This ideological function was clear in the BBC Newsnight ‘special’ edition on February 26, 2013, titled ‘Iraq: 10 Years On’. One of the guests on the platform in front of an invited audience was the grandly titled ‘World Affairs Editor’, John Simpson. The veteran journalist has an air of avuncular gravitas, like a political-reporting version of David Attenborough, which helps to promote the notion of BBC News as authoritative and insightful. But look at his words in the cold light of common sense, stripped of the ponderous tone and stolid presentation, and they actually contain little of substance, far less anything that seriously challenges power (as we have documented before: see here and here). Indeed, sometimes those words are simply deceptive. For example, at one point in his Newsnight contribution Simpson really did say:
‘It came as a genuine shock to Blair and Bush to find that Saddam had craftily got rid of his weapons beforehand.’
What secret psychic powers could Simpson possibly possess to detect ‘genuine shock’ inside the brains of Blair and Bush? Rather than Saddam ‘craftily’ getting rid of his weapons, why didn’t Simpson report, as he should have done 10 years ago, that Iraq had been effectively disarmed of its WMD?
The author and political analyst Nafeez Ahmed was present at the recording of the Newsnight special and he was given a few seconds to speak from the audience. The very same day that the Newsnight special was broadcast, he published apiece that exposed and demolished the principal ‘seven myths’ underpinning the BBC’s limiting and distorted framing of debate. These included the mendacious claim that decision-making in Washington and London had been skewed by ‘wrong intelligence’, and that the Blair government’s decision to go to war was based on legitimate parliamentary process. In short, says Ahmed:
‘Newsnight ignored the now well-documented fact that the war was conceived for a set of narrow strategic goals which did not genuinely have the interests of the Iraqi people at heart…. Despite the facts being widely and easily available in the public record, Newsnight’s programme on the 10 year anniversary of the war obfuscated them to such an extent that the real, serious questions were largely overlooked.’
If one single, loaded question epitomised the BBC’s service to state propaganda, it was when Kirsty Wark asked her colleague, BBC Newsnight diplomatic and defence editor Mark Urban:
‘Do you think the idea of exporting democracy at the end of a barrel of a gun has gone?’
Media Lens reader Tony Shenton challenged Kirsty Wark on email (February 26, 2013):
‘You clearly believe that Britain invades other countries to export democracy and freedom. Thus, please can you explain why Blair and Cameron et al continue to be friends with brutal dictators such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain etc?
‘Isn’t Noam Chomsky correct when he says Britain and the US will support the most brutal regimes as long [as] they remain subservient to Western elites?’
Wark responded (February 27, 2013):
‘Thank you for your email. You are entitled to your opinion, but I don’t know how you can presume to know what I think, I was simply framing a question.’
Shenton replied (February 28, 2013):
‘As you know, how you frame a debate reveals a lot about your ideological beliefs.’