: the BBC 10 o’clock news report (Wednesday May 16th) on the MOD decision not to let Prince Harry go to Iraq was an interestingly pure example of a kind of bias the beeb has acquired in the years between WWII and now. It was (I’m most pleased to be able to say) virtually unmixed with any of the other kinds of bias we often blog about here (what I talk about below could therefore be studied in its pure state).
Back in 1986, when three kidnapped Britons were murdered in Lebanon after the U.S. bombed Libya from UK bases, the BBC fell over itself in eagerness to give the terrorists the propaganda advantage they sought by the murders. (This was so obvious that pointed contrasts were drawn at the time between the beeb’s, “Britain is paying the price for its support of the U.S. … “, and ITV’s ,“Three kidnapped Britons were killed today … A spokesman for the group said it was in retaliation for the U.S. bombing …”.) This unwholesome enthusiasm has often been seen since but was pleasantly absent from last night’s report, which did not yet again wheel out Reg Keys or similar for predictable negative comment. The framing remark that opened their summary of Warminster views, about Prince Harry and others of the royal family being “… usually popular here but now …” was hardly necessary, but that’s a very minor point. Showing yet another cameo of April’s British casualties in Iraq was also somewhat irrelevant since it is fairly clear that it was the Iranian-backed threat to kidnap and torture the prince, not the long-known-and-accepted threat of death or injury, that caused the MOD’s reversal, but this fact did emerge strongly from the overall report so that too is a very minor (perhaps even carping) point.
What was lacking was any counterpoint to the report’s closing line about the propaganda victory we have given to Iran. The whole report simply led naturally to this line. Yes, indeed, we have given them a propaganda victory. In WWII, Germany sent films of its army and airforce in action to neutral countries. Their message was clear: see our tanks blasting your neighbours, our planes bombing them – this can be you if you don’t cooperate with us. Thus Germany gained a propaganda victory from its acts. These films were re-shown in British newsreels; you can hear the disdain in the voice of the British announcer saying, “This is what Germany is proud of.” Thus the Nazis’ propaganda victory was also their propaganda defeat: they got respect from their ruthlessness and military skill, and they got a lack of respect from the same thing. In those days, British media coverage hid neither the one nor the other.
The Iranian government (it would seem from the BBC’s report, and I can very well believe it for many other reasons as well) are extremely ready, nay eager, that their agents in Iraq arrange the kidnap and torture of the prince (or presumably, of anyone else suitably prominent whom they can hope to capture) and have made such effective and convincing preparations to support this that the MOD are no longer willing to take the risk. That we are so unsure we can protect him in Iraq is a propaganda victory for them, and would have been in WWII. That they are so very ready to do such a thing would have been a propaganda defeat for them in WWII. Will we hear a BBC announcer say that, “This is what the Iranian government is proud of.” ? One may hope.
[All quotations from memory after the programme.]