Radio Waves: Mick Heaney: Voice of restraint

From The Sunday Times

We may live in a cacophonous world of increasingly accessible media, with blogs, podcasts and cable channels pumping out their two cents’ worth, but it is still possible to cause a stir simply by making one’s voice heard. Whether it is entirely wise to do so is another matter.

Listening to Craig Murray in the first episode of Whistleblowers (RTE R1, Thu), the most striking thing was not so much the human- rights abuses he became aware of while serving as British ambassador to Uzbekistan, but the unadorned manner in which he recounted them. If it made for compelling listening, however, Murray’s forthright testimony would cost him dearly.

As he told his tale, it became clear that the former diplomat was not a natural rebel. A Foreign Office high-flyer, he started to turn against the regime of the Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, only after attending the trial of an Islamic activist, where a witness said he had been tortured into giving evidence.

As Murray became more concerned about such abuses, he not only amassed evidence of torture and persecution, but also realised British intelligence used information gained under duress in its war on Al-Qaeda. He made clear his distaste for the Uzbek regime.

Murray’s graphic account of dissidents being boiled alive by the security forces of a strategically important ally caused unwelcome ripples in London, but it was not the most shocking part of the programme, if only because such violence forms a large chunk of our daily media diet.

More chilling was the manner of Murray’s undoing: asked to resign by his superiors, he refused, only to be confronted with 14 accusations of misconduct, from alcoholism to seeking sex for visas.

Murray’s starkly factual and unemotive recollection of the incident only served to highlight the nightmarish quality of his situation. For once, the epithet Kafkaesque was warranted.

Using his largely unmediated testimony to drive the programme was not without its perils: unable to be pressed on contentious incidents, his evidence had to be taken at face value. But if he quietly painted himself as a fearless martyr for the truth, giving Murray’s voice such free reign allowed the listener to glimpse a fuller picture of the man, both in his vanities ‘ he described his early career as ‘frankly brilliant’ ‘ and in his despair.

Such unfettered voices are the lifeblood of Flux (Mon, RTE R1), the offbeat weekly slice of radio v’rit’ that supposedly takes its cue from whatever grabs the ear of Paddy O’Gorman and Ronan Kelly, the alternating hosts.