By Mary Stevens
National newspaper and television journalists have claimed the media failed to challenge the Government hard enough over the dossiers produced as evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
A lack of technical knowledge, the strength of spin and a shortage of on-the-record sources meant the Government was not questioned strongly enough, according to journalists at a Reporting the World discussion in London last week.
Independent reporter Kim Sengupta said: “We in the media were not critical enough at the time and when we got hold of the dossier there wasn’t really a critical examination to establish what was good stuff and what wasn’t. I think to a certain extent what is happening now is because we were intrinsically less than critical enough.”
Ed Pilkington, foreign editor of The Guardian during the war and now home news editor, also claimed: “The real challenge for us all is can we find the truth? And I look back and I increasingly wonder about why we failed to.”
He also asked: “How did we allow Tony Blair to get away with telling us that he had his own special intelligence and we must trust him and he knew the truth? We now know that he didn’t have his own special intelligence and virtually the entire lot of it was at least four years old and pre-1998.”
BBC director of news Richard Sambrook, who is defending the corporation over its row with the Government over its reporting of the dossiers, added: “I think that hindsight is a fantastic thing, and clearly we’ve been through the developments of the last few weeks wishing perhaps we had raised some of these questions last autumn or in the early part of this year and tried to sort them out then – but we didn’t.”
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said the newspaper had the same problem as the BBC, in that it was being given a lot of information but only from anonymous sources, making it difficult to publish.
Lindsey Hilsum, diplomatic correspondent at Channel 4 News, was in Iraq when the September dossier came out. She said one of the problems for journalists was a lack of technical knowledge.
Independent diplomatic correspondent Mary Dejevsky added that while she had been able to be critical in editorials, displaying scepticism about the dossiers was made difficult for reporters by the degree of spin, and the way the Lobby and the Foreign Office were played off against each other.