Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760-769)|
2 JULY 2003
Q760 Mr Roy: Or if someone in London
who was reading The Daily Mirror contacted Baghdad.
Ms Gillan: Obviously there are
implications in things like that. That was a mistake but it does
show you that intelligence can be gathered from these types of
pieces, and that is why the serious issues of censorship I was
talking about we understand have to be done, and why "red
smoke" has to be taken out and why it can be changed to "coloured
smoke". Those are the vital things that we understand. It
is just the other stuff.
Q761 Chairman: If you read Russell's
reports to The Times of the Crimean War, he was under no
inhibition whatsoever as to what he wrote, and the Russians were
getting much of their intelligence from reading The Times.
Mr Hewitt: I think it is always
a very difficult line, and every conflict is a little bit different
in terms of what the intelligence capability of the Iraqis, or
the other side, is. There is no question it is a cultural thing.
The Americans, although I do not think necessarily it was taken
advantage of by all their reporters, incline to greater freedom.
Simply listening to Audrey, I just think nobody ever spoke to
me at all about phrases. They could hear me on the World Service
and the American presumption is one that, in the end, the people
on whose behalf the soldiers are there, on the whole, have a right
to know as much as they can. As I say, the only restrictions were
that you could not say "Later this afternoon this is what
is going to happen". That, obviously, seems to be self-evidently
wise, but in terms of whether you end up saying "Look, the
soldiers were frightened today" or whatever, they would never
have prevented me from saying that. I am surprised, and I know
a little bit about the background to it. The Pentagon took a view,
against the instinct of a lot of its commanders, that this war
would be different. Back in 1991 reporters were largely excluded
from where the real fighting was taking place. There were one
or two people who got facilities but, on the whole, the idea was
if you involve the cameras all kinds of problems come along. This
time there was a total change of attitude. In fact I went to a
meeting with people from the Pentagon and they said "We have
decided to make a real change of approach and to allow access
on the battlefield", and that is what we got. I actually
believe there were occasionswe did not have to attach ourselves
to units, which the unilaterals had to for their safetywhen
we did have, within the confines of the fact that you were travelling
with the 3rd Infantry Division, an enormous amount of freedom
and I was staggered by that amount of freedom. As far as I know,
I think the Americans' view of that was not taken advantage of.
There was quite a lot of critical writing but I do not think they
feel that people revealed secrets. Certainly, this kind of minute
detail about what flares were emitted from aircraftnobody
was ever, ever talking to us about that. I can see, even as a
journalist, conflicts where maybe a more sophisticated intelligence-gathering
capability on behalf of the other side, if you like, would need
greater restrictions. I did not feel that on this occasion.
Q762 Mr Howarth: You have variously
talked about exercising self-restraint, Mr Thompson and Mr Hewitt,
and you have also expressed the view that you recognise it was
a responsibility resting upon you. I think Bill Neely made a very
important point about would this all have been different had the
conflict been longer and had we sustained many more British casualties.
That is a question we cannot answer at the moment. If we look
at the news values, do you feel that you were under pressure to
report more graphic scenes than perhaps your bosses back at home
would be prepared to accept? Did you feel any responsibility to
exercise self-restraint yourselves in what you showed?
Mr Neely: I think it is not just
this war; probably for all of us in the last 20 yearscertainly
all the time I have been a television journalistthere has
been self-censorship. There is an issue about showing bodies,
body parts and blood on British television. A lot of our colleagues,
especially in Italy and Spain, for example, do not have these
restrictions; al-Jazeera, I think, do not feel restricted in that
way. There is no doubt that for the last 20 years in whatever
I have done I have been aware, and the cameramen are especially
aware, not to shoot blood, not to shoot brains; you shoot in a
way that suggests the horror of an incident, or the tragedy of
an incident. You might shoot a hand, and that can be very powerful
and suggestive. I am not arguing against that either. I think
the idea "Yes, we have got to show horrific scenes"
is too crude; you can portray a great deal by that. In fact, I
think one of the most graphic shots we took was of two Iraqis
in a trench who had been hit by C120 gunfire, and one of them
was clutching a stick upon which was a white towel, and he had
obviously been signalling from the trench. Now, the top of his
head was blown off, which we could not show, but the mere shot
of the hands and this crude flag was tremendously powerful. You
knewand I said it in the commentary anywaythe man
was dead but you did not show a great deal. I did not feel under
any pressure whatsoever. I feel, I supposeand maybe this
is going off the pointthat we are too squeamish and that
we have self-censored ourselves rather too much in the media.
One of the first experiences I had (I grew up in Belfast) was
watching an incident known as Bloody Friday, in which the BBC
took a very courageous decision 20 minutes before broadcast to
show scenes of security officers shovelling people's parts into
black plastic bags. They took that decision, I think, to show
what terrorism meant. It did not offend me at the time. I think
the general feeling was that it was a courageous and right thing
to do. I feel, as a broadcaster, we show far too little. I am
not an advocate for just gratuitously showing foreign conflicts,
such as Liberia"Let's show that man being executed
on screen"and we are all very aware of the watershed
at 9 o'clock, before which children might be watching. However,
I think some review of how we show things and when we show things
is necessary. To answer your direct question, no, I did not feel
under any pressure from any outside force, the pressure was inside
Mr Hewitt: I would like to go
along with that. There was never any pressure from BBC management
in terms of how I shoot this, but there was one occasion as we
were coming along the highway into Baghdad when I saw both civilians
who had been somehow caught up in it and Iraqis lying there. When
I said to the cameraman, Peter Giggliotti (?),"pull wide",
I regret that, because that historical record of a very bloody
day, when a lot of civilians did get killed, is actually not there.
Later on I thought to myself
Q763 Mr Howarth: What does "pull
Mr Hewitt: "Pull wide"
means, rather as Bill has been describing; you can either go in
for some quite graphic close-ups or you can go much wider and
you have a general impression. What brought this home to me was
that when I was discussing this later there were people saying
that what was a strange thing sometimes, watching the ten o'clock
news, was that the film that ran after the ten o'clock news made
in Hollywood was actually more graphic than we had shown about
a conflict that actually our troops were involved in. That does
worry me. I think there is a limit and it is a very difficult
one to work out what it is, because if you did show absolutely
what you see there people would switch off, they would tune out,
and that does not help anybody. Certainly the one thing about
my own reporting from the war that has concerned me the most is
whether I can convey actually what war is really like when it
involves civilians. I think sometimes there is a sense that war
is about machines and armour and actually not that war is about
individuals, human beings. I think it is a very difficult line.
I was certainly under no pressure, nobody was `phoning me up on
the satellite `phone saying "Listen, be careful about that";
it was just my view, which, as I say, I have altered a little
bit since I have been back, that this would not be acceptable.
Yet there were two particular days when in terms of the accuracy
of the reporting of the war it would have been better if I had
actually said to the cameraman "Look, let's just show this
how we are seeing it because I think that is something that the
audience should see as well". So I would probably go along
with what Bill says; I think we were too squeamish but I think
we have to be very careful and the line is a difficult onedifficult
for editors and difficult for members of the public as well.
Q764 Mr Howarth: So they did not
edit it down for the domestic audience?
Mr Hewitt: Not that I know of.
You send out your report and you do not quite know what goes on.
As far as I understand, I was never edited down. I think it is
actually more a question of self-censorship, sensing "Well,
maybe we should not do this." That is how it happened, not
the other way round.
Q765 Mr Howarth: Very quickly, what
Frank Roy said is an experience that I also shared, which is that
watching a firefight live on television is a pretty arresting
experience, and we came perilously close, in my view, to that
being shown. I represent a garrison town and there is a real problem
with the families back home, some of whom are glued to the television
24 hours a day to look for their husband. If I can just flag you
Mr Thompson: I think we are all
aware that there is going to be a point soon when, sadly, somebody
is going to die live in front of the camera. I think that is a
very real concern we all have. We are aware of the technological
developments. The technological advances this time meant that,
in effect, we out there reporting were ahead, really, of Downing
Street, Whitehall, gutter, Pentagon and everywhere else, as they
said repeatedly in their briefings: "We cannot confirm what
your guys have just reported live from the field". The technology,
in a way, is maybe galloping ahead of how we all deal with it
and how we all cope with it and what our sensibilities are, and
certainly galloping ahead, in some cases, of how politicians and
military people respond to that. I think it is going to be very
difficult to restrain and constrain that technology now.
Q766 Mr Roy: Just on that point,
what would have happened if one of those troops we had been watching
for half-an-hour on a Saturday afternoon had been killed? You
would not have known it was going to happen, it was going to happen
live and for the families and the general constituencies watching
it, that is not a form of entertainment or voyeurism for anyone.
That is a very serious matter, and it is going to happen at some
Mr Hewitt: It is. The Americans
went further this time. They were much more aware of how they
could use this access and they developed the technology this time
of being able to report live, on the move, from the battlefield.
I know that the BBC and I am sure Sky and ITN are looking at using
that technology in future. Why? Because there clearly is an audience
who wants that sense of being there. The problem with it is precisely
the one that there may well come a time when you cause huge distress
to people, and distress I do not think you could justify. I do
not think the Americans in this particular war had that experience,
but I know that that technology is already there. One of the things
that we will all have to face next time roundif there is
another conflictis that the technology will be there to
show war as it unfolds. What do you do with that? How far do you
Q767 Mr Roy: What is its purpose?
Mr Hewitt: I think there can be
a purpose, in the sense that there is hugefrom the all-news
channelsinterest. The audiences went up. There is an interest
for that sense of watching things as they unfold. I think that
is part of keeping people informed, allowing them to see it as
it unfolds. Obviously the limitation is that sometimes as you
see something unfold it does not have the context, you do not
quite know what it means, and at some stage you have to stop that
coverage and put the context in there. I think it will be very
difficult to say "We are not going to go in for that live
coverage" because a lot of people, I think, feel it is their
democratic right to see it. It will be very difficult.
Q768 Mr Howarth: I think we could
be here for a very long time arguing that one, but unfortunately
time is running out. Can I just ask Jeremy Thompson a very quick
question? What are your views on the hiring of armed guards for
Mr Thompson: I find it of great
concern. As far as I am aware it did not happen in the British
media but it did happen in the American media. There is certainly
a move towards the media generally starting to have people with
military experienceex-military men, ex-Special Forcesgoing
along as consultants, if you like, as advisers to help us avoid
some of the pitfalls in battle zones. Quite a number of us feel
that it slipped over the line of good sense when it appeared in
some cases (and it appears to be on American networks) that some
of those armed minders started carrying weapons and, in fact,
used them in exchanges with Iraqi defensive positions. Again,
unfortunately, we feel that is an added danger for journalists
because it takes us further down the line of us being drawn into
a role as combatants rather than independent observers.
Q769 Chairman: Thank you all very
much, that was really enthralling. We hope we do not have to see
you in similar exchanges for some considerable time. Most of us
have had quite enough conflict. I am sure it is a wonderful experience,
positively and negatively in some respects. Thank you very much
Mr Hewitt: Thank you.
Mr Neely: Thank you.
Mr Thompson: Thank you.