The BBC and MI5
The BBC has always claimed "political neutrality"
and independence from the state, but we doubt many people
were surprised when Stuart Hood (ex-Controller at the BBC)
was quoted by Channel 4 as saying "there was
traffic between the security services and the BBC on appointments
and matters of that kind." Apparently MI5 held lists
of people it didn't want appointing to senior positions in
the BBC, and had final say on vetting. (C4, The History
of Surveillance, 12/8/2001)
MI5 secretly vets thousands of BBC employees. In 1983, for
example, 5,728 BBC jobs were subjected to "counter-subversion
vetting" by MI5. Senior BBC figures "covered up"
the link with the intelligence agency - leaked documents refer
to a strategy of "categorical denial". (Daily
Also from a Guardian
BBC officials asked for help from the
intelligence services to carry out political vetting of all
journalistic and engineering staff from as early as the 1930s,
according to an MI5 file on relations with the corporation.
Employees with communist or fascist
sympathies were initially targeted but from the onset of the
second world war BBC management tried to terminate the jobs
of those with "pacifist or defeatist views".
The climate of political suspicion which
emerges from notes taken of many private meetings reveals
that pressure for general vetting came as much from the corporation
as from the security services.
"I lunched today with Mr Pym, director
of staff administration at the BBC," records an MI5 officer
in November 1937.
"With regard to the general question
of vetting BBC personnel, Mr Pym said it would be of great
assistance if we could, in addition to giving definite views
[on] persons whom we considered unsuitable, let him have a
private word regarding others of whom we had record but insufficient
reason for giving a definite opinion."
A secret code was devised to ensure
that suspects could be vetoed. "For purposes of easy
reference on the telephone," the MI5 officer explained,
"it was agreed that if we said that a certain person
qualified for inclusion in category A it would mean we had
definite views as to his unsuitability, and if category B,
that we had insufficient material to say definitely that we
considered the person concerned unsuitable."
The BBC's political vetting of journalists
was first exposed by the Observer newspaper in the 1980s.
The corporation defended the practice as being a hangover
from the cold war which was later discontinued.
The latest files, covering the years
from 1933-1940, released to the public record office demonstrate
the longstanding liaison between the security services and
One of those who was most eager to develop
close contacts was Colonel Alan Dawnay, controller of programmes
at the BBC between 1933 and 1935.
In 1933 another MI5 officer recorded
a conversation he had with Col Dawnay. "[He] gave me
a very clear indication of the line the BBC were anxious to
pursue to maintain a reputation for reasonable impartiality
on political subjects...anything that goes outside the ballot
box - such as communism or fascism - is considered subversive,
if not seditious."
At another lunch, Col Dawnay and MI5
"came to the conclusion that nothing short of a general
vetting would be satisfactory (leaving out personnel such
as charwomen etc who could never be in any position to do
anything against the interests of the BBC)."
The MI5 files contain intriguing references
to one "William Farrie, whose broadcast had to be stopped"
and later, during wartime, to an electrician who was "very
left-wing in his views and is defeatist and unpatriotic".
Bowcott, Guardian 2001]