Thatcher censorship of BBC / Robin Cook undermining Intel Services

Discussion in 'The Intelligence Cell' started by Psypher, Dec 31, 2011.

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  1. In the release of 1981 Government files yesterday, is one document about a BBC Panorama programme on the intelligence services and attempts by the Government to have it cancelled or at least censored.

    Below is a transcript of one of the memos in the document. The underling was done by Mrs. Thatcher. The exchange between a civil servant and the DG of the BBC is quite interesting and shows how the Government tried to influence the BBC but with limited success. Ultimately it also shows how the media is better placed at controlling the agenda than the Government.

    It also mentions that the Government believed Robin Cook MP was involved in a campaign to undermine the intelligence services.

    From: Arcre - Government Censorship of BBC Panorama Documentary
  2. I'm not reading all that, just cut to the headline I should be getting outraged about!
  3. Depending on your particular point of view, there's potential for outrage from a couple of angles.

    Lefty BBC with lefty future Foreign Secretary trying to bring down MI6;
    or perhaps right wing Government trying to censor the media.

    Personally I think it worth a read regardless of faux outrage. The interesting point that despite the BBC apparently being the most controllable part of the British media from the Government's perspective, it is actually rather difficult for it to implement that control even in a fairly clear cut case of trying to protect national security.
  4. Bit of a non story to be fair.
  5. According to the link, the BBC were reporting the same material that other organisations, including The New Statesman, were publishing or were about to publish yet the government was going after the BBC because they believed the larger audience made for more of a security breach. That shows a fundamental misconception of the way public information disseminates, IMO. The people that were interested would find it our from those other smaller media while the majority who didn't care wouldn't have bothered anyway.
  6. Is there not a ministerial veto for the broadcast of any BBC programme?
  7. If there was, I suspect Blair would have used it over the 'sexing up' report. Particularly at the point where the BBC was the only news organisation going after the government about it.
  8. "The government considered - but rejected - the idea of using a "veto" it had in the BBC charter to ban any programme from being broadcast, recognising such a move would be highly controversial and that the contents would almost certainly be leaked anyway."

    BBC News - Secret service pressed BBC to censor Panorama - papers

    Not sure if it still exists. As I remember the 'sexed up' comment had its genesis in an off-hand comment during a live Radio 4 broadcast.
  9. Yes there is/was and it was a considered option in this particular case. However, the Government decided that a veto would cause even more public/media controversy and thus was a too risking solution.
  10. That's very interesting. D'you know, I had no idea the government had that specific a degree of control over the Beeb.
  11. I was amazed (when I looked into it) the number of vetoes minsters have over a wide range of issues - media, broadcasting and even judicial.

    Basically it would be near enough impossible to have a Watergate here as the defence of "executive privilege" is insurmountable in Britain.
  12. But it wasn't just about audience size but credibility as well. Many people would not have been interested in the ramblings of Time Out but certainly would take note if broadcast by Panorama, especially in 1980.
  13. Although the Government has a veto on the BBC, it can be almost impossible to exercise that power without resulting in political suicide. This was the very real concern with this example and the reason why the Government decided it couldn't resort to a veto. Look at the later problems the Government got itself into as regards the publication of Spy Catcher.
  14. Spy Catcher was not a publishing veto but an attempt to secure an utterly pointless injunction through the courts both here and in Australia.

    With a book it's not such a big deal as it can just be published elsewhere but when it is a product of journalism such as Panorama which can easily be contained prior to broadcast then that is a different matter.

    Government have considerable powers to ignore court orders for the publication of documents etc.
  15. Have a google for "Matrix Churchill".

    Directors of a UK engineering firm were prosecuted for supplying precision machine tools to Iraq, in breach of sanctions. At trial, they claimed they were working for MI6 and were encouraged to breach sanctions so they could obtain information about the Iraqi ballistic missile programme.

    The government laughed at their claims.

    The defence tried to subpoena government documents that would exonerate the defendants. Ministers signed public interest immunity certificates to overrule the court and stop the documents being disclosed.

    Three innocent men would have gone to prison to spare ministers including Alan "economical with the truth" Clarke from personal embarrassment.