How the BBC Trust Betrays our trust


Comment at end

Or –

28th June 2011


In a pfd file headed “Editorial Standards, Findings, Appeals to the Trust and other editorial issues considered by the Editorial Standards Committee, May 2011 issued June 2011”

– the BBC Trust has now delivered its verdict on the Paxman article about the Iraq war that Stan Rosenthal put to them after the BBC Director of News had only partially upheld his complaint that the article contravened the BBC’s impartiality rules.

Rosenthal’s case was that the piece as a whole was biased, not just the part that referred to “the lies that took us to war” and sneered at “Tony Blair striding around with his new best friend in his excruciatingly ball crushing jeans”.

Not surprisingly the Trust cleared Mr Paxman of the wider charge but in doing so they inadvertently revealed how far they are prepared to go to absolve the BBC’s leading political interviewer from any wrongdoing. The whitewash can best be discerned by comparing their responses (based on many pages of irrelevant data compiled by their researchers) with the precise arguments made in the complaint.

Since there are so many ways in which the Trust has bent over backwards to get  Mr Paxman off the hook I will be dealing with them in a series of posts rather than in one post.

To start with, let us compare the overall justification of their decision with the main thrust of the complaint, succinctly summarised in a blog post by Peter Hitchens when the response of the BBC’s Director of News became public. “Mr Paxman”, he wrote “expressed the bog standard view of the London Left about the Iraq war”.

Not so, according to the Great and the Good who make up the Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trust. The article was “essentially a defence of scepticism in taking anything for granted, however compelling it may appear at first sight. That at times the article may have reflected some of the arguments of those who opposed the war was incidental to the theme on which Jeremy Paxman chose to focus.”

So as long as one-sided, anti-war views can be dressed up in some arty-farty piece about the difference between reality and appearances that’s quite alright as far as the BBC’s impartiality rules are concerned.

Now let us turn to the first of the three sections that the Trust broke the complaint into when they presented their findings. This was Paxman’s use of the term “dodgy dossier”, without inverted commas (the other two sections, whether Paxman was right in referring to the loss of trust in government after the war, and whether the article overall had expressed a wholly one-sided anti-war viewpoint, will be dealt with in later posts).

While the Trust admitted that it was not clear which of the two dossiers Paxman was referring to (the September 2002 one covering the intelligence relating to Saddam’s WMD or the February 2003 one relating to Iraq’s history of deception and concealment ) they chose to concentrate on  the one, that had prompted the description of dodgy (the February one)  because of its inclusion of the work of a student taken from the internet. In doing so they referred extensively to how the Foreign Affairs Select Committee had repeatedly used this term in their description of this dossier (albeit in inverted commas) and how Jack Straw and Alastair Campbell had subsequently conceded that this dossier was “a complete horlicks” and “a bad own goal”. They then narrowed down a dictionary definition of “dodgy” to mean “unreliable and questionable” and concluded that there was clear evidence that the shortcomings in the presentation of the February dossier could be described as unreliable and questionable so Mr Paxman was right to use the term.

All very convincing until you consider the other side of the argument that Mr Rosenthal had put to the Trust in his comments on the paperwork relating to this appeal (which have been exclusively passed on to this site).

“The paperwork”, he said,” rightly explains that, strictly speaking, the term “dodgy dossier” applied to the February 2003 briefing document on Iraq’s history of concealment and deception which plagiarised internet material and then continues its analysis on the basis that it was this document that Mr Paxman had in mind in his article, However my argument was that in the context of the related paragraph referring to the lies that took us to war the term came across as  applying to the more important dossier on WMD intelligence  released the previous September. The paper itself admits that the two documents are conflated by the media when the term “dodgy dossier” is used . Indeed Ms Boaden, the BBC’s Director of BBC News, obviously used the term as relating to the intelligence dossier when she referred to the dodgy dossier “being a fair shorthand to describe the document which alleged that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction” when such weapons were not actually found after the invasion..

He therefore thought that “all the material in the paper relating to the February dossier should be ignored and that the Committee should confine its attention to whether Mr Paxman’s use of this term  was more likely to have been related to the September intelligence document and to whether using it (without putting inverted commas round it)  in conjunction with his earlier reference to the lies that took us to war gave the impression that he was on the side of those who claimed that the document was dodgy in the sense that it was a deliberately deceptive, sexed-up document designed to persuade the public that Saddam had WMD when the authorities knew all along that this was not the case.”

Mr Rosenthal’s comment was of course totally ignored in the Trust’s findings.

Just a couple of examples of how the Trust have outrageously contorted the terms of the complaint put to them to fit their preconceived findings. Others will follow in due course.



John Rentoul has also written on the report here – “Jeremy Paxman? Anti-war? Perish the thought”

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Recent comments:

I am staggered by all the hate directed towards our former Prime Minister. I believe that Tony Blair made the Iraq decision in good faith and is most certainly NOT a war criminal. If anyone should be tried at the Hague it should be those in the media for totally misrepresenting the information and facts. The media are to blame for fuelling this hatred as it is purely driven by them. (UK)

The greatest and most successful leader the Labour Party has ever had with the courage to fight the Islamist terrorists who really would like to kill us all, and you never hear a good word about him. The herd of independent minds, commentators, activists etc who have never had to make a difficult decision in their lives drown out all debate with their inane chants of war crimes and blood on his hands. Defend him at every chance. I just wish more people would do it. (Glasgow, UK)
Blair was the greatest Labour Prime Minister. It is a disgrace that the party has turned away from his legacy. Shame on Ed Miliband and his so-called ‘new generation’.


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