Press Watchdog slammed by 'Don't Attack Iran' Campaigners
The Press Complaints
Commission was today criticised for a “lack lustre” response to serious
complaints about the use of unnamed sources in articles by the Daily Telegraph.
The complaints, in particular the one launched by Professor Abbas Edalat of the
Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) in
December last year, centred on the fact that “extraordinary” claims made in a
number of headline articles about the threat posed by Iran were all based on
unnamed and untraceable sources.
In an ironic echo of
President Bush’s demand that Saddam produced WMD’s that turned out not to exist,
the Press Complaints Commission responded to the complaints, saying that the
complainant “had not presented any evidence that the unnamed sources had been
followed complaints from the international campaign group, CASMII, questioning
the reliance of unnamed intelligence sources in several far-fetched articles
about Iran by the Daily Telegraph’s executive foreign editor, Con Coughlin. On
24 January 2007, relying on an unnamed “European defence official” Coughlin
alleged that North Korea is helping Iran prepare a nuclear weapons test. In
December the Telegraph ran a headline article by Coughlin claiming that Iran was
“grooming Bin Laden’s successor”. Both stories were universally dismissed by
Middle East and military experts, and no attempt has been made to substantiate
either allegation over the months since publication. Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s
Middle East correspondent described the ‘Bin Laden claims’ as “wholly
implausible” and pointed out that Al Quaeda, a Sunni organisation would not be
supported by the Shia administration in Iran.
These stories led
CASMII to conduct a broader analysis of the accuracy of Mr Coughlin’s stories
and the journalistic methods he uses. Analysing 44 articles by Mr Coughlin on
Iran, CASMII found some stark patterns in terms of his journalistic
- Sources were
unnamed or untraceable, often “senior Western intelligence officials” or
“senior Foreign Office officials”.
- Articles were published at sensitive and delicate
times where there had been relatively positive diplomatic moves towards
- Articles contained exclusive revelations about Iran
combined with eye-catchingly controversial headlines;
- The story upon which the headline was based does not usually
exceed one line or at the most one paragraph. The rest of the article focused
on other, often unrelated, information.
they revealed that Coughlin was none other than the journalist who, with the
help of unnamed intelligence sources discovered “the fact” that Saddam Hussein
could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes and
unearthed “the link” between the 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed Ata, and the Iraqi
A CASMII UK
spokesman said today:
"The response from
the PCC would be funny if it were not so serious. Whilst we recognise the
quoting of unnamed sources as an essential aspect of news reporting, we asked
the PCC to assess whether there were any grounds to find that Coughlin was
abusing the practice in order to give substance to otherwise implausible
political stories. In their response the PCC dismissed the complaint on the
grounds that “the complainant had not presented any evidence that the unnamed
sources had been inaccurately quoted”. It is true that we cannot prove that
these unnamed sources do not exist. To be asked to prove something whose very
existence is being called into doubt is a logical impossibility. It is
reminiscent of the demand made on Iraq to prove they had no WMD and it is the
same Catch 22 situation that Iran is facing with regard to their alleged nuclear
weapons programme. Rather than the PCC asking us to prove that these mysterious
sources exist, the onus should be placed on Coughlin to demonstrate, in strict
confidence, that his sources are genuine."
complaints have now been referred to the Independent Charter Commissioner for
CASMII provided a
detailed list of sources used by Coughlin for his articles published in the
Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph within the last year.
“The West woke up too late to the nuclear threat of rogue states” Source:
“Teheran fund pays war compensation to Hizbollah families” Source: “A senior
“Meanwhile, Iran gets on with its bomb” Source: none.
“Israeli crisis is a smoke screen for Iran's nuclear ambitions” Source:
“Cat and mouse games on border that is 'our front line with Iran’” Source: An
“Iran accused of hiding secret nuclear weapons site” Source: A senior western
“The West can't let Iran have the bomb” Source: “An official closely involved
in the IAEA's negotiations with Iran”
“Iran has missiles to carry nuclear warheads” Source: “A senior US
“UN officials find evidence of secret uranium enrichment plant” Sources: “A
diplomat closely involved in the IAEA's negotiations with Teheran” and “A
senior diplomat attached to the IAEA headquarters in Vienna”.
“Iran's spies watching us, says Israel” Sources: “A senior Israeli military
commander” and “an officer with Israel's northern command”.
“Teheran park 'cleansed' of traces from nuclear site” Source: “A senior
“Iran plant has restarted its nuclear bomb-making equipment” Source: “A senior
Western intelligence official”
“Iran sets up secret team to infiltrate UN nuclear watchdog, say officials”
Source: “a senior western intelligence official”
“Iran could go nuclear within three years” Sources: “A senior western
intelligence officer” and “an intelligence official”
“Teheran secretly trains Chechens to fight in Russia” Source: “a senior
“Smuggling route [from Iran] opened to supply Iraqi insurgents” Source: “The
National Council of Resistance of Iran”
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