17 July 2003 Edition
Sexed up lies and videotape
BBC targets Martin McGuinness
BY FERN LANE
When it comes to Ireland, the BBC has been a compliant and unfailing partner of various British governments in the production of propaganda, the application of censorship and the suppression of the truth
It has been a bad few weeks for those within the British Intelligence and military community who are sympathetic to the unionist/loyalist/British Army cause. The activities of the UDA and its political masters have, at last, been subjected to a degree of media scrutiny; the Orange Order has been daily revealing itself in all its unpleasantness on Channel 4; while in Iraq the occupying British Army has been repeating all the vile behaviour it displayed in Ireland. Also on Channel 4, the criminality of many British soldiers, and the tolerance of it by the authorities, was revealed in a damning documentary about the horrific murder of Danish tour guide Louise Jensen by three drunken soldiers in Cyprus.
Not only that, the spooks are continually faced with what, for them, must be the thoroughly galling sight of Martin McGuinness, not only alive, but flourishing and now with a record as a talented Minister for Education. One can imagine how they must fume with resentment and bitterness as they see him, both at home and around the world, receiving credit both for his role as Sinn Féin's Chief Negotiator and for the way he carried out his job in the Assembly before devolved government was snatched away from the people who voted for it. All the years of scheming, colluding and propagandising have come to nothing.
Then, of course, there is the Stakenife affair, which wasn't quite the coup that British Intelligence had hoped it would be. It was meant to spell the end for republicans, but it didn't quite go to plan. Instead the story, in spite of the enthusiasm for it by a large number of journalists, fell apart alarmingly quickly, leaving FRU members - who are surprisingly accessible to the media - anxiously defending their credibility and resorting to feverish claims like that made by one of their number in the Sunday Herald that "Stakey knows all about the past and he could bring the whole f***ing lot down".
What could be done to redress the balance, they must have asked themselves. How could they get the focus back onto republicans, especially now that Colombia and Castlereagh are faltering, and remind the media who the real enemy is? How could they regain some authority after the Stakenife deb‚cle and explain why he hasn't lived up to the extravagant claims made about him? The answer must have seemed, to them at least, simple and very clever (to the rest of us it looks pretty stupid and completely transparent); use Stakey to try and stitch up Martin McGuinness. Brilliant. But how? Step forward the BBC and Panorama's John Ware.
The BBC has taken to presenting itself in recent times as a plucky little organisation, standing up to a bullying government and its wicked, Machiavellian spin doctor in pursuit of the truth about a, wait for it, sexed up dodgy dossier. Even if that is true in respect of Iraq, the fact is, that when it comes to Ireland, the BBC has been a compliant and unfailing partner of various British governments in the production of propaganda, the application of censorship and the suppression of the truth. It has done exactly what it has been told and to this day presents racist Orange Order festivals as though they were as harmless and devoid of political content as an English village fÍte, whilst pretending that organised sectarian attacks on Catholics and their communities do not happen.
Under the guise of an 'update' on an earlier Panorama programme about collusion (which was itself only made, incidentally, when it was clear what the conclusion of the Stevens' Report was going to be), John Ware, who has a record of hostility towards Sinn Féin, dredged up ten-year-old allegations about Martin McGuinness, originally made in The Cook Report. Ware revealed that the supposed source for these allegations was none other than Freddie Scappaticci, who, he insisted, is Stakeknife. What a truly marvellous piece of good fortune. Really, the timing could not have been better.
The allegations, about the death of the informer Frank Hegarty in 1986 came in the form of secretly recorded conversations with Stakeknife. Strangely, we were not permitted to hear the actual recordings of these confessions so that we could judge whether the voice resembled that of Freddie Scappaticci. We only heard 'transcripts', spoken by an actor. Why? It is not as though the BBC is concerned about protecting its source.
But sure enough, as the intelligence services must have hoped, these stale old allegations have been given fresh impetus and have pushed the UDA, the perhaps terminal infighting within the UUP and the abuses of the marching season off the front pages. And it is only a matter of time before the UUP uses this latest fabrication as an excuse to block political progress. In resurrecting these allegations again, John Ware and his producers on Panorama have colluded with British Intelligence in a piece of shoddy and deeply shameful journalism. But, not only did they, to use another phrase favoured by British government ministers, make a complete Horlicks of it, they have also aided the attempts to fatally undermine the peace process.
Martin McGuinness has condemned the allegations as "black propaganda", saying that this type of "targeting of Sinn Féin in general and the Sinn Féin leadership in particular has stretched back over many years and comes as no surprise to Irish republicans". In respect of the allegations, he explained that he had in fact advised a member of the family that Frank Hegarty should not meet with the IRA.
"These allegations have appeared and reappeared over the years and I could have gone out and said quite a lot of things," he told The Derry Journal. "But out of sympathy for the Hegarty family - and they are totally and absolutely innocent - I tried not to go into things that must be extremely painful for them.
"When Frank Hegarty returned to Derry, he stated quite clearly that he was anxious to meet the IRA in order to proclaim his innocence. Before that meeting took place, I spoke with one member of the family in the kitchen of the family home in Rosemount. I said to that member that if Frank Hegarty was guilty of being a British agent, then my advice would be that he should not go and meet with the IRA. Much has been said on this matter over the years, but I can state quite categorically now that at least one member of the family is acutely aware of what happened in that house. I have great sympathy for the Hegarty family, who found themselves dragged into a situation not of their making."