A good week for BBC journalism began on Sunday with a ringing endorsement from its board of governors. After an emergency session, they strongly backed the Today programme’s story of the “sexed up” dossier on weapons of mass destruction.
The following day, the news got even better. The publication of the long-awaited report from the Foreign Affairs Committee could have left Greg Dyke and his director of news Richard Sambrook in an awkward spot had it fully backed Alastair Campbell.
It did not.
And although both Government and BBC emerged claiming victory, it was the corporation that had by far the most convincing case. The committee found it could not prove that Campbell had been responsible for the additions to the dossier, but nonetheless its tone and contents were highly questionable.
The conclusion is a huge morale boost for BBC journalists. The case against it – always a massive red herring anyway – is surely closed. Had it not been for Andrew Gilligan’s report, the media spotlight would not have shone so searchingly or for so long on the Government’s 45-minute WMD claim.
And as for Campbell’s bluster about single-source stories, the verdict of some of the country’s most senior journalists on page 16 of Press Gazette douses that completely.
Trust, as Dyke told his staff this week, is the foundation of the organisation. “If we lose the trust of our audiences there is little point to the BBC. That trust is overwhelmingly dependent on the independence, impartiality and credibility of our reporting.”
What wouldn’t the Blair Government give for just a bit of that?
Wild was plain unlucky
Much has been made of the inexperience of Richard Wild, the 24-year-old journalist who was coldly shot dead in Baghdad at the weekend. His family had felt he was “foolhardy” to undertake the venture, and some other journalists have raised eyebrows at his lack of preparation.
But before we rush to judge, let’s not forget the circumstances of his death. He was not caught in the crossfire of a dangerous gun battle, nor ambushed in some remote outpost. He was singled out in a crowded street by a gunman intent on killing a westerner. Any westerner.
Of course proper safety training, insurance and the backing of a large organisation should be priorities for any journalist travelling to report on a turbulent country, but none of them would have saved Richard Wild, a young man who only wanted to bring Iraq’s story into clearer focus for the world.