Video Killed the Radio Star 17


I had the interesting experience of sitting on set at BBC News 24 for over an hour today, intermittently talking and intermittently on camera. I had come in to discuss both the maritime boundaries issue and the question of the behind the scenes diplomatic negotiations. As Oliver Miles said today, there were at least ten bilateral discussions between Iran and British ambassadors, ministers and No 10 officials. Tony Blair might claim there were no negotiations, but they weren’t discussing the weather.

Anyway, I was on air when the hostages arrived by helicopter and were reunited with their families. Thus I found myself being asked for an hour questions such as “How do you think the families are feeling?”

I should say that the presenters were really nice, and the hectic atmosphere of a newsroom on a big live breaking story is great fun. I found myself involved in an interesting game of offering deadpan expert analysis, but interspersing it with subversive comment. I didn’t want to push that too hard or I was pretty plain I would have got yanked off. So over the course of an hour I first slipped in the observation that, as a taxpayer, I was not too keen on financing very expensive warships steaming around the Gulf allegedly to collect vehicle excise duty. Later I was able to say that, while I shared the unalloyed delight at the return of the 15, I was thinking rather more about the families of the four British servicemen who had been killed in Iraq today, and their civilian interpreter. Before they could recover from the shock of that burst through the reverential coverage, I added the 70 Iraqi civilians who on average die every day.

You should understand that over the long broadcast I mostly talked about the return of the captives and had no difficulty in being genuinely upbeat and happy about that. But the reunion of captives and families probably had the largest live news audience for many months; it did not escape the No 10 spin doctors’ attention that their “Triumph for Tony” moment was being jeopardised by a dissident having been allowed on the BBC.

Ask yourself – when is the last time you saw an anti-war voice, as opposed to a pro-war “military” or “security” expert, asked by the BBC to comment on a Middle East development? Yet the majority of people in this country are against the war. If they want an ex-diplomat, they go for pro war cheerleaders Pauline Neville Jones or Christopher Meyer, even though eight out of ten ex British Ambassadors are against the war.

Anyway the outraged phone calls from the government to the BBC started coming in. As a result, having been introduced as “Former Head of the Foreign Office Maritime Section and Former British Ambassador…” the first time, I was reintroduced as “Craig Murray, who was sacked as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan for opposing British government policy”. The poor presenters, with whom I had been getting on well for an hour, seemed embarassed.

I therefore decided the gloves were off, and introduced “the elephant in the room – that the large majority of the British people don’t believe that our servicemen should be in Iraq and in harm’s way in the first place.”

There is no doubt at all that when you make anti-war or anti-government points on the BBC the whole body language and line of questioning indicates that you are some sort of isolated extremist. Of course, our so called opposition parties fail to make any such points, and the BBC’s normal pool of experts are hand picked to be reliably right wing on these issues. The absolutely astonishing thing is that I then whizzed off to Sky News (Fox affiliate) and there, in the heart of the Murdoch Empire, the atmosphere is totally different.

I was asked open questions if anything leading me on to be overtly critical of the war, Tony Blair and John Bolton. This is not unusual. Tony Benn, George Galloway and I all get far easier access to Sky than the BBC. Sky does seem to maintain a modicum of journalistic integrity. The BBC has totally lost it since Gilligan, Dyke and Hussey were sacked for telling the truth about Iraqi WMD, and David Kelly was murdered.

Anyway, after Sky I went to buy a birthday present for Nadira. A lady outside the shop told me that she had just seen me on the TV. “I used to listen to you on Radio 4” she said, “You looked a lot better on the radio.”


17 thoughts on “Video Killed the Radio Star

  • Randal

    Craig,

    Did the following story come up while you were at Sky?
    http://news.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,70131-1259…

    'We Gathered Intelligence'

    Updated: 22:05, Thursday April 05, 2007

    The captain in charge of the 15 marines detained in Iran has said they were gathering intelligence on the Iranians.

    Sky News went on patrol with Captain Chris Air and his team in Iraqi waters close to the area where they were arrested – just five days before the crisis began.

    We withheld the interview until now so it would not jeopardise their safety.

    And today, former Iranian diplomat Dr Mehrdad Khonsari said if the Iranians had known about it, they would have used it to "justify taking the marines captive and put them on trial".

  • Randal

    I should add, it won't be any surprise to anyone that these guys gather whatever intel they can while operating (least of all the Iranians). However, I do think it was very fortunate indeed for the individuals concerned that Sky did keep this particular piece back until after they were released….

  • Strategist

    "I found myself involved in an interesting game of offering deadpan expert analysis, but interspersing it with subversive comment."

    "The BBC has totally lost it since Gilligan, Dyke and Hussey were sacked for telling the truth about Iraqi WMD, and David Kelly was murdered."

    Whoops Craig there you go again! Have you previously posted regarding David Kelly? Could we persuade you to now? As the death of Diana is to the celeb worshippers, so is the death of Kelly to us anti-war types – we never tire of hearing more…

    PS I'm not sure that Sky's "we were gathering intelligence" story is significant. The admission (if I have read it correctly) is that they were gathering intelligence from the masters of the ships they were boarding. Of course they would do this, and it isn't wrongdoing (or wrongdoing additional to being there in the first place).

  • kazbel

    I note that so far BBC radio news (I haven't seen the TV) hasn't mentioned intelligence gathering. An early morning commentator on Radio 4 suggested that the whole incident has damaged Iran's standing internationally, including in the Middle East. It takes a lot of hard work to turn this story into an Iranian failure.

  • writeon

    Craig,

    Your remarks about your experiences on the BBC and Sky are interesting. I was especially interested in how exactly you know that outraged phone calls from the government were coming in? Did a journalist just blurt out that they'ed had a call from the government about your comments, or is this something you overheard or surmise?

    Also I'm not really sure who "the government" is in this particular context? I doubt Tony Blair bothered to call in about you, but who knows? Perhaps he really is the ultimate control freak, and recklessly stupid as well? Was it some other member of the government whose interested in foreign affairs? Could it have been a representative from Downing Street who isn't a member of the government? Like a press spokeman who monitors the BBC?

    I'm curious, because, phoning in, is pretty blatant interference in the BBC's edetorial freedom, especially with you sitting there listening in!

    I'm shocked that the government would use such crude and unsubtle methods. Is this really the way they work?

    If you were mistaken, however, wouldn't this kind of statement/alligation, have a potentially damaging affect on both your credibility and reputation, and by extention on the anti-war movement and the issues they raise?

    You also stated the David Kelly was murdered. Once again this is a rather tendentious choice of words on your part. I wonder about the wisdom of saying that Kelly was murdered in this seemingly casual fashion. I wonder what the Kelly family thinks about such statements? It's bad enough to think that ones loved one committed suicide under intense pressure, but that he was murdered must be a truly ghastly thought. To think that Kelly's murderer is walking around free must/would surely plague them for life? The family would never be able to let Kelly rest in peice, knowing that justice had not been done, do you see my point here, Craig?

    You are laying yourself open to a great deal of criticism for openly saying that David Kelly was murdered, unless you have really good evidence to support your public statement. Given the resources available to the pro-war camp, you could very easily be ridiculed, vilified and hung out to dry as a conspiracy nut, which would totally destroy your public standing and severely damage your ability to effectively criticize government policy. That's a high price to pay for bringing up David Kelly isn't it?

  • Craig

    Writeon,

    Overheard in the studio. Where have you been the last few years if you are shocked by this? No 10 have a policy of regularly putting pressure on news outlets, and the BBC in particular. This has been so widely reported I can't believe you haven't heard about it, as you appear generally quite well informed. Try Lance Price's book, or look at the Hutton Report.

    I didn't pick up who from the govt was complaining, No 10 or the FCO or the MOD, press officers or special advisers? It doesn't much matter.

    On David Kelly, I have blogged before on his murder. If yout think it hasn't occurred to his family he was murdered, you are very wrong.

    You may recall that the paramedics called to the scene gave a press conference specifically to say that he could not have died from the wounds on his wrist, and there was not much blood spilt. One experienced London policeman told me his station have dealt over the years with hundreds of cases of slashed wrists, and never known a fatal one.

    Anyway, I am not going to blog all that again. I was in the Kelly position, and they tried to kill me – read Murder in Samarkand.

  • ziz

    Bollocks writeon.

    It is perfectly respectable to believe that Dr David Kelly was murdered – for an unrelated case see the Sally Clarke case where a very highly regarded doctor maintains (even given an opportunity to retract by the GMC) that the father killed the children.

    God help us when people of the integrity and with the "moral squint" of Craig do not feel free to express their opinions, views.

    You may NOT agree with his views and with the Government fairy tale, it may indeed affect his immediate family. He does us all a great service by promoting views that are uncomfortable but nevertheless rooted in sound and coonsidered judgement.

    Most fascinating is how the Metropolitan media circus operates… not doubt Sir Lyons will do his best to destroy disperse this well oiled machine with the planned diaspora to the perliues of Salford Docks.

    Who knows, equally effective commentators in Manchester in the Northern hinterland may get a look in ?

  • writeon

    See, that allegation about David Kelly made me forget the really interesting things your post contained!

    Your identification of the vast chasm that yawns at the heart of our political system. The frightening disparity between the views and values of the vast majority of the electorate and their representatives in parliament. Of the well over 600 members of parliament, there are only a handful who have vigerously and consequently opposed the war-party. I can think of only one who is really well know, George Galloway. It appears on the face of it that one man represents the views of the majority of the population. To call such a system "democratic" is, to say the least, open to debate!

    The question of power cannot be ignored. Are our political representatives open to our influence any more? Does the electorate have any real impact on their decisions? Do we really live in a functioning democracy anymore?

  • hillblogger3

    Intelligence gathering is part and parcel of a military officer's job.

    Some of them are more specialized than others.

    Even non-descript looking attach?s one bumps into in UK embassies do that sort of thing regularly.

    With regard to the captured RN 15 (now released), my initial thought upon learning that they didn't put up a fight was either they were told not to – under some rules of engagement – or that they HAD TO BE CAPTURED so one or two could collect intelligence (even before I heard that Capt Air had already 'confessed' on Sky TV that part of his job was to gather intel data).

  • writeon

    Craig,

    Actually I have been away for a number of years, in self-imposed exile. So there's a considerably distance between me and what's goin' on. I don't have my finger on the pulse like you do. I am not in the loop. Apart from a fifteen month period, I haven't lived in England for over twenty-five years.

    I am, in fact, shocked, I was not being ironic, that the government would interfere with a news broadcast whilst it was on the air. Things are clearly worse than I imagined.

    I'm sorry if I appeared to imply that you were lying about your recent experiences. This was not my intention and I appologize if I gave you that impression.

    I don't believe I said that David Kelly was not murdered. I don't know how he died, but I have my suspicions and there are clearly areas that need to be qualified and investigated. I hope he wasn't murdered. If he was murdered, then we are a long way down a very slipery slope.

    My impression from the media is, that people who say that David Kelly was murdered, are indeed regarded as "conspiracy nuts". I did not say that I personally agree with this point of view, only that I appreciated that it existed and that I wondered about the wisdom of even appearing to move in that direction.

    I evidently don't understand that saying that David Kelly was murdered is apparently a perfectly respectable and non-controversial utterance in todays Britain! And once again, I am not being ironic.

    I don't blieve I was disagreeing with you about the points you raised. I was only aksing for clarification, as the scenaria you, seen from my perspective, were describing, seemed incredible. Whilst you almost appeared, at least to me, blas? about these things, I was genuinely taken aback.

    Anyway, I can now re-write my thriller and put back all the parts that my wife said were over the top!

  • johnf

    >I am, in fact, shocked, I was not being ironic, that the government would interfere with a news broadcast whilst it was on the air. Things are clearly worse than I imagined.

    Government's have always done this. Editors of the "Today" programme in particular are used to having their ears bent by irate government (and opposition) spokesmen after every programme.

    Alistair Campbell and his streams of abuse and manhandling of critics is nothing new. Sir Joseph Ball, Chamberlain's equivalent, used to regularly blackmail rogue journalists and politicians by threats of exposing their homosexuality or adultery. It helped that he was ex-MI5 and probably never left the organization.

  • writeon

    Craig,

    Your comments about how you, Tony Benn and George Galloway, get a reasonably fair hearing on Sky are interesting.

    Sky is a commercial channel. It does not have the same level of "credibility", neither domestically, nor, and perhaps more importantly around the world, that the BBC does. The BBC is still regarded, and this will probably cause you to smile wryly, as a paragon of journalistic integrity and authority, and that it stands for the highest standards in its reporting. People take the BBC seriously.

    Sky on the other hand, does not have the same kind of reputation, and therefore has more room to move and can "play the fool" so to speak, without the kind of risks the government funded BBC would open itself up to.

    Personally, I often feel sorry for the journalists at the BBC. One can often hear them reining themselves in, and straining to find the correct adjectives in their attempts to satisfy their masters at the BBC, the attitudes of the genral public, the Government, foreign governments, different factions, their own journalistic standards, and probably at the end of the list – the Truth. It can't be easy as there are so many people waiting to criticise one from all sides if one puts a foot wrong. This is especially evident in coverage relating to the Middle East. Which appears to be a minefield for BBC journalists.

  • Craig

    johnf

    Yes, Bernard Ingham was pretty robust in his time. Luckily I am not gay, and so famously adulterous there is nothing left to expose!

  • Craig

    oops. swarm of emails. I am not in the least anti-gay. "Luckily I am not gay" referred to the comment about being blackmailed by spin doctors for being gay. Agree phrasing unfortunate.

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