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BBC Iraq row 'was brewing for weeks'

Jason Deans
Thursday June 26, 2003

Kevin Marsh
Marsh: under 'constant pressure' from government officials
The war of words between the government and the BBC on the subject of the Iraq war dossiers has erupted after weeks of behind the scenes arm-twisting by spin doctors, according to sources.

No 10 communications director Alastair Campbell, spin chiefs and ministers mounted a concerted campaign to influence the BBC's coverage of the Iraq war and its aftermath, corporation insiders claim.

BBC news executives - notably Kevin Marsh, the boss of Radio 4's Today programme - have come under "constant pressure" from officials complaining about alleged anti-war bias, a corporation source said.

Mr Campbell, who appeared before a select committee of MPs yesterday, made it clear the government believes the BBC took an anti-war stance in the build-up to the war and during the conflict.

Since Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed in early April the BBC and the government have clashed over stories by the defence correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, about looting in Baghdad and claims by an intelligence source that the government "sexed up" dossiers of evidence against Saddam.

Government spin doctors have also been unhappy with the BBC's coverage of the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction, according to a corporation insider.

Earlier this month the Labour leader of the house, John Reid, went on Today to denounce Gilligan for believing "rogue elements" from the intelligence service rather than the government.

The simmering resentment between the two sides came into the open again yesterday, when Mr Campbell claimed the BBC "lied" about Gilligan's Iraq dossier story and demanded an apology.

This morning the BBC director of news, Richard Sambrook, appeared on Today to hit back at Mr Campbell.

He insisted the corporation had nothing to apologise for and accused Mr Campbell of "seriously misrepresenting" BBC journalism.

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Iraq - the media war

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