The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis’ is described as a “[p]rogramme examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics”.
One recent episode – aired on October 29th and repeated on November 4th – was titled “Do Assassinations Work?“.
“Poison, exploding cigars and shooting down planes: tales of espionage and statesmanship.
Government-ordered assassinations may seem the stuff of spy novels and movie scripts, but they seem to have entered the realm of reality of late. Why do states choose to take this action and can we measure their success? Edward Stourton assesses how various governments – including Israel, Russia, America and the UK – have dabbled in assassination and asks whether it works as a tool of foreign policy.”
Notably, although Stourton told listeners in his introduction that “we’re not asking whether it [assassination] can be morally justified or legal”, the ‘related topics’ offered to BBC audiences on the programme’s webpage are tagged “political crimes”.
This is not Radio 4’s first foray into this subject matter: in March 2012 the BBC’s Security Correspondent Gordon Corera produced a radio programme and a written article on the same topic in which he provided the BBC’s domestic audiences with some insight into their own country’s record.
Edward Stourton, on the other hand, presented listeners with this portrayal of Britain’s “attitude”:
Stourton: “…you see a British attitude which is that we’re not great ones for actually killing people – the licence to kill, 007 or whatever it is – that wasn’t really there. But we are quite happy to go along with playing a part in the strategy or in strategies which ended up with people being assassinated.”
While the programme’s examination of America’s record and the topical Khashoggi affair was similarly superficial, listeners heard a six-minute and twelve second long section focusing solely on Russian attacks on former and current Russian nationals in the UK.
But by far the most airtime was devoted to what Stourton described as “one very full case study” in his introduction: over a third of this programme related to Israel. The reason for that is because one of Stourton’s interviewees – the Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman – published a book on that topic earlier this year.
Bergman’s book is based on interviews with current and former members of Israeli governments and security forces as well as archive material. In other words, the focus of this Radio 4 programme was made possible because of Israel’s democratic and open society.
The programme’s producers obviously found it much easier to bring in Bergman to talk about Israeli security-related assassinations than to produce any independent investigation into the more topical subject of assassinations – including of dissidents – long known to be carried out by less transparent, authoritarian governments in countries where journalists would have a much harder time interviewing former members of the intelligence services or gaining access to files.