Newsnight defends Taliban report

The BBC has dismissed Conservative allegations that a news report on the Taliban caused "revulsion" among the armed forces. The Newsnight report by David Loyn featured an exclusive interview with the official Taliban spokesman.

Following the broadcast of the report, shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said he was disgusted that the BBC should broadcast an interview with a Taliban "adviser" while "our troops are being murdered by them".

He said: "The brave men and women of our armed forces rightly feel nothing but revulsion at the BBC's actions.

"We have become used to a non-stop anti-war agenda from the BBC, but broadcasting propaganda on behalf of this country's enemies — at a time when our armed forces are being killed and maimed — marks a new low."

BBC world news editor John Williams told Press Gazette: "In this job I have a lot to do with the armed forces — both with the Ministry of Defence and with senior serving officers. "The bureau in Baghdad and the bureau in Kabul can only operate with the assistance of the British authorities, both diplomatic and military. "Nobody has come to us and said that they have ‘revulsion'. I think people are far more sophisticated. They accept that it is important that everybody gets all sides of the story."

Loyn and a local fixer travelled across Helmand province on their own without being embedded in order to secure the story. Williams said that he was not at all surprised at Fox's reaction as the BBC had themselves considered all the potential reactions to the report.

He said: "The danger is that if we never hear from these people then they are never subjected to the sort of questions that we subject British politicians to. As long as they are a ghostly figure and they are never forced to confront some of these issues, it is easy for them to hide behind the cloak of anonymity. "It is quite important that we are seen to expose them to the same sort of challenges that we would expose the defence secretary or the president to in terms of justifying operations in Afghanistan or Iraq."

Loyn's guidelines from the BBC on dealing with the Taliban included a rule that he should not either witness any preparations for, or accompany them on any preparations, for anything that could end up in loss of life, whether it be Afghan or British.

The broadcaster also has responsibilities under the Terrorism Act — if the BBC is in possession of material that might be of use to any authorities, it could have an obligation to declare it under the act Williams said: "It was for that reason that it was essential to establish parameters in advance. The idea of the oxygen of publicity is just naïve — it is more subtle than that. We were quite clear where the line was. It's not as if we put them on the television unknowing and unquestioning — we didn't."

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