Urgent BBC explanation needed for pulling Panorama on army undercover squad ( Now updated with BBC explanation)


 My old colleague John Ware of Panorama has rung to say he’s waiting for some new information in order to complete the programme. So conspiracy theorists can stand down.

Thanks to Galloglaigh for getting  this reply from Panorama earlier

Apologies for any confusion caused, but we do need to change planned programmes on short notice from time to time owing to various editorial issues.

Best wishes for the Christmas season.

The Panorama Team


This has been a perfect example of the BBC underestimating public reaction and the needs of courtesy to the expectant audience. At the very least the BBC should issue a statement if the billed programme has to change. Billings should add the rider similar to that for sporting events and concerts that can overrun. They could say something like: “because of the nature  of  the highly topical stories the programme covers, the subject of Panorama may be different from the billed programme”.


Is there a faint echo here of the BBC handling of the Jimmy Savile affair, already noted in Slugger comment?

My Radio Times listed the following Panorama programme for transmission last night ( Monday 17 December)

For nearly two years in the early 1970s, the British Army ran an undercover squad that operated outside the law, hunting down enemies of the state – with orders to shoot known terrorists on sight. For the first time in 40 years, three former members of this secret operation talk candidly about their role in Northern Ireland, which they believe saved lives. But reporter John Ware uncovers evidence that the unit may also have killed innocent civilians, fabricated statements and covered up its deeds.

But by yesterday morning the one hour programme had disappeared  from  my Evening Standard  listings. Instead a My Family Christmas Special was to be shown at 8.30pm followed by an hour long episode of the New Tricks light detective drama.

But that wasn’t the end of it. During the day, Roy Greenslade’s  blog in the Guardian told me I was going to see instead a Panorama on the tax affairs of the secretive and litigious Barclay Brothers,  the owners of the Daily Telegraph and much else besides. The BBC webpages  flagged up both programmes  ( and still does, a day later)   but gave a transmission time and later, an iPlayer link for the Barclay Brothers film only. Sure enough, up came the Barclay Brothers at 8.30  on BBC1 followed by my Family at 9.

I have searched the BBC website and the press for an explanation, including the BBC media centre and editor’s blogs.

Not a dickey bird that I can find.

Following the great Savile imbroglio which claimed the scalp of a brand new director general,  you don’t need an extra special suspicious mind to wonder what’s going on.  The more paranoid might ask: days after the de Silva report on collusion over the Finucane murder, has the BBC got cold feet over interviews with an army undercover squad?  How can the BBC fail to realise that in the present climate a proper explanation is needed? It may be entirely straighforward. But it was a disastrous  failure to explain accurately and then take three weeks to correct an editor’s blog on the reasons not to proceed with Newsnight’s own Saville expose that  was the last straw that did for the unfortunate DG George Entwistle.

I hazard a wild guess that it may have thought prudent to rush out the Barclay Brothers film quickly to avoid the risk of an injunction. The nugget in the otherwise unremarkable programme was the allegation that the Barclay’s Ritz hotel company had paid no corporation tax.  The more suspcious might suspect that the BBC might have had second thoughts and rushed out some sort of Panorama in order to soften the glaring impression of  a pull. Better a half hour Panorama they could get ready in time,  than no Panorama at all.

Sensitive Panoramas need sensitive presentation as well as editorial handling. To shuffle the BBC1 schedule twice without apparent explanation suggests that competence is still lacking somewhere in the chain of production, transmission and public accountability.  The Barclay Brothers half hour Panorama replaced an hour long  John Ware film at  fairly short notice, it seems.  All attention seems to have been given to the schedule rejig and not to the editorial reasons behind it. Not my bag guv, someone may have thought – again.

Can it  be that even now the BBC haven’t learned all the lessons of Savillegate? To set minds at rest, will the BBC offer an explanation even now for pulling the Panorama on the army undercover squad?

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