By Wale Azeez
The war of words between the BBC and Alastair Campbell has revealed the extent to which the Government put pressure on the corporation before and during the war in Iraq.
In an unprecedented move, director of news Richard Sambrook released to the press a 10-page letter addressed to Campbell, saying the Government had tried to steer the BBC’s war coverage after claiming it was biased.
Responding to accusations of an anti-war agenda, Sambrook wrote: “Our responsibility was to present an impartial picture and you were not best placed to judge what was impartial. This was particularly the case given the widescale opposition to the war in the UK including significant opposition inside the Parliamentary Labour Party.” The row over Today defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan’s report on the so-called “sexed-up” dossier is the culmination of months of disagreement. The row that erupted on Friday began with earlier attempts by No 1o to influence war coverage and Sambrook reminded Campbell of their argument of four months ago.
“You will remember when the key division on the war took place in the Commons in March you wrote to me to suggest that we had given too much prominence to the vote which recorded the largest backbench parliamentary revolt in modern history. During the war you again accused us of unfairness – in particular criticising our reporting from Baghdad.
“You know that we strongly dispute that charge and the BBC’s Board of GovernorsÃ‰ have expressed their complete satisfaction with the impartiality of BBC News coverage.”
On Tuesday, junior minister Ben Bradshaw sent a further missive to editorial policy director Stephen Whittle, accusing the BBC of flouting its own guidelines, by using a single source.
However, Sambrook replied that use of a single source, “provided that source is credible and in a position to know what they are talking about”, is not in conflict with BBC guidelines on accuracy.
“As you will know from your experience as a journalist and politician, political journalism would virtually cease in print and broadcast media if every report relied on several sources.” On Monday, the BBC submitted additional evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee looking into the decision to go to war. The NUJ is backing the BBC’s stance.