MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media


February 19, 2004





Hutton, Butler, Blair, and the BBC Governors



Waking Up From The Sweet Song Of Power


It is possible that the establishment is falling out of love with

George Bush and Tony Blair. The art of democratic government is to hide the

exploitation of people and planet behind fine words and illusions. The

philosopher Nagarjuna explained the rule 2,000 years ago:


“If one is plotting evil,

He always uses pleasant words.

When a hunter sees the game,

He sings a sweet song to lure it.” 


But when the subordination of people to profit is so brazen, the

camouflaging lies so transparent, there is a real danger that the population

will wake up from the illusion of genteel statesmanship and civilised

democracy to the reality of elite violence and control. Thus, today, 54%

of the British population believe that Blair simply lied about the

threat posed by Saddam Hussein.


Ironically, the experience of waking up from the “sweet song” of power

feels rather like falling into a Kafkaesque dream. We stumble,

confused, from the Intelligence and Security Committee, to the Foreign Affairs

Select Committee – no-one has any idea what these are about, how they

have been compromised, why they failed to get to the truth - to the

Hutton inquiry, to the Hutton report, to the Butler inquiry – the latter

held in secret far from public scrutiny.


The Butler in question is Lord Butler of Brockwell, educated at Harrow

and University College, Oxford. Butler was private secretary to Edward

Heath 1972-74, Harold Wilson 1974-75; principal private secretary to

Margaret Thatcher 1982-85, second permanent secretary to Treasury

1985-87; secretary of Cabinet, head of home civil service 1988-98. His clubs:

Anglo-Belgian, Athenaeum, Brooks's, Beefsteak.


In our waking dream, the Guardian reports from Butler’s world:


“On a hot day last June, all the knights of the garter gathered at

Windsor Castle, which was closed to the public, and the master of

University College, Lord Butler of Brockwell, was invested by the Queen with his

own garter, star, riband, collar and mantle. There was a splendid lunch

and, as the college website respectfully records: ‘Lady Butler even

gave a special wave to the Univ contingent as the knights' wives led the

ceremony by.’” (‘Lord Butler: the man who will investigate’, David

Leigh, Richard Norton-Taylor and Julian Glover, The Guardian, February 4,



During the 1990s, Sir Robin, as Butler was then known, believed the

dishonest arms sales minister Jonathan Aitken and attacked journalists

investigating him. He then defended Whitehall lies during the infamous

Scott inquiry into secret arms sales to Iraq.


Whichever way we turn in our dream democracy we meet Huttons and

Butlers resplendent in garters, stars, ribands, collars and mantles. At every

turn we find Tony Blair smiling, lying, and killing, but forever

protected by establishment friends and allies. We never arrive at the truth.

Iraq has shown us that when we follow every ‘democratic’ recourse to

its logical conclusion, we find a system of control that is almost feudal

in style, corruption and brutality.


If ministers fail to manage the economy, resignations are demanded and

secured. But if ministers fail to manage peace, security and morality –

and what can represent a greater failure than fighting an unnecessary

war reducing a foreign state to chaos and carnage? – then even

transparent lies and widespread public outrage are waved away.


In early February, the latest revelations emerged. Blair claimed that

he had found out as late as March 2003 that the (false) claim that Iraqi

WMD could be made ready for use in 45 minutes referred only to

battlefield weapons, like mortars, not to long range ballistic missiles.


This deception was even more desperate than usual, and as a result, as

discussed above, opinion polls show that fully 54% of the population

now believe Blair lied. This places the majority of the population far

beyond the views of most journalists, who prefer to talk of “flawed

intelligence” and “the mishandling of intelligence”.


In responding to Blair’s claimed confusion, Andrew Marr, the BBC’s

political editor, stood outside Downing Street and insisted that there were

now two types of people: those who had “made their minds up” on Blair

and “the vast army of the bored witless”. (BBC1 News, February 5, 2004)


We at Media Lens had never heard anything more inappropriate. Blair had

finally been cornered and had responded with claims of careless

ignorance which, coming from one of the world’s supreme control freaks, was

utterly fantastic. Blair’s credibility had finally gone over the edge

but, thanks to Marr and co, like a cartoon, he was not falling into the



Over the next few days it emerged that Marr’s jarring statement was

exactly the line being pushed by Downing Street. The New Statesman’s

political editor, John Kampfner, reported in the Guardian:


“In the second full week of life after Hutton, the message from Downing

Street to [BBC] corporation executives is that the public has ‘tired’

of Iraq. Correspondents admit that for the past 10 days ministers have

been largely successful in driving WMD off the agenda of television and

radio.” (Kampfner, ‘Don't mention the war’, The Guardian, February 16,



Both the BBC and ITN barely covered subsequent bombings at an Iraqi

school and double suicide bombings in Hilla. Iraq had clearly been

dropped. The media switched instead to the Conservative’s budget plans ahead

of the next election. Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin filled us in.

Unlike Lord Butler, Letwin was educated at Eton and Trinity College,

Cambridge. Previously he has been a merchant banker, financial adviser and

journalist. Between 1991-97 he was a director at N M Rothschild & Sons.


We were back in the same dream world inhabited by Hutton, Butler and

Blair. Fresh from seeing how every avenue to truth, accountability and

change is barred to the public, we now had to listen to Letwin’s nonsense

offering a “radical alternative” to New Labour’s spending plans.



The Architecture Of Establishment


Readers will have noticed that the architecture of establishment is not

deemed an important or proper subject for media discussion. The

political and cultural arches and colonnades supporting power are depicted as

simply ‘there’. The gubernatorial pillars of the BBC’s management

structure, for example, are surely not man-made – not the handiwork of

self-interested, powerful groups - they are the work of nature, perhaps even

of God, and so beyond discussion.


We have heard much impassioned talk in recent weeks about the desperate

need to preserve the fundamental independence of the BBC from external

state and commercial pressures. But what do we actually know of how the

BBC is run? Who are these governors that are to resist these external

pressure? Who selected them? On what basis? Might they themselves be the

product of the same external pressures to be resisted? If the

independence of the BBC is really so important, why are these issues never



Journalists talk grimly of the possibility of the government doing away

with the system of governors when the BBC’s charter comes up for

renewal. But as the public knows nothing about the governors, just as they

know nothing about the charter or its renewal, they are unable to form

any kind of rational opinion. And that is exactly as it should be, from

the point of view of power - the establishment is to be accepted, not

understood. To facilitate understanding is to invite challenge.


In reality, former BBC chairman Gavyn Davies was appointed by the Blair

government. So was Greg Dyke. So was Hutton. So was Butler. So were the

BBC governors – establishment figures all. The issue of who the

governors actually are is central but shrouded in silence. Here they are:


Lord Ryder of Wensum, former chief whip in John Major’s government and

political secretary to Margaret Thatcher.


Mark Byford, a BBC “lifer” since 1979.


Sir Robert Smith, vice-chairman of Deutsche Asset Management and

director and chairman designate of Weir Group plc.


Dermot Gleeson the Executive chairman of the MJ Gleeson Group plc.


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of Defence and Overseas

Secretariat of the joint intelligence committee.


Professor Fabian Monds, chairman of Invest Northern Ireland, the

economic development agency.


Dame Ruth Deech, barrister and academic, Chairman of English National



Professor Merfyn Jones, historian and broadcaster, and member for Wales

at Broadcasting Standards Commission.


Angela Sarkis, former chief executive of the Church Urban Fund.


Deborah Bull, member of Arts Council for England.


Ranjit Sondhi, a Birmingham University academic who has done work in

race and ethnic studies.


We are told the great issue at hand is the need to preserve the

independence of these governors from the government that appointed them. The

fact that they are all members of the establishment elite, that they

were appointed by members of that elite, is presumed to be unproblematic.

Some thoughts are unthinkable – obviously true but too radical to be



In a 2,700-word piece on the BBC governors in the Guardian, Oliver

Burkeman asks ‘Who’s in charge around here?’ If the article was to answer

the question in its own title, it would clearly have to address the

system by which governors are appointed. This it does not do. Instead there

are brief references to the corporate and establishment nature of the

governors but no exploration of why they have been selected, by whom, or

the significance for democracy. We wrote to Burkeman:


Dear Oliver Burkeman


I was interested to read your article on the BBC in today's Guardian.

The title of your piece read: 'Who's in charge around here?' Surely the

only way to rationally consider the question is to examine the system

by which governors are appointed: who decides who becomes a governor and

on what basis? How does the public know the appointees are representing

popular rather than elite interests? A lot of journalists are currently

talking of the need to defend the BBC's independence from government

and commercial influence - but does the appointment procedure already

call into question the notion that the BBC is independent?


Why did you not consider these issues? Is it really more important to

focus on particular individuals – for example, on the experience of

former governors – rather than on the nature and mechanics of the system

that appoints them? Why did you not review the proportion of senior

corporate executives, government insiders and other establishment figures

that have made up the numbers of BBC governors over, say, the last 50



Best wishes


David Edwards (Email sent, February 19, 2004)


Burkeman responded:


Dear David,


Thanks for reading the piece. I think you're right – it would have been

good to do more on the appointments procedure and the types of

appointees, and I'll certainly bear that in mind in returning to the subject.


The only point I'd make in counterweight to that is that I don't think

it was the sole aim of the piece to provide a systemic analysis of BBC

governance along the lines you suggest. To the extent that readers may

have become curious, during Hutton, about exactly who were the

personalities involved in handling the controversy, simply responding to that

curiosity seems to me to be a valid thing to do too. Both, I reckon, are

appropriate things to be doing in the paper. But I definitely take your



All the best


Oliver (Email to Media Lens, February 19, 2003)


Burkeman may well return to the subject. Meanwhile we will all continue

to wander the labyrinthine corridors of establishment illusion,

obfuscation and imposed confusion, pursuing a mirage of democracy that forever

retreats ahead of us as we wander on.