BBC hits back at Barbara Amiel over anti-Western attack

LONDON - The BBC has responded to claims made by journalist and wife of media baron Lord Conrad Black, Barbara Amiel, that the corporation is anti-Western and underestimating the ruthless nature of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Amiel, who is famous for targeting and lambasting liberals and has the nickname name "the Iron Lady of Wapping", attacked the BBC in a piece in the Daily Telegraph headlined 'How can the BBC be impartial between tyranny and democracy?' on March 26.

In her piece, she questioned the integrity of the BBC Arabic Service with what the corporation is calling a plethora of inaccuracy and ignorance. She said that the BBC Arabic service failed to cover or analyse the power structure in Iraq and how it is tied in with Saddam's family.

Mark Byford, director of BBC World Service & Global News, said: "This is not true. There have been countless interviews and debates on the BBC Arabic Service detailing the background to, and history of, Saddam Hussein's regime."

Byford said these have included interviews with many opposition figures inside and outside Iraq, who have spoken about the brutal reprisals following the suppression of the Kurdish uprising in March 1991 and the nature of Saddam's regime.

"Prominent opposition figures like Jalal Talabani; Ahmed Chalabi; Wafiq Samarrai, Abdul Raheemi and Mas'oud Barzani have been interviewed many times.

"Why would we let these people speak if BBC Arabic had the pro-Saddam agenda suggested by Barbara Amiel?"

Answering the charge that BBC Arabic never covers stories that reflect badly on other Middle Eastern regimes, Byford pointed to reports carried in the past few weeks that detailed serious human rights violations in Egypt, Syria and Algeria, as well as allegations of corruption in Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait and Morocco.

"If she clicks on, she'll find a comprehensive history of the way he came to power and how he uses his family within the current structure -- complete with family photo. She will also find details and analysis of his use of chemical weapons in Halabja in March 1988," Byford said.

In her Daily Telegraph piece, Amiel went on to accuse the BBC of failing to allow Israeli viewpoints on air. This was also refuted by the BBC.

"Only last week we covered the recent trial of Saadeddin Ibrahim, who exposed government fraud but ended up facing seven years' imprisonment on charges that were, in the end, thrown out.

"An Arabic-speaking Israeli government spokesman was on 12 days ago with the Israeli view on Bush's roadmap to peace in the Israel-Palestinian crisis," Byford said.

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