"If this sort of thing had been put out by Russian state television, I would find it hard to know whether to laugh or cry at it"
I mentioned in a couple of comments yesterday that I don’t own a television. In fact, I haven’t had one since 2001. To begin with it’s hard, but if you stick with it you very soon come to see it as remarkably odd that you’ve spent a significant amount of your time sitting in front of a box, wondering if there’s anything on, and still watching it even if there isn’t, and letting other people drip their agenda and propaganda into your head night after night, through perhaps the most powerful medium ever created.
One of the big plusses is the fact that I don’t have to hand over a penny of cash to an institution I have come to loathe — the BBC. But perhaps the biggest plus is that when I do get to watch a programme — especially a documentary on some political or social issue — I find that I’m better able to spot propaganda than I ever would have done had I been immersed in TV culture on a regular basis.
And so it was with the BBC’s Panorama programme. I’ve only managed to watch the first 20 minutes so far, and so I’m only able to comment on that (my thanks to David S for uploading it to YouTube). But what I’ve seen so far is one of the best — or worst depending on how you look at these things — examples of political propaganda I’ve seen in a long time.
There was of course lots of creepy music. There were of course no dissident voices. There were of course no difficult questions put to those in charge of an operation which has seen the narrative changing on a regular basis, and not making any more sense despite the changes.
Why, if the boot had been on the other foot, so to speak, and this sort of thing had been put out by Russian state television, I would find it hard to know whether to laugh or cry at it. But the one thing I would be certain of is that it was clear evidence that that country was slipping back into the dark days of Soviet propaganda, only using modern technology to make it all feel a lot more cool and spangly.
Let me say firstly that the worst thing by a country mile in the section I’ve watched so far came right at the very beginning, where the presenter, Jane Corbin, made the following statement:
“Now, moving images, never seen before of the Russian assassins just after the attack [my emphasis].”
I don’t know whether Mrs Corbin has any idea of what she just did, or whether she even cares, but in one foul swoop she completely undermined the concepts of due process, and innocent until proven guilty, and she also made it impossible for the two suspects to ever receive a fair trial, were it ever to come to that.
This is really bad. No, it’s worse than that: it’s really, really, stonkingly terribly bad. On the same day as the Panorama programme, The Metropolitan Police released CCTV footage of the men from 4th March, and the header at the top of their statement says, “Counter Terrorism Police continue appeal over Salisbury suspects [my emphasis].” In the statement itself they refer to the two men, Petrov and Boshirov, no less than five times using the word “suspects”. Yet the national broadcaster has just informed the populace that they are not suspects in an investigation, but assassins. Case closed by the Bellingcat Broadcasting Corporation?
It was basically this issue that got my goat about this case in the first place. The fact that the British Government came out and made pronouncements about what had happened, before an investigation had really properly started, literally tore up hundreds of years of English common law and indicated to me that we really are heading towards arbitrary, tyrannical Government. The fact that the BBC has now come out and pronounced authoritatively on a case that is still ongoing, where no facts whatsoever have been proven in open court, only serves to reinforce this view.
It seems that we need reminding of the following: it really doesn’t matter two hoots what our views are of what happened on 4th March in Salisbury, or whether we think that Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were responsible, the principles of due process and the presumption of innocence, which were enshrined by people immensely wiser than our current foolish generation of leaders, still apply. They must apply, else we are done for. But the Government doesn’t seem to care about that. And the BBC doesn’t seem to care about it either. Do you?
As for the actual details of the programme, just two observations, and then maybe some more in another piece once I’ve had time to look at the rest of it.
Firstly, it seems to me that the programme contained an astonishingly glaring contrast between what we are supposed to believe about the substance apparently used, and what actually happened. Here are some quotes the programme put out about the substance itself:
“It’s very unique in its ability to poison individuals at quite low concentrations.” – Porton Down Professor Tim speaking about Novichok.
“The Russians called it Novichok. Thought to be 10X more toxic than any nerve agent created before or since.” – Jane Corbin.
“To kill a person, you need only 1mg. To be sure, 2mg.” – Vil Mirzyanov, who worked on the Foliant project.
“The person starts to go blind, that’s the first sign. The second is difficulty breathing, even to the point that they stop breathing. The third sign is constant vomiting. The fourth, uncontrollable convulsions.” – Vil Mirzyanov, on the effects of “Novichok”.
“The Russians weaponised Novichok for the battlefield. The tiniest dose can be fatal.”– Jane Corbin.
It’s like they had to keep reminding us of just how deadly the substance is. But if it is unique in its ability to poison individuals at quite low concentrations, if it is 10X more toxic than the next deadliest nerve agent, and if the tiniest dose can be fatal why — a reasonably person might ask — are the Skripals and Nick Bailey still alive? Why is the BBC reinforcing to us just how deadly a substance it is, then in the next breath telling us all about the 65-year-old diabetic who survived, even thought he must have got much more than a tiny dose, since he apparently left trails of it all over the City (though interestingly, not at the duck feed, the car park meter, or the door handles at Zizzis and The Mill). And I’m afraid that the explanation of “excellent medical care will not do.” By their own admission, the hospital staff did not know how to treat it for a long while after the poisoning. And so either “Novichok” is not as deadly as they kept making out on the programme. Or “Novichok” was not used. Simple as that. But you can’t have it both ways. If you can square that particular circle, good luck. There’s a highly paid job out there for you somewhere.
The other huge anomaly was of course the movements of Nick Bailey. The account that he and a colleague went to 47 Christie Miller Road at about midnight raises some huge questions, not least because it flatly contradicts numerous previous reports. Very briefly, here are some questions that arise from what was said:
1. Many of the first reports said he was a first responder to the Skripals, but from his account on the BBC programme, I got the impression that he arrived at the bench after the Skripals had already been taken to hospital. Why then was he named as the hero cop who went to help the Skripals if he did not do this?
2. He states at one point that, “There was nothing lying near the bench”. This is a bit strange as Freya Church mentioned that both Mr Skripal and Yulia had bags with them on the floor next to the bench when she saw them. What had happened to these bags before Mr Bailey got there, and was the person who removed them also taken to Salisbury District Hospital (SDH) for tests?
3. He says that he and a colleague went to the house wearing “full protective suits.” How, then, could he have become contaminated at the house?
4. According to the report, Mr Bailey and his colleague went to 47 Christie Miller Road at around midnight on 4th March. Since their visit must have been known by his seniors, why did it take until 9th March before any news of his visit to the house was made public (by a man not even part of the investigation – former Met Commissioner, Lord Ian Blair)?
5. Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu claimed that Mr Bailey had worn a body camera when he went to the house. Why did the BBC not show this footage, but instead did their own reconstruction?
6. In his book, the BBC’s Mark Urban stated that Mr Bailey couldn’t get in the front door, and so went around the back. The programme directly contradicted this. Which one is correct?
7. Mr Bailey states that:
“Once I’d come back from the house, the Skripals house, my eyes were like … my pupils were like pinpricks, and I was quite sweaty and hot. At the time I put that down to being tired and stressed.”
But according to the programme, it was not until the Tuesday, well over 24 hours later, that he was apparently driven to SDH. How on earth could it have taken that time for him or his superiors to put two and two together, since the whole point in him doing the search and wearing the forensic suit was because it was known by that time that an unknown chemical had been used?
8. The claim that Mr Bailey was first at the house, and that this was at midnight flatly contradicts the testimony of a number of Mr Skripal’s neighbours. For instance, the Salisbury Journal reported the following on 5th March:
“Police arrived at Skripal’s home in Christie Miller Road, Salisbury, yesterday at 5pm, according to neighbours.”
And The Mirror said this:
“Neighbours say police have been at the ex-spy’s home since 5pm that day.”
If the lights are still on at either publication, perhaps the journalists who wrote those pieces might want to take it up with the BBC. And if the lights are still on in the country, perhaps we might want to reflect on whether it really is a very good idea to give up our precious legal safeguards, like due process, the presumption of innocence, and trial by jury, in favour of what we now appear to have, which is basically Trial by Propaganda.