As seen on Al Jazeera
Last night to That There London in my capacity as cardboard-and-string flavoured boy journalist, where I was to cover a press event on the subject of a leaked British Government memo, in which the President of the United States reveals plans to attack a civilian television station on the sovereign territory of a friendly government.
Present at The Frontline Club were Wadah Khanfar, Director-General of Al Jazeera, in town to get answers from a government that's gone all quiet on us; and Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror who knows a man who knows a man who has seen The Memo Of Doom. The whole event was held together by Martin Bell, whose white suit was a disconcerting shade of cream, with a pink shirt that made him look like a penny chew.
After approximately thirty seconds, it became apparent that Maguire wasn't going to suddenly whip out a copy of said memo and wave it about like Neville Chamberlain proclaiming peace in our time; and about six seconds after that the assembled hacks who had dragged themselves up two flights of stairs from the bar especially for the occasion worked out that there was going to be no actual new news coming out of the evening.
Still, the whole thing was carried live to the entire Arab world on Al Jazeera, and it's always nice to get your mug on the telly.
While we're Serious Blogging today, the facts are this:
* A source (which Maguire will not name) approached the Mirror with details of a top secret memo, which had "accidentally" found its way into the papers of a certain MP. Noting that the memo contained, amongst other things, details of UK and US troop movements in Iraq, said MP turned it back to Downing Street.
* The memo also contains details of a conversation between George W Bush, and his London spokesman Tony Blair, in which the Leader of the Free World reveals plans to attack Al Jazeera TV, a civilian broadcaster financed by the government of Qatar. Mr Blair, for all his faults, tells him that this may not be a particularly good idea, and other, unnamed officials tend to concur with Tony's line of thinking.
* The Mirror, out of courtesy, informs Downing Street that they will be publishing details of this memo. Downing Street has a hissy fit, and the White House, according to Maguire "went beserk", leading to threats of the Official Secrets Act against anybody who is even considering publishing the document.
* Of course," said Maguire, "the government wouldn't be using the Official Secrets Act if the reports weren't true. This government will go to great lengths to keep this memo secret."
* Al Jazeera is in town and they're cross. They are also not getting any answers from a government that once prided itself for its openness and honesty. And before you ask, no, they've never shown beheadings, referred to American forces as "the enemy", and waited until US networks showed the Bin Laden video before they aired it themselves. Such are urban myths, spread to good effect by certain, otherwise respectable news outlets.
And this is despite their offices in Kabul and Baghdad being bombed by American forces in unfortunate "accidents", a number of Al Jazeera reporters dying in "accidental" US attacks, virtually every member of the Jazeera Baghdad bureau having been arrested by US forces at some stage or other, and at least two Jazeera workers imprisoned for reasons unknown in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
Strangely, these big-stick legal threats come from a government that has, on more than one occasion, published Top Secret documents when it suits its own ends, but are loathe to confirm or deny whether such a conversation took place in a meeting between Bush and Blair, and will use the full strength of the law to keep their embarrassment hidden.
So, a government wants to bomb civilians, and spin machines on both sides of the Atlantic try to make out the most powerful man in the world was "joking", much like Ronnie Reagan was when he announced "the bombing starts in five minutes". Now, there's a role model.
More disturbing was the implication that the whole "Bomb Qatar" thing wasn't simply Georgie Boy thinking aloud. Maguire is certain from his sources that the tone of the memo shows Bush was indeed not joking, and this wasn't simply one man's big idea. Indeed, Maguire implied that this policy idea must have been passed around high level circles in the White House before Blair was brought into the loop. If so, whose idea was it?
In 1999, NATO forces bombed the RTS studios in Belgrade as part of operations in the Kosovo war. Sixteen civilian workers were killed in an operation against" a source of propaganda that's prolonging this war and causing untold new suffering to the people of Kosovo". Thank you Clare Short, it's nice to see you've repented your sins now.
Many journalists and media workers were sickened that this kind of slaughter was allowed to happen, even against an organisation that was broadcasting in time of conflict from the opposing side. We thought we had seen the last of this kind of thing from our own governments. How wrong we were. Even if the attack on Jazeera's Doha base never happened, the fact that the so-called defender of the free world, which had praised the channel as "a beacon of democracy in the Middle East" right up to September 2001, was even planning to kill and destroy to silence this voice shows the contempt they really show for peace and democracy.
In London, we found out nothing new of the government memo, but in terms of the secrecy and lies of modern governance, we learned volumes.