Hutton Inquiry into the suicide of British weapons
expert David Kelly has finished hearing evidence.
Kelly killed himself at the end of July after it was
revealed that he was the BBCs source for its
claims that New Labour sexed up the evidence
against Iraq. Lord Hutton will spend the next two
months judging whether the government or the BBC (or
both) played a part in pushing Kelly over the edge.
of the Inquiry have already picked out their good
guys and bad guys. For many in the British media,
one of the baddest guys is Tony Blairs spokesman
Tom Kelly (no relation to David). Tom Kelly is the
government official who referred to David Kelly as
a Walter Mitty type, implying that the
late scientist had been a hero fantasist.
Kellys crass comments made the front pages of
the papers. Editorials condemned New Labour for spinning
against its opponents even after they were dead. Labour
MP Glenda Jackson said: Number 10s capacity
to disgust us would seem positively boundless.
Kelly is no stranger to controversy. During his time
at the Northern Ireland Office five years ago he was
involved in one of New Labours most blatant,
Machiavellian campaigns of spin. But back then he
was forgiven or indeed praised by the media, rather
than being hounded. Why?
working at BBC Belfast Tom Kelly joined the government
in the late 1990s. In 1998 he became director of communications
at the NIO under Mo Mowlam. One of his first jobs
was to prepare a campaign encouraging people to vote
Yes to the Good Friday Agreement. His
proposals were astounding -- enough to make his Walter
Mitty jibe look like small fry by comparison.
4 March 1998, six weeks before the Good Friday Agreement
was even agreed by the parties, Tom Kelly authored
a document entitled Information Strategy.
During the next 10 weeks, he wrote, we
need to convince the Northern Ireland public of the
importance of what is at stake.
document said the governments message about
the Agreement should be clear, simple and direct
and ministers should keep repeating it at every
opportunity. He added: The momentum towards
must become a central part of every
message government sends, whether the context is the
economy, health or even agriculture.
Kelly recognised that this might be seen as big
government imposing its views, which would be entirely
counterproductive. So he suggested that the
NIO should manipulate media/public by
planting pro-Agreement stories in newspapers, magazines
and on TV.
many weekly newspapers around Northern Ireland offer
considerable scope for us to present our message,
and the editors of these papers should feature in
our efforts to cultivate the media, he said.
His document refers to intelligence gleaned
from informal contacts with key media people
and suggests bringing together selective influential
campaign appeared to have the desired effect. Around
the same time, in the run-up to the finalisation of
the Agreement, the Guardians Mark Lawson noticed
that: Daily this week, newspapers publicised
without dissent the optimistic predictions of Blairite
whisperers of the prospects for a peace deal.
also plotted some selective opinion polling. A
key requirement in developing our communications strategy
will be a continuing flow of information about public
attitudes, he wrote. On some occasions
this will be helpful to our cause and others not so.
It will be important therefore to ensure that not
all the results of the opinion polling, etc, will
be in the public domain.
continued: It would be open to us to encourage
some degree of public opinion polling by newspapers
we believe the results are likely to be supportive.
He suggested that bad poll results should
be kept out of the press, while good results
should be kept in.
strategy for selling the Agreement (even before the
Agreement had been finalised, remember) captured the
patronising and underhand nature of New Labour spin.
Rather than engaging the people of Northern Ireland
in a grown-up political debate, some officials seemed
to prefer the idea of manipulating the media, the
polls and in the end peoples minds.
in contrast to the media furore that greeted his Walter
Mitty comment this year, Tom Kelly got off lightly
in 1998. His report was leaked at the end of March
1998 by Ian Paisleys Democratic Unionist Party
(as part of Paiselys cynical campaign to bring
the peace deal down), but the media just didnt
bite the story.
late March 1998, Tom Kellys document got a mere
27 words on page 10 of the Independent -- the very
paper that made a frontpage exclusive of his Walter
Mitty comment this summer. In the Guardian,
the document was relegated to page 7.
two weeks the media had forgotten that the document
ever existed. On 14 April 1998, after the Agreement
was finally unveiled, the Guardian reported the Agreement
as the least duplicitous congruencies of political
reality currently on display anywhere. Everything,
at a certain level, was on the table, mutually and
small matter of a document that proposed manipulating
the media and public had been consigned to the dustbin
did the media get into such a flap over Tom Kellys
three-word jibe against David Kelly this year, but
not over his 10,000-word document in 1998?
would appear that the British media has an inconsistent
approach towards spin. Because the media generally
supported the Good Friday Agreement and saw it as
a good thing, they were willing to turn a blind eye
to some of the underhand methods that brought the
Agreement about. That was good spinning for a good
cause, it would seem, so the media forgave New Labours
excesses. The insult made against David Kelly was
clearly bad spin, however, in need of a frontpage
the media took a more consistently critical approach
to spin, maybe officials would think twice before
trying it again in the future.
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