Do you know what would be worse than a known jihadist who is wanted on terrorism charges in Algeria, the United States, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and Jordan; who has been described as posing a “grave risk” to British national security by members of his own defense team; who was caught red-handed in 2001 holding £805 in an envelope labelled “For the Mujahedin in Chechnya”; and whose sermons were found on audio cassettes in the apartment of 9/11 bomber Mohamed Atta?
Ostensibly, the answer is: Calling him an “extremist.”
The BBC, which can always be called upon to focus in on the real issues and sensibly spend the money they force all British television owners to hand over at gunpoint, held a meeting on Monday to discuss how Abu Quatada, “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe,” would be portrayed in their news reports. And at that meeting, according to the London Telegraph,
journalists were told: “Do not call him an extremist – we must call him a radical. Extremist implies a value judgment.”
Leaving aside that, by this logic, “radical” is arbitrarily deemed a neutral term by the BBC where “extremist” is not, one has to ask the question: If one cannot make “value judgements” about a man who is such an obvious threat to Western civilization that his own legal defense publicly acknowledges his danger, then who are we allowed to judge?
Moreover, the BBC was worried about hurting the feelings of Quatada, a man who spends his time concocting ever more interesting ways of killing the wives and children of Egyptian police and army officers, blowing up Jordanian tourists, and advising fun-loving terrorists such as al-Qaeda stalwarts Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid. How? By suggesting that he is “overweight” by running out-of-date stock photographs. Again from the Telegraph:
BBC staff were also cautioned against using library images suggesting the cleric is overweight, because he has “lost a lot of weight”.
Oh, good. Perhaps the BBC could invite him in to discuss the “obesity crisis.”
The BBC insists that such an approach is an inevitable part of its “impartiality.” But Peter Sissons, who was the anchor of BBC News for twenty years, disagrees:
At any given time there is a BBC line on everything of importance, a line usually adopted in the light of which way its senior echelons believe the political wind is blowing. This line is rarely spelled out explicitly, but percolates subtly throughout the organisation.
Whatever the United Nations is associated with is good — it is heresy to question any of its activities. The EU is also a good thing, but not quite as good as the UN. Soaking the rich is good, despite well-founded economic arguments that the more you tax, the less you get. And Government spending is a good thing, although most BBC people prefer to call it investment, in line with New Labour’s terminology.
All green and environmental groups are very good things. Al Gore is a saint. George Bush was a bad thing, and thick into the bargain. Obama was not just the Democratic Party’s candidate for the White House, he was the BBC’s. Blair was good, Brown bad, but the BBC has now lost interest in both.
Trade unions are mostly good things, especially when they are fighting BBC managers. Quangos are also mostly good, and the reports they produce are usually handled uncritically. The Royal Family is a bore. Islam must not be offended at any price, although Christians are fair game because they do nothing about it if they are offended.
Anthony Jay, who wrote the classic comedy Yes, Minister and worked in various capacities for the BBC from 1955 until the late 1980s, posed a question last year in the foreword to Christopher Booker’s book, The Real Global Warming Disaster: “The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has a duty of impartiality, as we all know. But what exactly does ‘impartiality’ mean?” He answered his own question in scathing terms:
It would be astonishing if the BBC did not have its own orthodoxy. It has been around for 85 years, recruiting bright graduates, mostly with arts degrees, and deeply involved in current affairs issues and news reporting. And of course for all that time it has been supported by public money. One result of this has been an implicit belief in government funding and government regulation. Another is a remarkable lack of interest in industry and a deep hostility to business and commerce.
At this point I have to declare an interest, or at least admit to previous. I joined BBC television, my first job after university and National Service, in 1955, six months before the start of commercial television, and stayed for nine years as trainee, producer, editor and finally head of a production department. I absorbed and expressed all the accepted BBC attitudes: hostility to, or at least suspicion of, America, monarchy, government, capitalism, empire, banking and the defence establishment, and in favour of the Health Service, state welfare, the social sciences, the environment and state education.
In response to the BBC’s decision, Conservative MP James Clappison remarked, “It makes you wonder what you have to do for the BBC to call you an extremist.” Given that a man such as Abu Quatada has fallen short of the mark, one can only hope that nobody ever finds out.