Former UK government spokesperson contemplated legal action against BBC over Iraq War coverage, archives revealed

The disclosure of archived documents, made possible by the UK’s 20-year rule, has sparked a fresh examination of the controversies surrounding the Iraq War. (AFP/File)
The disclosure of archived documents, made possible by the UK’s 20-year rule, has sparked a fresh examination of the controversies surrounding the Iraq War. (AFP/File)
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Updated 29 December 2023
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Former UK government spokesperson contemplated legal action against BBC over Iraq War coverage, archives revealed

Former UK government spokesperson contemplated legal action against BBC over Iraq War coverage, archives revealed
  • Alastair Campbell said ‘rhetoric had to be stepped up’ after BBC’s allegation
  • Released government papers show strained relationship between broadcaster and No. 10 in early 2000s

LONDON: Former UK government spokesperson Alastair Campbell contemplated taking legal action against the BBC in response to the broadcaster’s coverage of the Iraq War two decades ago, according to recently released archives.

The revelations came amid renewed interest in the premiership of ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom Campbell served as a key advisor.

In a letter addressed to Blair, Campbell expressed his frustration with the BBC’s reporting, stating, “If the BBC remain belligerent, I think the rhetoric has to be stepped up, up to and including the threat of putting the issue in the hands of lawyers.”

However, this threat did not materialize as unfolding events led to Campbell’s resignation.

The disclosure of archived documents, made possible by the UK’s 20-year rule, has sparked a fresh examination of the controversies surrounding the Iraq War.

At the time, Campbell, now known for hosting the popular “Rest is Politics” podcast, was orchestrating the public relations strategy for the ruling Labour Party in response to the heated opposition surrounding the Iraq War.

Archived records indicate that Campbell had contemplated appearing on BBC News to address questions related to a dossier suggesting that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

This consideration followed intense scrutiny of an interview by Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow just days earlier, which led some critics to claim Campbell had “completely lost the plot.”

That came after Campbell and Blair exchanged emails with senior BBC bosses telling them they were particularly alarmed by the BBC’s coverage of the Iraq dossier, later to be known as the “dodgy dossier,” a pivotal factor in the UK’s decision to engage in the conflict.

Two weeks after Campbell wrote to Blair, a Ministry of Defence employee, David Kelly, who had been named by the BBC as a source for stories about how Labour had “sexed up” WMD reports, died by suicide and an inquiry was launched.

This tragic event led to the resignations of Campbell, BBC Director-General Greg Dyke, and Chair Gavyn Davies.

The files also showed that Blair was warned the No. 10 press office had lost “all credibility” under Campbell’s combative manner with the PM’s private secretary suggesting to him that Downing Street was increasingly seen as a “politically dominated spin machine.”

In response to Friday’s release of the files, Campbell said: “Despite the bitterness of the row at the time, I bear no ill will to the BBC and have been a strong defender when it has come under attack from the right wing of the Tory party and their media cheerleaders.”

Anatomy of a disaster
Two decades later, Iraqis are still paying the price for Bush's ill-judged war

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RedBird boss describes failed Telegraph takeover as ‘a shame’ in first comments since deal collapsed

RedBird boss describes failed Telegraph takeover as ‘a shame’ in first comments since deal collapsed
Updated 9 sec ago
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RedBird boss describes failed Telegraph takeover as ‘a shame’ in first comments since deal collapsed

RedBird boss describes failed Telegraph takeover as ‘a shame’ in first comments since deal collapsed
  • Rani Raad says failure of bid, blocked by UK legislation banning foreign governments from owning national newspapers, would weaken the publication’s brand
  • His Abu-Dhabi-backed investment group is now focusing on selling the titles at a premium and looking at other opportunities

DUBAI: Rani Raad, the CEO of RedBird International Media Investments, described the collapse of the Abu Dhabi-backed company’s takeover bid for British newspaper The Telegraph as “a shame” and said it will ultimately weaken the publication’s brand.

In first public remarks since the deal floundered in April, he told Al Arabiya’s Hadley Gamble, during a conversation at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai on Tuesday, that RedBird had effectively taken charge of The Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator magazine in December after repaying a $753 million debt owed by owners the Barclay family to Lloyds Bank.

However, finalization of the deal collapsed as a result of UK legislation prohibiting foreign governments from owning British national newspapers.

“In an ideal world I would be sitting in front of you all saying, ‘We own The Telegraph,’” Raad said. “Not only would that be good for us and our portfolio but also good for the people working in paper.

“My fear is what happened in The Telegraph ultimately is something that would cost the paper and its employees more, and the UK government more, than any of us over here.”

Raad said that while it was not his place to comment on UK politics, policymakers had changed the rules when the deal was almost complete, with negative effects on the promotion of inward investments.

“Last year alone, the UK lost 1,200 journalists,” Raad said. “For whatever reason, whether xenophobia or party politics, it was a shame the way it played out.”

He added that the group is now focusing on the sale of The Telegraph and The Spectator for a premium, and he remains optimistic about a successful outcome.

“We will make our money back, and then some, and move on to other markets and focus on other opportunities,” Raad said. “Our only regret, in hindsight, is the timing could have been better crafted.”

He also shared his views on the decline of CNN, and the wider American network television industry, which recently hit a 30-year low in primetime ratings. He spent 25 years at CNN International Commercial, including serving as its president, and believes the news brand should not be counted out just yet.

“RedBird IMI was established in partnership with former CNN CEO Jeff Zucker, alongside partners in Abu Dhabi and Gerry Cardinale in New York. We wanted to focus on news and a new transition,” Raad said.

“What they (CNN) are dealing with is just a situation whereby the sector is going through drastic transformation. They are learning how to serve a new audience and demographic. There is potential for reinvention and growth.

“CNN is a very, very powerful news brand globally. Ultimately, if they find a way to make that transition, to talk to a broader demographic, it’ll be here for a long, long time.”


‘Path to peace is clear but accord is still distant, media must fix its narrative,’ Yemeni PM tells Arab Media Forum

‘Path to peace is clear but accord is still distant, media must fix its narrative,’ Yemeni PM tells Arab Media Forum
Updated 37 min 44 sec ago
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‘Path to peace is clear but accord is still distant, media must fix its narrative,’ Yemeni PM tells Arab Media Forum

‘Path to peace is clear but accord is still distant, media must fix its narrative,’ Yemeni PM tells Arab Media Forum
  • Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak says that years of war have had catastrophic effect on ordinary citizens
  • Media should spread awareness and start dialogue about Yemen’s situation, PM urges

DUBAI: Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak has said that while the peace process with the Houthis is “clear,” a formal accord remains out of reach, as he emphasized the crucial role the media must play in shaping the narrative.

Speaking on the sidelines of the three-day Arab Media Forum in Dubai, the prime minister addressed the ongoing challenges faced by his country and the importance of accurate media representation about unfolding events.

In an interview with Syrian news anchor Zeina Yazigi, Mubarak highlighted the daily hardships faced by both himself and ordinary Yemeni citizens due to the ongoing conflict.

“What we are going through is the accumulation of the years of war Yemen has gone through,” Mubarak said.

“We continue to face a dire humanitarian disaster brought upon by the lack of security, by natural disasters, and by the tense situation in the Red Sea. The standard of living remains lacking. If we build a school today, a rocket might destroy it the following morning.”

The prime minister said the main priority for the country was to find a lasting solution and to provide essential services to uplift citizens’ standard of living.

He said: “Our oil refineries stopped operating in October 2022 and that has stripped the government of over 70 percent of its resources. You therefore have a hard time to even provide electricity to citizens.

“The road map to peace is clear. Many negotiations and initiatives have been brought forth by our brothers in Saudi Arabia and Oman. Long negotiations have also taken place in Stockholm and Kuwait but in order for a full ceasefire to happen, you need two willing partners and the Houthis are not yet willing.”

Yemen has been engaged in a bloody civil war between the internationally recognized government and the Iran-backed Houthi group since 2014.

Mubarak, who was kidnapped by the Houthis in 2015 and has publicly shared his experience of fearing for his life, described the war as “ideological,” but expressed hope for peace and stability.

He said: “Yemen is at an important strategic geographical location, with 34 million citizens and very rich natural resources.

“To neglect it is to neglect (a good chunk) of the world’s resources. We are at war, an ideological battle with the Houthis. What morals does a party have when it bombs schoolchildren? When it strips its country of its resources?”

Mubarak stressed the media’s vital role in remedying false narratives.

He added: “The Houthis’ actions in the Red Sea predate the events of Oct. 7. The two are not directly related and it is important that the media is able to distinguish this fact, to spread awareness and start a dialogue.

“It was also previously thought that the Houthis had nothing to do with Iran, and that was simply untrue, proven in time by correct media coverage and analysis. Having the full picture is important.”

In a meeting with Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, second deputy ruler of Dubai and chairman of the Dubai Media Council, Mubarak discussed the need for a “unified Arab voice.”

Both sides stressed the important and influential role of the media in supporting stability and enhancing opportunities for peace, promising to work together to develop a framework for preparing a new generation of media professionals.

Mubarak said: “I am proud of my country; it is the cradle of civilization. Despite the hardships, it deserves our sacrifices for a better future.

“We have a strong backbone behind us, the Emiratis, the Saudis and the rest of our brothers. We have a just cause and are keen to maintain our Arab identity and hope for a better future.”


‘Do not expect change in US foreign policy even with new administration,’ experts tell Arab Media Forum

‘Do not expect change in US foreign policy even with new administration,’ experts tell Arab Media Forum
Updated 28 May 2024
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‘Do not expect change in US foreign policy even with new administration,’ experts tell Arab Media Forum

‘Do not expect change in US foreign policy even with new administration,’ experts tell Arab Media Forum
  • American regional policy was discussed along with Gaza conflict

DUBAI: American foreign policy remains consistent regardless of the sitting president, and no major strategic shifts should be expected with a new administration, political experts told attendees at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai on Tuesday.

While American elections every four years bring new faces to the forefront, this cycle features familiar candidates, with current Democratic President Joe Biden running for re-election against former Republican President Donald J. Trump.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Rumaihi, a political science professor at Kuwait University, emphasized that America’s actions are driven by its own interests, regardless of the president’s party affiliation.

“We are talking about America, a dominant power with a system that has not changed much throughout its history. We can disagree with it, but we should not make enemies out of it,” Al-Rumaihi said.

“We foster great economic relations with China and Russia, but our weaponry and defense in the region are American-made.”

Al-Rumaihi echoed Saudi diplomat Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s sentiment that “America’s enemies must fear America, but America’s friends must fear it more,” highlighting the Arab world’s political animosity toward US foreign policy due to perceived double standards.

Dr. Raghida Dergham, columnist and executive chairperson of the Beirut Institute, suggested that Biden’s handling of the Gaza situation could have electoral repercussions.

“Biden’s approach on Gaza will no doubt affect his votes. His double standards are glaring. Both running presidents are aware of this as we see them trying to rally the state of Michigan, which has a large Arab base that can affect the votes. And while Washington has a massive impact on the region, we are now seeing (its) different approach as to how the Gulf reacts to it,” she said.

Dergham underscored Saudi Arabia’s firm stance on Gaza and the future creation of a Palestinian state.

She urged other Gulf countries to follow Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “bold and brave attitude” to pressure US and Israeli diplomatic and security strategies.

“I believe (the) relationship between America and the Gulf will remain stable, however we wish for a president that doesn’t view Arabs solely through the Iranian and Israeli prism.”

Dergham, citing Egyptian journalist Abdel Latif El Menawy, attributed the region’s current tensions to American policies since former President Barack Obama, which left a power vacuum.

“I would still like to say we are not the enemies of the American people; we are in disagreement of their foreign policy however,” she continued.

“We have been brought up with the notion that America’s stance remains unwavering, but that changed when Trump came into power with his character and policies. With what is currently taking place in Gaza, I don’t think Washington can continue to depend on the states it did before.”

The war in Gaza is a major focus of the three-day event in Dubai.

On Tuesday, a panel titled “Palestine through the lens of Arab media” explored the role of media in covering the Palestinian cause amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is also expected to be a central topic in other sessions, including those featuring Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, prime minister of Yemen; Jasem Albudaiwi, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council; and Egyptian comedian and media personality Bassem Youssef, who has been a vocal critic on the international stage since conflict broke out Oct. 7.


Vanity Fair France apologizes for removing Palestinian pin from image of Guy Pearce at Cannes

Vanity Fair France apologizes for removing Palestinian pin from image of Guy Pearce at Cannes
Updated 27 May 2024
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Vanity Fair France apologizes for removing Palestinian pin from image of Guy Pearce at Cannes

Vanity Fair France apologizes for removing Palestinian pin from image of Guy Pearce at Cannes
  • Magazine faced backlash on social media for appeared attempt to censor pro-Palestinian solidarity

LONDON: Vanity Fair France was forced to issue an apology for digitally removing a Palestinian pin worn by actor Guy Pearce at the Cannes Film Festival.

On May 21, Vanity Fair published an article featuring several photographs of celebrities attending the festival. Among these was a portrait of Pearce wearing a black Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo.

Social media users quickly noticed that a pin of the Palestinian flag seen on his left lapel in other images had been removed.

Journalist Ahmed Hathout was one of the first to highlight the alteration, tweeting: “So Guy Pearce showed solidarity with Palestine at Cannes by wearing a pin and Vanity Fair decided to photoshop it out. Little did they know the bracelet was also of the Palestinian flag colors.”

The French subsidiary of the American magazine faced significant backlash on social media for what appeared to be an attempt to censor pro-Palestinian solidarity.

One user, @DarkSkyLady, tweeted: “Can we finally admit many of these outlets are propaganda-mouthpieces for colonialism and white supremacy?”

Another user, @Joey_Oey89, commented: “Reminder to unfollow and mute Vanity Fair. They smear celebs who take a stand against genocide and have made their stance clear.”

Responding to the criticism, Vanity Fair France posted an apology under Hathout’s tweet: “Good evening. We mistakenly published a modified version of this photo on the website. The original version was published on Instagram on the same day. We have rectified our error and apologize.”

The article on the magazine’s website now displays the unaltered image.

Pearce was among many celebrities at the prestigious festival who expressed solidarity with Palestine amid Israel’s brutal assault and seige on Gaza.

Other notable figures included actors Cate Blanchett and Pascale Kann, supermodel Bella Hadid, Indian actress Kani Kusrut, French actress Leila Bekhti, and Moroccan filmmaker Asmae El-Moudir.
 


Online anger following The Atlantic’s ‘possible to kill children legally’ in Gaza article

Online anger following The Atlantic’s ‘possible to kill children legally’ in Gaza article
Updated 27 May 2024
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Online anger following The Atlantic’s ‘possible to kill children legally’ in Gaza article

Online anger following The Atlantic’s ‘possible to kill children legally’ in Gaza article
  • The Atlantic’s writer Graeme Wood suggested that in certain scenarios killing of children can be legally justifiable
  • Campaign group condemned the piece, calling the The Atlantic’s stance on the issue ‘egregious’

LONDON: The Atlantic has ignited a wave of online criticism after publishing an article arguing that “it is possible to kill children legally” in Gaza.

Titled “The UN’s Gaza Statistics Make No Sense,” the opinion piece by staff writer Graeme Wood questioned the accuracy of the UN’s civilian death toll numbers from the Israeli war on Gaza.

Wood suggested that the UN’s statistics were unreliable, claiming they are sourced from Hamas.

“The UN numbers changed because the UN has little idea how many children have been killed in Gaza, beyond ‘a lot.’ It gets its statistics from Hamas,” the piece read.

Wood, known for his skeptical stance toward Hamas and Palestine since the conflict erupted last October, controversially suggested that in certain scenarios, the killing of children can be legally justifiable.

Despite acknowledging that “even when conducted legally, war is ugly,” Wood argued, “It is possible to kill children legally, if for example one is being attacked by an enemy who hides behind them. But the sight of a legally killed child is no less disturbing than the sight of a murdered one,” he wrote.

The article sparked a significant online backlash, with the campaign group Writers Against the War on Gaza (WAWOG) condemning The Atlantic for the article.

“Eight months into the genocide and western media is still manufacturing consent for Zionism,” the group wrote in a post on X on Sunday.

“Defending child murder is egregious; but @TheAtlantic has historically defended imperial bloodshed,” WAWOG added.

Users took to social media to express their frustration over the article, with some questioning the legality of Wood’s claim and calling his choice of words “disgusting.”

“‘A legally killed child’ is a phrase I never imagined I would read in my lifetime,” wrote Lebanese political activist and musician Peter Daou on X.

Others have also called for canceling their subscriptions to The Atlantic.

The backlash comes as Israeli airstrikes killed at least 45 people on Sunday, hitting tents for displaced people in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, with reports that people were “burning alive.”

These attacks came two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah, described by the UNRWA as “horrifying.”

According to Gaza’s health ministry, the death toll in Gaza has neared 36,000 people, with the vast majority being children and women.