Jeremy Paxman? Anti-War? Perish the Thought
The BBC Trust has finally made its decision on the complaint by my friend Stan Rosenthal about Jeremy Paxman’s article in The Guardian in November 2010 about the fall of Saddam’s statue (right). The BBC had, belatedly and grudgingly, accepted that Paxo should not have used the phrase “the initial lies that took us to war” and told him off most severely (that is, drew it to his attention).
Rosenthal was not satisfied, because he thought that the article, which, to understate it, was an anti-war diatribe, breached the BBC’s editorial guidelines on Conflicts of Interest:
Section 15 – Conflicts of Interest Principles (15.2.1) External activities of individuals working for the BBC must not undermine the public’s perception of the impartiality, integrity, independence and objectivity of the BBC.
The only honest defence to this would be that Paxo’s polemic could not have undermined the public’s perception of the BBC’s impartiality because the public knows perfectly well that the BBC took a political position against the war and has still not come to terms with the implications of the Hutton report.
The BBC Trust is supposed to supervise the BBC’s adherence to the guidelines, but this was the conclusion of its Editorial Standards Committee (pdf, page 52):
The Committee decided that the brief article did not purport to be an analysis of the rights and wrongs of the Iraq War. It took one of the iconic photographic images of that war, recalled several others, and concluded that we should all be wary about what we see and hear when powerful states decide to pursue their vital interests. The Committee’s view was that it was essentially a defence of scepticism in taking anything for granted, however compelling it may appear at first sight. The Committee noted that due scepticism was a hallmark of robust journalism. That at times the article may also have reflected some of the arguments of those who opposed the war was, in the Committee’s view, incidental to the theme on which Jeremy Paxman chose to focus. The Committee therefore did not accept the complainant’s argument that Jeremy Paxman was obliged to reflect other views of the war.
The Committee agreed with the Director of News that the style of the article was in keeping with the combative and provocative approach Jeremy Paxman adopts on Newsnight.
The Committee noted the earlier decision by the Director of News to uphold two aspects of the complaint. However, the Committee did not believe that the article as a whole would have resulted in the undermining of confidence in the professional integrity of Jeremy Paxman or the impartiality of the BBC. Such a conclusion was not a proportionate response to the extent of the breaches. Accordingly it did not accept there had been a breach of the guidelines on Conflicts of Interest with regard to the article overall.
The Committee’s argument leading up to this satirical conclusion discusses dossiers in some detail while pretending not to notice that Paxman had confused them. Getting the “dodgy dossier” of February 2003 mixed up with the main dossier of September 2002 is one of Julie’s causes of instant disqualification from debating the Iraq war (see also her Iraq Fact Sheet).
The Committee also cites opinion poll evidence that people did not trust the Blair Government on Iraq as proof that it was all right for Paxman to say:
The cost wasn’t measured just in blood and treasure* but in our ability ever again to trust governments.
The circularity of that argument, on behalf of a media organisation by which people learn what to think of their government, is a triumph of bureaucratic obfuscation.
*Paxman’s article was also in breach of the ban on clichés.Tagged in: bbc bias, chilcot, iraq, iraq inquiry, iraq war, jeremy paxman
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