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Iraq and the BBC revisited

1 October 2012

10:12 AM

1 October 2012

10:12 AM

Just finished reading a book by Kevin Marsh, the editor of the Today programme at the time of the whole Gilligan-Campbell-Kelly business which saw the director general of the BBC kicked out of the corporation. It hasn’t aroused very much interest, largely because it contains no new information which would either exonerate the programme or the government. And because stylistically it is not an untrammelled pleasure. I think Stephen Robinson, in the Sunday Times, got it about right: “It takes a particular type of journalistic incompetence to cede the moral high ground on the Iraq war to Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair, but this book…….confirms that the BBC and Marsh pulled it off with their disastrous attempt to challenge Downing Street’s justification for the war.”

The incompetence was in not recognising the story for what it was, not controlling it. In other words, not being an editor. Still, there is no doubt in my mind that Gilligan – who has since gone on to greater things – was right substantially, if not (crucially) in the fine detail of his first interview on the programme. At the time, I made my way from TV studio to radio studio attempting to drive home this point and attempting to expose Campbell’s “contrived rage” (as Robinson puts it) for what it was. It was after one of these interviews that Marsh whispered to me: “What you have to do is separate Gilligan from the Today programme.” What a revolting thing to say.

Proof that the BBC has a vibrant sense of irony came later, when Marsh was shunted off into a new job at the corporation – head of its “College of Journalism”. All a great shame, though, for he’d been an excellent editor of the lower-profile The World At One.

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