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The danger with conspiracies

Mike Rudin Mike Rudin | 14:43 UK time, Friday, 8 December 2006

Conspiracies are everywhere. They have well and truly entered the mainstream.

But in an age when official sources of information are increasingly being questioned, can the BBC be trusted to report conspiracy theories?

I certainly was daunted, as well as excited, when I started producing a series for BBC Two called The Conspiracy Files.

The very words we use to describe conspiracies and conspiracy theories are highly charged. Calling anything a conspiracy theory is, to some, a criticism.

Conspiracy theorists have been criticised for not understanding how history works, looking for the hidden hand of some secret power behind every event and every high-profile death. Real life, or so the conventional wisdom has it, is always much more complex and random.

The final insult to conspiracists is that when a conspiracy theory turns out to be true, it is hastily redefined by many people as investigative journalism. Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the like are just good stories.

diana.jpgBut what is the dictionary definition of conspiracy? Should people be nervous about being called conspiracy theorists? The Oxford English Dictionary defines a conspiracy as simply “an agreement to perform an illegal or wrongful act”. According to that definition in recent years we have had more than our fair share of real conspiracies. Not much to be nervous about there.

The first programme in the series, How Diana Died, will be broadcast this Sunday at 9pm on BBC Two. Certainly as soon as I started to delve into what really happened in Paris in August 1997, I was right away impressed with just how little I knew and how many valid questions there were with the official version.

Sceptics have raised important criticisms of the original French investigation – how the crash scene was handled, and how crucial forensic information was analysed, to mention just two.

In an opinion poll for our programme, carried out by GfK NOP, we found out just how little confidence there is in the official version.

There is no question in my mind that the issues and the conspiracy theories should be investigated by the BBC. Watch the programme on Sunday and see if we were up to the challenge.

The Conspiracy Files series returns in the New Year to examine the conspiracies surrounding the 9/11 attacks, the Oklahoma bomb, and the death of Dr David Kelly.

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