BBC confirms MQM report will not be put on its website
By: Murtaza Ali Shah
LONDON: The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has found itself embroiled in a serious controversy of editorial independence after the editorial managers decided not to publish online the full investigative report of Owen Bennett-Jones, the BBC reporter who led investigations into the Muttahida Qaumi Movement for the flagship Newsnight programme.
A BBC spokesman agreed that the full report by Owen Bennett-Jones will not be published but denied that the broadcaster had received any pressure from the UK government or any outside source.
The spokesman added: “We stand by our report on the MQM and have featured it on one of our flagship news programmes, Newsnight, across BBC radio, BBC World News and BBC News Online, including two videos from the Newsnight report and a profile of Altaf Hussein. It is categorically untrue that we have come under any pressure not to run the story further.
We were in discussions with Owen Bennett-Jones about the publication of a longer article on the BBC News website but following further discussions with our legal team, it was decided that we would not publish this.”
The BBC News website decided to drop the investigative piece after coming “under pressure from powerful lobbies within the British government and from outside”, said a source.It is believed that the full report contained hitherto unknown information related to the cruel murder of the former MQM convener Dr Imran Farooq, the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
Importantly, it has been learnt, that the report by Owen Bennet-Jones asked serious questions of the British government and its security agencies as to why steps were not taken to provide security to Dr Imran Farooq when it was known that his life was under threat and what’s it that the government knew about violence in Pakistan but failed to do anything about it.
An insider told The News that the BBC wanted no criticism of the British government’s foreign policy to be published and also wanted heavy editing of the “important public interest matters”.
Several Pakistani students and community organizations have written to the BBC questioning its decision to stop the publication of the full report and have asked the BBC to not hide behind the “legal reasons” argument. A petition started by Pakistani activists in London had been signed by more than 500 people at the time of filing of this report.
Meanwhile, the BBC confirmed that a record 1.1 million viewers in Britain watched the BBC Newsnight’s investigative documentary on the MQM whereas the average viewing figures of the Newsnight slot are around 650,000.
The level of interest the programme generated testifies to the fact that this is an issue of grave interest, not just to Pakistanis, who wish to see the killers of Dr Imran Farooq’s brought to the justice, but also this is of significant public interest to the British Public, who have a right to question the policies of the BBC.
If it later emerges that the BBC has been pressurised to stop full coverage of the issue then this will lead to further questions about the foreign policy of the British government and whether it is capable of wielding power and pressure on a supposedly independent organisation such as the BBC. Already the investigation has revealed that a letter was sent by Altaf Hussain to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, wanting to curb the Pakistani secret intelligence service, ISI.
The more the matter is probed, the more a complex web of intrigues and possible unsavoury alliances is revealed. There may be a fear by the establishment that further disclosure may lead to other skeletons in the closet being exposed. Indeed the decision of the BBC not to publish the full report will fuel the rumour mills and lead many to question why the BBC has taken this decision, has anyone exerted any pressure and if so, why.