Truth and Consequences

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

The establishment’s favourite game of blame-storming is in full swing. The weekend’s “blame Blair” mood seems to be shifting round to a “blame the Beeb” attitude, lead by attacks from Peter Mandleson and other Blair loyalists. There’s a nice “point, counter-point” here.

No surprises there. Labour is just following the old maxim that attack is the best form of defence. (They’re also ignoring the fact that their own backbenchers, including Glenda Jackson, are loudly putting the boot into the current party leadership). What is more surprising is that some Conservative MPs are just as vocal in their attacks on our favourite state-subsidised broadcaster.

Of course, the BBC has done itself no favours in recent years by first alienating the Conservatives with an apparent bias for New Labour (tracked here) and then turning around and attacking its former inamorata the minute it strays from the BBC’s approved path by going to war on Iraq. The recent spat between Blair and the BBC smacks of a lover’s quarrel, with both sides showing the sort of vindictiveness you reserve for someone you once loved.

The right-wing’s dislike for the BBC is now so ingrained that commentators like Edge of England’s Sword can’t resist blaming it for the tragedy, While The Sun and The Times both take a similar view.

My bigger concern is what this situation will do for investigative journalism in both the short and long term. There’s a well-established (but often ignored) principle in British law that allows journalists to protect their sources. (The Bill Goodwin case, for those who are interested.)

If the perception is that the government will hound any whistle-blower and the media fail to protect their identity, this tragic death could end up rendering our politicians and their lacki…advisors even less accountable than they are already. Who wants to be the next Dr Kelly, haunted by “dark actors” from the government?

However, having a state broadcaster that seems unable to maintain even a façade of independence may have scuppered that idea long ago.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.