AT the time of the Suez crisis in 1956 Anthony Eden, then Prime Minister, ordered his chief press officer, William Clark, to instruct the BBC World Service to report only the government's line and to ignore the official opposition's critical views. Mr Clark, recognising the furore that would be created by such an instruction, opted for a policy of “masterly inactivity” and as a result the world learnt that as many people in Britain opposed the use of force against Egypt as supported it. The BBC is now faced with a similar dilemma in all its news coverage - in the UK and overseas - if Britain joins the United States in unauthorised military action against Iraq. The controller of editorial policy has issued guidelines that coverage should reflect “significant opposition to the conflict” and, controversially, has ruled that British forces should not be referred to as “our” troops. Questions in the House of Commons by red-faced Conservative MPs can confidently be predicted. The BBC is in a difficulty. Whereas criticism of the Suez adventure came from Her Majesty's Opposition, objections to the Iraq adventure come from a much wider but unofficial spectrum of opinion, including Labour MPs and party members and a sizeable section of the public at large. The Conservative spokesman on broadcasting matters said yesterday that “The BBC is our national broadcaster and it must make clear why we are asking British forces to risk their lives. A fifty-fifty balance is not good enough.” That approach is almost certainly wrong. The government does not fund the BBC; the licence payers do.


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