BBC governors rap war coverage

McLaughlin: criticism unfounded

BBC governors have criticised the broadcaster’s coverage of the Iraq war in the annual report out this week, saying that it “had limitations” and did not treat military sources with enough scepticism.

The report added: “There were times when military sources (forecasting the imminent fall of Basra, for example) were not treated with enough scepticism; other organisations had made technological advances that sometimes provided more vivid television coverage, and current affairs special programmes did not make the expected impact.”

BBC News executives declined to comment on their governors’ findings, but the NUJ defended the record of journalists that covered the Iraq war.

NUJ broadcasting organiser Paul McLaughlin said the governors’ criticism was unfounded.

He said journalists were “pretty clear” in putting any information in context.

“The BBC was consistent in referencing any description of military source so that the public was in no doubt that this was what military sources were saying. It didn’t say ‘Basra has fallen’, it said ‘military sources have indicated that Basra had fallen’,” he said.

“In terms of the embedded journalists, obviously they were working under military restrictions. But again the BBC was careful to point that out.

“Pretty much we would feel very comfortable in the way in which they had covered the conflict, so we are surprised the governors would take that view.”

However, the governors’ conclusions were borne out by academic research into Iraq war coverage by Professor Justin Lewis of Cardiff University last July, which suggested the BBC tended to be less sceptical in its coverage and was most likely to use government sources for its stories.

But the report tempered its criticism by saying there was “much to be proud of” in the coverage, including “a good range of Arab and Muslim opinion” and outstanding analysis from BBC Two’s Newsnight and Radio 4’s The World At One.

By Wale Azeez

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