Panorama in Afghanistan: the BBC’s abject surrender to the censor
The BBC in Hellmand province: inadequate journalism
I am not among those who believe the BBC has recently degraded since degradation has been its default state for some time. Those who are conscientious objectors to the licence fee are nonetheless invited to review last night’s episode of the flagship BBC current affairs programme, Panorama, restored to prime time, which was last night devoted to the Great Game in Afghanistan.
You can read the Dangerous Book for Boys story on the BBC website here. The story is remote from the actuality, which Panorama censored. This censored story is of unseeable Afghan civilians whose home is bombed then invaded by the British Army, alongside doped-up allies, and subsequently further trashed, in the cause of a ridiculous and ultimately failed military operation, which far from reflecting positively on the British effort in Afghanistan, reveals it to be deeply flawed and actually insane.
This was an example of a program given over lock, stock and smoking barrel to the MoD press office. Amidst all the bang bang, most of it consisting of massive consumption of ammunition directed in no particular direction, it was a classic example of what John Birt used to call the bias against understanding. Not even a perfunctory space is given to those who might suggest that what we were seeing was something completely different to what the script was proposing. The website version attempts a tiny bit more distance. But watch the TV show for yourself. It’s on this link .
It was a filmic narrative constructed from tropes ordered by the MoD, and with inconvenient truths not even filmed, on orders of the MoD. This is why the BBC is a state broadcaster and not a public broadcaster.
The film shows a patrol of British soldiers and their dope-smoking allies from the Afghan National Army sallying forth in Hellmand province to confront the “Taliban.” The Taliban is anyone who defends themselves from this rag-tag band, it seems.
The patrol advanced in glorious formation across the Afghan Plain in a shot borrowed from David Lean. Then they get down into the more verdant area by the river where many of the compounds have been deserted by inhabitants who seem unconvinced that the British are welcome visitors.
Eventually the soldiers make contact with “Taliban” over on the edge of the settlement and call in a few bombs. Enormous explosion follows. Filmed beautifully. Not close enough. Another one. Pictures even better. The soldiers have no idea who or what they are ordering bombed. To say this is a shambles is not, however, on the Panorama agenda.
Advancing up and attacking a new compound they find Afghan women and children, hiding in the remains. The young men are obviously out in the fields, shooting at the British.
We do not see the Afghan civilians whose house has been bombed by the British because the MoD “minder” forbids the BBC crew from filming this. Nor do we ever see the minder. Nor do we see any of the considerable number of British casualties, who are suffering not from gunshots, but from heat exposure. So this is a war with unseen British casualties and unseen Afghan victims. Convenient, isn’t it? Lots of bang bang – but we miss the essential consequences of this operation. And the real director, the man from the ministry, is completely unseen. Excluding the diaster this has been for the civilians, for the British it is at best costly and pointless. More bluntly, it is utterly counter-productive. Fathers and brothers have been killed or maimed on the other side, it seems. For what? British soldiers may with consummate professionalism and bravery embark on these operations but it’s sound and fury, signifying nothing. One cannot avoid the impression that the entire operation existed only to provide pictures for Panorama.
Other bits – the staged visit of the provincial reconstruction team led by its unctuous civil servant, for example; the long scripted bits with the British officers explaining all the good they are doing; the complete cop-out on the question of poppy – were just further garbage. Panorama is no longer any kind of showcase for BBC journalism, except for its worst.
The BBC of course knows no shame in shilling for the MoD and has done so for years. The truth of the military operation on which they were embedded was that the British army were calling in air strikes on civilians and then occupied their house as a base for a prolonged military operation that ultimately was completely futile. We do not know what happened to the civilians. Although if dead, they are counted as Taliban. Faced with the demand of the British military censor not to film the victims, the BBC chose access over the truth. No matter how brave the cameraman this was nauseating but sadly typical of the BBC.
Meanwhile, what is actually happening in Afghanistan…
The Defence of the Realm Blog is also good on this.