Fidel Castro was a brutal and repugnant figure. But in its coverage of his death, the BBC has glossed over his crimes.
For example, when it initially reported his passing, the BBC’s website report gushed about this “iconic figure” and “leader of the revolution”. Only in the fourth paragraph of the story accompanying these reports was it mentioned that “Critics saw him as a dictator.”
Critics? As the historian Andrew Roberts asked: “What other objective noun is there for a man who held no free or fair elections for half a century, imprisoned his political opponents after trials presided over by crony judges, completely controlled all the national media and installed his brother as his successor?”
Would the BBC use similar equivocation about Hitler or Stalin? What more would Castro have to have done for the BBC to have endorsed the label of dictator as a statement of fact?
There was some acknowledgement that Cuban exiles in Miami were celebrating the death of the tyrant but claims of Cubans still resident on the island were given great prominence.
Did we really expect those rejoicing to feel unconstrained from taking to the streets of Havana to express their feelings, given that they live in a totalitarian state?
As television presenter Andrew Neil tweeted: “Why do broadcasters do vox pops in Havana without mentioning the place is riddled with secret police? People cannot speak freely.”
Why do broadcasters do vox pops in Havana without mentioning the place is riddled with secret police? People cannot speak freely.
— Andrew Neil (@afneil) November 28, 2016
The whole tone of the Castro coverage from the BBC – and some other broadcasters – has been indulgent. He was the plucky underdog, the “thorn in the side” of the mighty United States.
A low point came when the BBC handed over the airwaves to “Cuba expert” Richard Gott. The BBC did not mention Gott being a former KGB agent of influence, a claim that was broadcast by Sky News subsequently:
Which editor judged it acceptable to keep viewers in the dark about Gott’s background?
Doubtless some at the BBC were intoxicated as teenagers by the “revolutionary chic” of the man with a beard and a beret. I wonder how many wore blue jeans while sitting next to the Che Guevara posters in the bedroom walls? Did they know that wearing such items of clothing was punished in 1960s Cuba as a form of western ‘decadence’?
It’s true that broadcasters were not alone in whitewashing the monster’s record.
Jean-Claude Juncker said “the world has lost a man who was a hero for many.”
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) November 26, 2016
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn declared that “for all his flaws” Castro was “a champion of social justice.”
Ken Livingstone took a break from defending Hitler to heap praise on Castro.
The Canadian leader Justin Trudeau expressed “deep sorrow” at the death of a “larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century” albeit in one who was “a controversial figure.”
Controversial? Indeed so. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 Castro wrote to Nikita Khrushchev demanding a first nuclear strike on the United States. “However hard and terrible the solution might be, there is no other,” the dictator wrote.
This incitement to Armageddon might have merited a mention on the BBC but I didn’t hear any reference to it.
Instead we have the entirely false claim about how wonderful the health service is in Cuba. It seemed based on nothing more than an uncritical acceptance of the regime’s official statistics and Michael Moore’s propaganda claims.
Cuban hospitals are filthy (apart from the ones reserved for Communist officials or foreign tourists who can provide a lucrative income stream). There is a shortage of basic medicines. The infant mortality rate is kept down – by forced abortions where the foetus shows signs of complications.
Of course the mass murder for which Castro was responsible is extensively documented in the Cuba Archive. These show that 40,000 Cubans perished trying to flee Castro’s regime – in the treacherous waters of the Florida Straits.
I wonder how many of the BBC’s Castro fans would have liked to have endured listening to one of his four-hour long speeches? The prospect might sound pretty awful but it was as nothing to the genuine torture inflicted on thousands of Christians, gays and political opponents who were imprisoned when he was in charge.
Such is the BBC’s twisted view on reality that its coverage after the death of Margaret Thatcher gave greater scope to critics than its coverage of Castro.
For how much longer are licence fee payers expected to fund this poison?