Sunday Telegraph – 26 July 1987
I find it hard to endorse the complacent welcome (July 19) given by Brenda Maddox to the new John Birt team, which she describes as "people who can say cheerfully that the BBC news 'needs a kick up the backside'" and which should act against "the sins of discourtesy, bias or intellectual sloppiness".
On Sunday, September 15, 1985, the BBC's "The World This Weekend" broadcast an interview with Mr Victor Marchetti who was introduced to listeners merely as a former CIA officer. Armed with this seemingly straightforward status, Marchetti proceeded to cast grave doubts on the possibility that recently-defected London KGB Station Chief Oleg Gordievsky could really have been working for a decade for British Intelligence as an "agent in place", as had widely been reported. The whole aim and tenor of Marchetti's interview was to denigrate and undermine what was clearly a major intelligence coup for the West.
In fact, Victor Marchetti is one of the CIA's most virulent opponents – one of its earliest "whistle-blowers" in the 1970s and an associate of the notorious Philip Agee, whom a Labour government felt it necessary to deport from Britain.
I telephoned the BBC at once to point this out and succeeded in being put through to the producer of the programme while it was still being broadcast. Her name was Jenny Abramsky and she informed me that, whilst she knew that Marchetti had "crossed swords with the CIA", she did not regard this as relevant to mention to the listeners.
I retorted that, since Marchetti's sole qualification for being on the programme was his former status in the CIA, the fact that he had become one of its most partisan critics was obviously of supreme relevance in the context of the broadcast.
This fell on deaf ears. Miss Abramsky refused point-blank to include any reference to the real nature of Marchetti's relationship with Western Intelligence in the remainder of the programme, and it ended with the listening public being fed with as neat a piece of blatant disinformation as I ever expect to hear in a slanted "current affairs" broadcast.
I contacted the Daily Telegraph, which duly pointed out (September 16, 1985) that the BBC had been "less than frank with listeners" on this matter. If Miss Abramsky had any points to make in rebuttal, I did not see any evidence of this in subsequent issues of the newspaper.
Her appointment now as John Birt's Editor of News and Current Affairs, Radio, may satisfy your own opinionated Media Correspondent, but it does not lessen the doubts of some of us with experience of the way in which Left-wing propaganda is all too frequently handled by the broadcasting media.
Dr JULIAN LEWIS
The Media Monitoring Unit