BBC BLOGS - The Editors

No compromise

Nicola Meyrick | 18:00 UK time, Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Analysis has a long and, some might say, rather worthy history as a thoughtful documentary strand on Radio 4. So it was pretty surprising that the programme this week found itself at the centre of suggestions that it had been used by a Whitehall counter-terrorism unit as part of a "global propaganda push" against al-Qaeda.

Osama Bin LadenThe story on the front page of Tuesday's Guardian didn't actually name Analysis. The paper's home affairs editor Alan Travis reported that, according to a secret Home Office paper, the BBC was being targeted by the Research, Information and Communication Unit (RICU), which aims to counter al-Qaeda propaganda in Britain and overseas.

It was quoted by the Guardian as saying: "We are pushing this material to UK media channels, eg a BBC radio programme exposing tensions between AQ leadership and supporters." It was quickly apparent to us that the programme in question must be the 7 August edition of Analysis, presented by the BBC's Security Correspondent Frank Gardner, and broadcast in a slightly different form on the World Service this week.

The programme was called "al-Qaeda's Enemy Within" and explored how the war of ideas within the Jihadi movement is becoming as important as the military frontline.
Was it the result of a "push" from RICU? Absolutely not. The truth couldn't be more different.

The programme was produced by Radio Current Affairs resident expert on political Islam, Innes Bowen. She first became aware of the story about ideological and theological splits in the Jihadi movement in May, when a contact who works for an Islamist think tank sent her a link to an article in an American journal. Innes and Frank then researched the subject and proposed the programme to the editor of Analysis, Hugh Levinson. He commissioned it early in July.

Frank and Innes did have some contact with RICU during the course of making the programme and went to see three members of the unit after they had finished recording all their interviews. The people from RICU gave them some briefing materials but those weren't used in the programme.

What's more, Frank's conclusion was pretty sceptical about whether the fact that former Jihadi scholars are now issuing theological condemnations of al-Qaeda, would have much short-term effect on the ground in Britain or elsewhere.

So, the programme was a completely independent and impartial piece of original journalism, not inspired by a Whitehall counter-terrorism unit or necessarily coming to the conclusion such a unit would like.

Are we being a bit too defensive about an August story in one newspaper? Does it matter all that much? I'd say it does - because the idea that Analysis was somehow compromised is out there on the blogosphere. And it's just not true.

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