variety agree with what the press are saying, unless it is scurrilous gossip :).
Of course Cassilis's point about journalism risking lives (other than those of the journalists) or broadcasting tactical information that risks lives is just one of those many nasty balancing acts that real live always involves - and like many things we sometimes get it right and we sometimes get it wrong. People only remember the errors.
The arguments put forward by the BBC expose just how loony left, weak, bitter and frankly stupid they are. The object of a war is not to avoid harm to our own Soldiers. That is an important, but importantly secondary consideration. The object of a war is to defeat the enemy, and it's not up to the BBC to decide who that enemy is. It's up to the elected representatives of the people of Britain.
Whether or not they choose to oppose the interviewee is irrelevant if they allow them to broadcast Taleban propaganda into the homes of Britain. The fact that an interview with personal contact, rather than reportage from the field, was broadcast implies that the Taleban's message is worthy of consideration. This implication carries some weight when it comes from one of the nation's most respected and loved institutions. The BBC must act responsibly and in the nation's interest if it wishes to remain so.
One concern of mine over this report (and on that I posted on the newsnight forum; no answer yet) is whether the Taliban were payed/bribed etc. for their cooperation with the BBC, and if so, how much?
were there a lot of Waffen SS in July 1945 then?
Liam Fox and, to a lesser extent, Michael Ancram (on Question Time) have done us no favours to complain about this. They expose a character flaw that pervades the Conservative Party: fear and irritation when our beliefs and assumptions are challenged. Are our agruments really so fragile?
Government would make less mistakes if information was more freely available. Such information includes the opposing opinions in a war. It is grossly insulting that politicians presume the general public to be incapable of fully understanding issues – especially when so many MPs have no special ability except the gift of the gab and a cosy seat in a constituency that would elect a blue or red gerbil.
I was going to make the same point about Geoff's dates, as the war had been over a good few months by then. Always interesting when WWII is trotted out and the writer is wrapped in the flag, but the dates are a bit hazy. Perhaps he out to have dusted off his GCE History, and read up on the disastrous retreat from Kabul, from which there was only one survivor, or that the Afghans held off the Russians who had 100 000 men in theatre and a few more helicopters than we have got with CIA stingers and money, (is May 07 still the delivery date on Blairs promise of new Chinooks ?) I for one valued the report, because my government, in my name, using my tax pounds, using the royal perogative to invade a country that I know little about and I do not know anybody who has been to.
I think Geoff was trying to invoke Godwins law of internet debate to achieve 'my country right or wrong'.
I would really, really like to think that David Lyon was actually a SIS agent and that the whole thing was a brilliant intelligence operation. It would greatly restore my faith in the tarnished repuation of the Biased-BBC, but somehow, I think I would be deluding myself.
Maybe someone should put the story out anyway and wait to see how long it is before he is bumped-off by one of his Islamist friends.
Okay, fair point about the date for the Second World War gentlemen.
I made a typo and I give up - I put my hands up to it (which is more than the SS did).
After all, most of them were in Brazil by then.
Doesn't affect my point though. I may be a lone voice on this blog against this broadcast, but I completely oppose our tax-subsidised state broadcaster trying to empathise, understand and seek out the (non-existent) humanity of terrorists - be they Hezbollah blowing up Israeli schoolbuses, Sunni's and Shiites torturing each other or Taliban shooting at our soldiers.
Watch Al-Jazeera if you want that sort of stuff. After all, quite a few high profile BBC-types have taken their shilling in the last year or so...
I cannot express strongly enough how much I resent my licence tax subsidising this awful report.
Of course we should show it. It's what differentiates us from the Taleban! Typical of people like Nick Wood. He's gone into PR and now can't see what journalism is about. The BBC aren't saying the Taleban are right, for heaven's sake!
I have flip-flopped a bit on this one, but I would probably defend the BBC's right to broadcast this. The problem that I have is the way this was followed up by Paxman and the BBC. Paxman took everything the Taleban said at face value - even the obvious lies - and his grilling of Ingram was a disgrace. We are at war, lives are at risk, and information is every bit as important as tanks and guns. Why did Paxman not spend a few minutes disseminating the Taleban's lies rather than grill Ingram? Too often the BBC let anyone who hates America or Israel free rein to spout untrue propaganda without challenging them. This is at best endangering British lives and at worst treason. It is this to which I object, not David Loyn's contribution.
Utter disgrace. Next thing we'll find out Lord Haw Haw was a Beeb employee.
Should Churchill have allowed the public airing of Hitler?
Why is it that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat Opposition have failed to criticise the Labour Government over their failure to add the Taliban to the official list of Proscribed Terrorist Groups under the Terrorism Act 2000 ?
This means that, despite actual armed conflict against British troops, and the sort of terrorist threats they made in the BBC interviews, neither membership of the Taliban, nor fund raising (provided it is not clearly for terrorist purposes) , nor the display of banners or slogans etc. in support of it, is actually illegal in the UK.
All such activities would automatically become criminal offences if the the Taliban was deemed to be a Proscribed Terrorist Group by Home Secretary John Reid, something which he, or his predecessors, could have done with the stroke of a pen.
the email is the same text as his entry on the Newsnight blog, incidentally.
i posted there yesterday to support the broadcast, i watched it and it was damn interesting and a pretty brave bit of reporting to boot.
if more journalists spent their time on things like that, and fewer spent their time boring us to death with the details of self-serving celebrities' divorces, the media in this country would be in a better state.
The more we try and hide the Taleban from the media, the more afraid we feel of them. They have certainly done some horrific things in their time, but let's not forget that until they pissed off the Americans in 2000/2001 over the oil pipeline issues, the British public and media let all their human rights abuses go unnoticed.
The regional warlords that the US/UK have become 'best buddies' with since the war in Aghanistan began are guilty of serious human rights abuses as well, so I agree with Kate's post when she said that some balanced reporting wouldn't go amiss.
I think it was obscene and indefensible for a simple reason; whatever the rights and wrongs in allowing the Taleban to have their say and put their point of view across, what did the interview achieve by showing it to the British public of the wider world?
If nothing but to inform, then it was obscene. Fuck me, and it make smy blood boil...we have the Government trying to ban any and every spokeman of the BNP, a bona fide, if despicable, British political party, from having any say whatsoever and being actively discriminated against, and all sides condemn them out of hand, but the fucking Taleban gets to put it's case on mainstream BBC?
It is becoming ridiculous when home grown terrorists are given airtime, and foreign terrorists too...for no perceptible purpose.
I don;t want to know what their feelings and ideals are, I have no wish to know their dies of the story; when they are fighting, and killing, British soldeirs, I just want the fuckers to die and am not interested in what they have to say.
Why would anyone think differently?
If anybody really wants to know what David Loyn's opinion on reporting conflict is, then they should read this, written by him in 2003:
If they are too lazy to try and understand the argument, here is a quote that he quotes:
I am with the war photographer Guthrie, in Tom Stoppard’s play Night and Day, who says, ‘I’ve been around a lot of places. People do awful things to each other. But it’s worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark. It really is. Information is light. Information, in itself, about anything, is light. That’s all you can say really.’
But there again, I may have taken him out of context.
He believes in getting at the truth whilst understanding that he will be presented with versions of the truth that may be at odds with each other.
My criticism is not of him, but of people like him, who are privately, then Oxbridge educated, who live and move in the smarter London suburbs and do not have truck with people from schemes in Glasgow or the production line in Cowley. Loyn, if you want to know, is all of the first three and also a committed Catholic and Leftie.
It's not that he isn't trying to be objective, it is just that there are too many people like him, working with him and telling him what to do and ultimately what to think.
He has bought into the zeitgeist and forgotton who Paulo Freire is.
Due to their hypocrisy my knee jerks to attack the Beeb.
On reflection I support the Beeb broadcasting this interview, but as other commentators have noted what they said should have been challenged as strongly as any other interviewee and the BNP should not be excluded from our screens.
I am with the war photographer Guthrie, in Tom Stoppard’s play Night and Day, who says, ‘I’ve been around a lot of places. People do awful things to each other. But it’s worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark. It really is. Information is light. Information, in itself, about anything, is light. That’s all you can say really.’ etc. etc. etc........
I couldn't agree with you more.
The quote you gave from him shows that he, and his type, assumes and if not assumes, definitely implies, that we are being fed the wrong information, or misinformation, and that we need to get to the truth. It also implies there are consequences to not showingh this truth. Yes, this is lefty twaddle.
The soldiers on the ground know everything they need to know about the Taleban ideologically. The people in the UK know everything they need to know. Not one single person in the UK can be turned against the Taleban who are currently for them, based on these reports, so what is the point?
If they were found to be an altruistic organisation fighting against oppression in Afghanistan I would agree that the truth needs to be shown, but they are not.
I can find not one single reason to give them airtime other than to make a programme and headlines, and they may even have gained by this, and that is not what the BBC exists for.
I am currently on a two month (non-military, non-government, non-security)assignment in Kabul and have not yet been able to see the whole programme.
When I heard about it earlier this week I assumed that Mr Loyn must have had some sort of clearance or tacit approval from the security forces.
If he did not and had got into a nasty situation, I suppose the call would have gone out for a rescue attempt.
For my own part I think the lack of support by the other NATO partners is disgraceful and directly contributing to the current difficulties faced by ISAF and failing to create the proper security cordon around the local people and those of us trying to get on with taking this place further up the road.
It was rumoured last week that France is to pull its "Special Forces" out of Afghanistan. I expect there'll be a flurry of activity as the Special Forces of chefs, social anthropologists, gender experts, hair stylists, economic advisers and commercial consultants evacuate.
The film demonstrates the clear requirement for an enhanced information operations campaign. The UK is loosing this spectrum of the conflict. To better the situation one must look at common beliefs and why people fight. UK Plc must generate a more effective message amongst the population centres backed up by reconstruction that one can feel and touch.
You should link to 18 Doughty Street when you mention it!
And there's nothing wrong with that video.
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