Dear Mr. Kinnock
Thank you for your letter of 5 August about the film “At the Edge of the Union” which was to have been shown on BBC this week.
I welcome the re-affirmation in your letter of our shared loathing for terrorism and determination to defeat violence. I strongly agree with the Home Secretary that a feature of that determination should be a recognition by all concerned that the terrorist cause is abetted if terrorists and their apologists are given a platform by the media to justify and advocate the use of violence. The Government's position on this is at one with the following passage from the Report of the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting chaired by Lord Annan:
“Terrorism feeds off publicity; publicity is its main hope of intimidating government and the public; publicity gives it a further chance for recruitment. … . By killing and destroying, the terrorists are bound to extort publicity—and hence one of their ends—because such news will be reported. But there is no reason to abet them by giving additional publicity.” [end p1]
As you know, the Board of Governors held a further meeting on 6 August and re-affirmed their decision that the film, which they described as “flawed” , should not be shown. It was the responsibility of the Board of Governors to take that decision. To suggest that the Board of Governors had given in to political pressure, whether pressure to sanction the showing of the film or pressure not to sanction it, is a complete misunderstanding of the position. Indeed, the fact that this allegation has been made so unjustifiably has damaged the reputation of the BBC.
You refer in your letter to an “act of censorship” . Both the Home Secretary and I have made it abundantly clear that there is no question of censorship being applied to the BBC or to any other part of the media. The Home Secretary stressed in his letter of 29 July to the Chairman the importance he attached to the constitutional and editorial independence of the BBC. He re-affirmed this at the meeting which he held on Wednesday with the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Board and the Director-General and the Assistant Director-General. That independence is not, and never has been, in question.
You recognise in your letter that there will be occasions when a Minister in the Government of the day will think it appropriate to make representations to the BBC about a particular programme. There will also be occasions when a Front Bench spokesman of the Opposition of the day will do the same. You suggest however that there was something improper in the Home Secretary having made his views known on this occasion because he is the Minister responsible for broadcasting matters. But he made it perfectly clear that he was making his representations as the Minister with particular responsibilities for the fight against terrorism. It would surely be absurd if the Home Secretary was uniquely precluded from making any comments about programmes that were directly relevant to his other responsibilities, when [end p2] those responsibilities include, as they do at present, such matters as the administration of prisons, immigration and nationality matters or combating terrorism.
You sent a copy of your letter to the Chairman of the Board of Governors, and released it to the press. I am doing the same with this reply.