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BBC deceit

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Once upon a time, it was the most trusted broadcaster; to which the world turned for news without distortion or warped opinions. It has a heritage impossible to be matched; the pioneers of the trade, Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of radio, and John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, both being closely associated with it. It was the world’s first national broadcaster and even today is the largest broadcaster, employing over 22,000 around the world. It began life as The British Broadcasting Company, formed on 18 October 1922 by a group of leading wireless manufacturers including Marconi himself. The successor, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), affectionately referred to as The Beeb, Auntie or Auntie Beeb by generations of listeners and viewers, was established by a Royal Charter in January 1927. In November 1929, using its frequencies, John Logie Baird added a new dimension to broadcasting with the first successful experimental television broadcasts from studios near Covent Garden in London. BBC World Service kept listeners around the globe informed during the Second World War. The first head of the BBC was John Reith and his directive, to “inform, educate and entertain”, which the Beeb claims to follow but, unfortunately, things are not what they were.

What has gone wrong since? That is the question on many a lip at the moment and the editorial “Auntie Beeb’s deceit” (The Island, 24 May) sums up the frustrations of many. In fact, the deceit surrounding ‘The Diana interview’ is far worse than what is referred to in the editorial. The inquiry by Lord Dyson, retired judge of the Supreme Court, uncovered not only the dishonesty of Martin Bashir but also the attempted cover-up by the BBC, reminding us of Watergate. Lord Dyson also queried the bizarre decision of the BBC, rehiring Bashir in 2016 as religious affairs correspondent, quickly promoting him to the post of BBC’s Religion Editor.

Martin Bashir, a son of Pakistani immigrants to the UK, who embraced Christianity in his late teens, hit the limelight with the ‘Diana interview’ in 1995, for which he and the BBC won many accolades. Bashir’s prestige was so high that the private broadcaster ITV, snatched him from BBC in 1999. Bashir justified ITV’s ‘purchase’ by scoring another triumph with the 2003 documentary “Living with Michael Jackson”.

However, unlike the Diana interview which raised controversies late, this raised controversy almost immediately, his colleagues claiming that Bashir landed the interview after promising Michael Jackson, that a trip to Africa would be planned for him to visit children with AIDS, accompanied by Kofi Annan, the then UN Secretary-General. This was a false promise and when this was put to Bashir, while under oath in a California court, he refused to answer. Following the broadcast, viewed by 14 million in the UK and 38 million in the US, Jackson complained to the Independent Television Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Commission, accusing Bashir of ‘yellow’ journalism and released a rebuttal interview with clips made by his own cameraman during the interview. After Jackson’s death in 2009, Dieter Wiesner, Jackson’s manager from 1996 to 2003, lamented how Jackson was affected by Bashir’s documentary: “It broke him. It killed him. He took a long time to die, but it started that night. Previously the drugs were a crutch, but after that they became a necessity”

In spite of this controversy, Bashir was able to land lucrative assignments in the USA from 2004 to 2016, first as an anchor for ABC’s Nightline and then as a political commentator for MSNBC, hosting his own programme, and a correspondent for NBC’s Dateline NBC. He left MSNBC in December 2013, after making derogatory comments about the former Governor of Alaska and Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, labelling her ‘a world class idiot’ and suggesting someone should defecate in her mouth.

At the time of Bashir’s rehiring by the BBC in 2016 in spite of all this, perhaps, it was no coincidence that Tony Hall, who was head of News at the time of the Diana Interview, was the Director-General. Lord Dyson found that Bashir carried out a sophisticated ruse and lied to his bosses about it, and that the BBC, having been alerted to his behaviour, mostly papered over it and sought to evade scrutiny on the topic. But, worse still, they rehired him!

Dyson report concludes that Bashir tricked Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, into introducing him to the troubled princess. Bashir told Spencer he was working on a story on the news media’s bad behaviour and showed Spencer fake bank statements, unwittingly created by a BBC graphic designer at the request of Bashir, which suggested that a member of Spencer’s security team was being paid by newspapers for information. The first bank documents were essentially the bait, Spencer told Dyson. Soon afterward, Bashir set the hook by showing Spencer a second set of false bank statements suggesting that two palace insiders had also received payments from the media — specifically Diana’s private secretary, Patrick Jephson, and Charles’s private secretary, Richard Aylard. After showing Spencer the fake bank statements, Bashir induced him to arrange a meeting with Diana. “By gaining access to Princess Diana in this way, Mr. Bashir was able to persuade her to agree to give the interview,” Lord Dyson wrote, calling such behaviour a “serious breach” of the BBC’s guidelines on “straight dealing.”

“It is likely that these statements were created by Mr. Bashir and contained information that he had fabricated,” the report states, adding “Mr. Bashir would have little difficulty in playing on her fears and paranoia,”

Prince William confirmed that this indeed was what happened. On release of the Dyson report he made a terse statement wherein he remarked “The interview was a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse and has since hurt countless others. It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her”.

When the graphic designer who made fake bank statements for Bashir brought this to the attention of his superiors, he was sacked! Tony Hall, who held the inquiry, claimed he was satisfied with Bashir’s assurance that the statements were not used but failed in his duty by not seeking confirmation by contacting Diana’s brother. Dyson report states:

“And without knowing Earl Spencer’s version of the facts; without receiving from Mr Bashir a credible explanation of what he had done and why he had done it; and in the light of his serious and unexplained lies, Lord Hall could not reasonably have concluded, as he did, that Mr Bashir was an honest and honourable man”

Though some argue that what Diana stated in the interview were known facts, it cannot be denied that some were distorted facts based on untruths fed to a vulnerable woman by a dishonest journalist. Much is made of the letter Diana had sent after the interview but this, again, had been done at the behest of Bashir. In fact, Earl Spencer stated in a subsequent BBC Panorama programme: “I have seen the content of the letter. It does not exonerate the BBC as far as I’m concerned because Diana is dealing from a position from having been lied to. She didn’t know that the whole obtaining of the interview was based on a series of falsehoods that led to her being vulnerable to this.” He added “Well, the irony is that I met Martin Bashir on 31 August 1995 because exactly two years later she died and I do draw a line between the two events.”

Beeb did its best to cover up but continued efforts of the British Tabloids, Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as well the TV journalist Andy Webb resulted in the new management, after Tony Hall left the BBC, requesting Lord Dyson to hold the inquiry. Writing in the Daily Mail, Andy Webb has this to say:

“The BBC’s deceit and lies over the Bashir/Diana debacle, in a cover-up that lasted more than 25 years, is for me the most shameful episode in its history. Lord Dyson’s blistering condemnation yesterday of BBC star reporter Martin Bashir and several of his bosses at the corporation has been a very long time coming.

I have witnessed the state broadcaster’s feints and dodges over this affair repeatedly. My requests for information — information the BBC was legally bound to provide — have been blocked and barricaded.

Patrick Jephson, the Princess’s private secretary, left her service immediately after the Panorama interview. Bashir falsely suggested he was in league with MI5 and was spying on her for Prince Charles. Jephson believes that broke the trust Diana held for him. When he spoke to me about this, he had tears in his eyes.

Tiggy Legge-Bourke, nanny to princes William and Harry, had her reputation utterly traduced. Bashir encouraged Diana to believe Tiggy had an affair with Charles and even aborted his baby. These people could certainly argue they have suffered lifelong hurt at the hands of the BBC.”

It looks as if the problems are not likely to end soon for Auntie Beeb. Those who lost their jobs, as a result of the actions of a rogue journalist and managers who attempted a cover-up, are likely to claim compensation and it is rumoured that Auntie may have cough up about five million pounds!

Unfortunately, this is not an incident in isolation. Most Brits of a certain generation are unlikely to ever forget Auntie Beeb’s malicious behaviour towards the national treasure, Sir Cliff Richard.



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Opinion

In favour of ‘thoughtfulness’

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As KT has enunciated, all human progress is indebted to people who observed, experimented, invented, created and above all used their imagination with hardly any guidance from mindfulness gurus. Billions of people have lived and contributed to shape the world to what it is today – of course, with all its beauty as well as ugliness- the latter resulting from dogma, stultified mindsets and navel-gazing. What it takes to enhance the beautiful side of the world is to rely on more thought, more reasoning and more judgment.

by Susantha Hewa

Prof. Kirthi Tennakone’s (KT) article, “Thoughtfulness or mindfulness?”, which appeared in The Island of June 5, 2024, would surely appeal to those who are more “thoughtful” than “mindful”, the former indicating a mind functioning naturally with all cognitive faculties fully awake and the latter indicating a mind being turned inwards and focusing on one’s thoughts, sensations and feelings in a nonjudgmental mode. As KT claims, “Almost all human accomplishments are consequences of thoughtfulness”, thoughtfulness indicating the quality of a sharp mind registering all relevant facts and assessing them for their worth and relevance.

His article itself is a fine demonstration of thoughtfulness rather than of mindfulness, as all discerning minds may agree. Even the gurus of mindfulness have to deal with many thoughts simultaneously as they write or speak, if they wish to make sense, and that is more of an exercise of “thoughtfulness” requiring several skills including organising, reason, elaboration, clarity, critical thinking, analysis, judgment, etc., than one of “mindfulness”, which is said to be focusing on one’s feelings and thoughts without judgment, from moment to moment.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, thoughtfulness is 1) the state of thinking carefully about something, 2) the quality of being kind and thinking about other people’s needs, and 3) the quality of thinking carefully about how to do something so that it is effective. All these three meanings are to do with using one’s mind to its fullest capacity. And, as the second one indicates, it also includes being considerate towards others, which is directing your mind outwards- which is not involved in mindfulness in the sense in which it is popularly used to describe “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm” (Cambridge Dictionary).

The products of thoughtfulness are there for everybody to see, as KT has clearly explained and enumerated in his essay. On the other hand, mindfulness seems to thrive on a state of mind that is turned inwards, which is often explained as paying attention to your present thoughts, feelings and sensations nonjudgmentally.

It looks as if we have to wait for centuries to see the wonders of this rather solitary and obscure exercise. The one thing that is clear is that even those who have practiced mindfulness for years on end have to be thoughtful rather than mindful, when they choose to communicate with others with any clarity, either in speech or writing, for the simple reason that the audiences are thoughtful, critical and judgmental, rather than uncritical, meditative and nonjudgmental.

Surely, you have to open your mind to what others are saying – rather than shut it, for any human communication to be meaningful, effective and useful. If mindfulness happened to be the natural mode of the mind, we would be living in a dull and dreary world where everybody would “be ‘mindful’ of their own business”.

A community of people may practice ‘mindfulness’ for a while everyday but it can only be an intermission and not the basic mode of a productive life, which is anchored on what you may call “thoughtfulness”. It would be redundant to illustrate this because KT has done it adequately in his article, which is a product of – no prizes for guessing- thoughtfulness. Just take any activity in our day-to-day life and you will see that thoughtfulness is the indispensable operative mechanism behind each of them. As KT asserts, “Thought could have sinister motives and the only way to eliminate them is through thought itself”. We are yet to know whether mindfulness has played any role in this.

In almost any important or urgent situation, a ‘thoughtful mind’ will score higher than a ‘mindful mind’, if you know what I mean. In the classroom, you are sure to immediately pay the price if you suddenly shift from ‘thoughtfulness’ to ‘mindfulness’. As many of us would remember, our teachers wanted us to have all our faculties functioning when they told us “Sihikalpanawen hitiyoth hondai” (you had better be alert), alertness to be understood as being attentive to what is being discussed- not focusing on your own feelings and thoughts in a nonjudgmental mode.

Sometimes people talk excitedly about ‘practicing mindful driving’ but what they unwittingly mean is exactly ‘thoughtful driving’, if you understand safe driving as heeding the following instructions: “avoid your own distractions, stay vigilant, scan the road for surprises, check the body language of other vehicles, try to anticipate how a situation might evolve, and be ready to react”. This can only remind us of those good teachers’ admonition to be sharp-eyed when in the classroom.

If mindfulness is to be alert to what is going on around you, taking in ‘things’, assessing, judging, etc. exactly as in ‘thoughtfulness’, we wouldn’t need experts telling us that ‘mindfulness’ is a different or a superior game. And, as is obvious, whenever people study, work, play, read, write, research, or do anything requiring cognition and judgement, they would surely be in the ‘thoughtful mode’ rather than in the ‘mindful mode’.

As KT has enunciated, all human progress is indebted to people who observed, experimented, invented, created and above all used their imagination with hardly any guidance from mindfulness gurus. Billions of people have lived and contributed to shape the world to what it is today – of course, with all its beauty as well as ugliness- the latter resulting from dogma, stultified mindsets and navel-gazing. What it takes to enhance the beautiful side of the world is to rely on more thought, more reasoning and more judgment. Indulging in nonjudgmental observation may at best bring temporary calmness to individuals; so would art and music, with even more demonstrable benefits. And, for thought and reason to be functional, minds should be directed outwards rather than inwards.

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Opinion

Change is good: Provided it is for better and not for worse

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Aragalaya

by Jayasri Priyalal

Many Sri Lankans may have joined in commemorating the 2568 years of Buddha Parinirvana with much discourse about the fundamental truth, the core teaching of Buddhism about impermanence, last week. As we all realise the fact, that there is nothing permanent in this world; everything is subject to change. Change is the only permanent constant in the universe. This essay focuses on change from socio, political and economic angle.

Sri Lanka is undergoing its worst ever economic crisis without any hope of getting it into a recovery track soon. There is a clarion call from the masses aspiring for a system change as a springboard towards chalking out a recovery path to overcome the crisis. Yet, no one knows or discusses what that system should be to put in place.

One fact remains as an acceptable analogy. Those who cannot cope with change will never be able to initiate change in any circumstances. This applies to all stakeholders including those who caused and contributed to the current crisis. Fair share of responsibilities falls on the electorate who got carried away with populism engineered by a few; with an ultimate aim of state and regulatory capture for their advantage leaving the country into a dire state grappling with debt. Therefore, capacity and capability to initiate that essential change is absent in the DNA of politicians who deceived their constituents.

This year 2024, is remarkable for those countries where representative democracy functions. Over 2 billion voters are expected to cast their votes at polls. As per predictions in 70% of the elections a change in government is anticipated. Some elections are already over and results are known. In Sri Lanka there are two main elections in the pipeline namely the Presidential and parliamentary polls.  The UK gets ready for polls on 4th July 2024. Change is the campaign theme of the Labour Party led by Sir. Keir Starmer. Chase or change dilemma will be an option for the electorate in the USA to test in upcoming presidential elections in November 2024.

Change and the Chase Countercyclical in Sri Lanka

In the last presidential election in 2019 Sri Lankan electorate rallied with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa giving him an absolute mandate with 6.9 million votes, anticipating a change for the better. It was too late for Sri Lankans to realise that their bet was on the wrong horse.  That change triggered the public to rally towards a chase. People’s power proved greater than those who come and hold political power.

The so-called people’s movement Aragalaya forced the Prime Minister to resign with the ipso facto resignation of the cabinet of ministers. Amongst many wrong doings President Gotabaya Rajapaksa nominated an unelected PM to lead the cabinet without dissolving the parliament with the reluctance to test the pulse of the people to secure the right mandate to govern. Rest is history, and finally the people’s power chased out President Gotabya Rajapaksa culminating the grand achievement of the GoHomeGota campaign. Thereafter, people’s aspiration and hope for a change short lived and shortchanged, widening the mistrust between policy makers and electorate further.

Have we learnt from similar power struggles from the past?

Our present has direct links in many ways to the past. The island nation has been deceived by many egocentric figureheads -as they cannot be named as true patriotic leaders- misjudged the public sentiments and aspirations and surrendered the sovereignty of the country to Colonial Masters. Does history repeat itself? Have we forgotten the bitter lessons learnt from history is what is discussed in the next few paragraphs?

This writer is enthusiastically influenced by the historical knowledge shared by Prof. Raj Somadeva via Neth FM radio and the YouTube programme. Due credit should be given to the Professor for all his extensive historical studies and the efforts to share them with the rest of the Sri Lankans in and outside the country. Prof. Somadeva narrates the stories very well with an appeal to draw parallels to the contemporary political power struggles with a warning not to repeat the past mistakes.

Coronation of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, last King of Kandyan Kingdom   1798

Having defeated the British Army battalion sent by the Governor Frederick North badly in 1803, the powerful Kandyan Kingdom fell to the British by 1815. Internal power struggles between the Kandyan elites to capture the throne from the Nayakkar clan paved the way for colonials to step in effortlessly to end the 2300 of historical royal lineage, to govern. Finally, Ceylon became a colony of the British Empire under King Gorge III.

Maha Adikaram Pilimatalawe engineered the coronation of Kannasamy Naidu a nephew of Sri Rajadhi Rajasinghe over the legitimate claimant to the throne Muttusamy. Pilimatalawwe was ambitious of becoming the Kandyan King, worked closely with the British and installed Kannasamy in the throne assuming he can control the King to meet his egoistic goals.

The change he anticipated never happened. Then he conspired to kill the King. Pilimatalawwe and the conspiring gang were beheaded by the King. Pilimatalawwe engineered the change and had to work on a chase and he got eliminated by the person whom he elevated to power.

Power crazy Maha Adikaram installed a weaker character in the throne so that he could overthrow him with the help of the British. The whole strategy backfired ultimately sacrificing the nation on a platter to the British ending a royal lineage of over two millennia.  The miscalculations of those close to political power to serve their selfish needs have ruined many countries bringing in misery, hardship and colossal loss of lives and property to its citizens. The island nation has many such cases throughout its history.

Putting a Wrong Guy in a Critical Position – Are we repeating the same mistake?

Throughout history we Sri Lankans have repeated the same mistake and disrupted the nation’s progress leaving the plight in the hands of outsiders.  Although there aren’t any competing empires in the current context, there are clear indications that the local political expectations are gravitating towards the emerging geo-economic-political centres.

The current political leadership or the conventional thought processes are not spurred with an organic strategic growth trajectory with originality backed thought process. None of the political parties have identified the right causes that led to the current crisis.

Moreover, they are getting ready to deceive the electorate to secure the mandate to govern to continue to repeat ill-conceived policy tools without coming up with viable policy options to break the vicious debt trap. Adage goes on to remind that – right diagnosis is half of the solution. Instead, many are getting ready to prescribe the failed remedies with a strong dosage as prescribed by the defunct cold war institutions. It appears that the healer itself is the disease leaving the patient bewildered and leaving the disease into an uncontrolled debt pandemic. We Sri Lankans need to think locally and act globally and not the other way around. In the absence of original ideas and remedies, local politicians are happy to swallow the bitter medicines prescribed on the basis of diagnoses.

Since Independence the ideology of various political parties were developed based on systems and discourses practiced in other countries introducing a welfarist socio economic system. Now, it has turned towards the aspirations of the emerging geo-economic centres. Sri Lankans need to forge a unique turnaround strategy to serve the best interest of its people, and not to become subjects of other countries.  Therefore, the Sri Lankan electorate needs to collate its political mandate in the hands of a leadership who will change the destiny of the country for the better and not for the worst.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Colonial masters connived with the power crazy Kandyan elites and captured the last King of Ceylon, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, dethroned, imprisoned and deported to India. Once you fast track the historical events, we can extrapolate the current situation drawing many parallels. Unlike in the past, the leaders who mislead and mismanage the future of the nation without any original thinking and being subservient to foreign advice will never be deported. They will be facing a prisoner’s dilemma remaining on the island, having given away ports, harbours, airports and other critical infrastructure to foreigners to manage and own.

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Opinion

A poser to Sajith and Anura

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Sajith and Anura

Just one question to both of you. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to the country if both of you set aside your political ambitions and personal differences and make a bold decision to join hands to face the forthcoming presidential elections as an alliance?

You are aware that the present government will leave no stone unturned to introduce controversial legislation, irrespective of the fact whether they are constitutional or not. It engages in controversial projects, on the pretext of privatisation, detrimental to the interests of the country. It suppresses protests through high-handed undemocratic actions. It abuses democratic practices to further its interests.

Politically your views may differ but your goals are the same. As things stand, both of you enjoy popular support. You have talented intellectuals in your parties. Most of the current corrupt politicians are in the process of forming either with or in support of the incumbent government with a view to hoodwinking the masses.

Your unity will certainly be advantageous to the country but divided you both could fail in achieving your ultimate goal.

Let’s hope that wisdom will prevail over their political ambitions.

WILLIAM PHILLIPSZ 

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