As the American and British governments pointed to the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) to make a case for war with Iraq, some say the American media took the government at its word and didn’t dig deep enough to uncover the truth behind the intelligence claims. In Britain, a news report accusing the Blair government of inflating evidence of WMDs erupted into a scandal that shook the BBC, one of the most respected news organizations in the world, to its foundation. What can this battle between the British government and the BBC tell us about the dangers of political influence on independent journalism? Former BBC director general Greg Dyke, who left his post in the wake of the scandal, tells Bill Moyers that the government’s “public relations machine” embellished intelligence documents to make the case for war.
Next week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments to determine whether Vice President Cheney should be forced to produce documents revealing the energy industry insiders with which he consulted when writing the nation’s energy policy. The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, which brought the suit, allege that energy industry executives and lobbyists were in on the meetings while environmentalists were shut out. The resulting policy, some say, granted valuable favors to gas and oil industries while giving short shift to the environment and renewable resources. David Brancaccio sits down with Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope to discuss the energy task force, as well as get his thoughts on President Bush’s environmental record.
This Sunday, hundreds of thousands of women’s rights activists will band together at the nation’s capitol for the March for Women’s Lives. One woman standing up for women’s rights is Kavita Ramdas, president and CEO of Global Fund for Women, the largest foundation in the world focused exclusively on women and girls. Her work has supported women’s human rights around the world, addressing such critical issues as economic independence, girls’ access to education and violence against women. Ramdas sits down with David Brancaccio to talk about her work in women’s rights and about the impact of US aid policy on women around the world. You can access the original web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. A couple of items on the environment caught our eyes in recent days.
First, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that more than half of us in America breathe unhealthy air where we live.
And then, on Earth Day, the Bush administration answered those concerns by inviting oil industry officials to a meeting at the EPA to talk about ways to let the air get even dirtier. They discussed a plan that would temporarily permit more sulfur toxins in the air as a way to reduce the price of gasoline by a nickel a gallon. Letting sulfur levels rise will increase smog, which the EPA also notes has been associated with serious respiratory illness and asthma.
BRANCACCIO: All that brings us to a new twist on a venerable story. From the beginning, the Bush administration has accepted generous advice from the oil, gas, coal, and nuclear power companies. And, just days into office, Vice President Cheney held the first meeting of his secretive Energy Task Force. We still don’t know who was there.
But, you can’t say we haven’t tried to find out… or that we don’t have a sense of history. More than two years ago, in our very first broadcast of NOW, we carried a piece on those private meetings.
Vice President Cheney chaired the Energy Task Force, but nobody would say who was present or what they discussed, and all efforts to find out were stonewalled. At various points, members of Congress, the General Accounting Office and public interest groups who sought the information have all been told to get lost.
While the lower courts have sided with some of the efforts to get at the records, the White House has appealed the lawsuit brought by two of the organizations all the way to the Supreme Court. The Sierra Club, the big environmental group, and the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch will present their arguments when the high court hears the White House’s appeal next week.
One of the judges hearing the appeal will be Justice Antonin Scalia. The Sierra Club recently lost a push to have Justice Scalia disqualify himself from the case because of his duck hunting trip last winter with the defendant in the case: Vice President Cheney. Justice Scalia even rode with the Vice President aboard his government jet on the way to the hunt.
This, the Sierra Club argued, creates “an appearance of favoritism.” It’s an allegation Scalia hotly denied in memorandum in which he refused to recuse himself.
To date, the documents that have been released have only heightened suspicions over just what went on in those task force meetings. Among them, an email from an official at the department of energy asking an energy lobbyist, “If you were king, or Il Duce, what would you include in a national policy, especially with respect to natural gas issues?”
And then there are these: an intriguing map of Iraqi oilfields and a list of countries and businesses interested in developing those fields.
But there are still an estimated 100,000 pages that have not been released. And the Supreme Court will play a pivotal role in whether or not the public will ever have the chance to see any of them. The high court is expected to rule on the case at the end of June.
Joining me now is the man who’s led the effort to force the Energy Task Force to give up its secrets. Carl Pope is the executive director of the Sierra Club. And he’s the co-author of a book just out today on the Bush administration’s environmental policy. It’s called STRATEGIC IGNORANCE. Welcome to NOW.
POPE: Good to be here.
BRANCACCIO: What is this suit really about?
POPE: This suit is about the right of the American people to know what their own government is doing with their own futures. This suit is about what Abraham Lincoln talked about. Do we still have government of, by and for the people?
What the Bush White House is saying is that the office of the Vice Presidency is a huge vacuum cleaner which sucks up the public’s right to know. Because anything the Vice President wants to know about, you and I are not entitled to know about.
BRANCACCIO: But surely the executive branch should have the right to consult with whoever it wants without guys like you meddling in their affairs until there’s an actual policy articulated.
POPE: Well, the executive branch has the right to consult with anybody they want to. But the executive branch doesn’t have the right to sit down with private corporations and make policy, which is what they did here, and do so in secret.
BRANCACCIO: But, Carl, we kind of know already. It’s big energy companies, nuclear power industry, coal, oil from other documents that have already become public. That’s what the big finding’s going to be if you’re allowed to look into those meetings, right?
POPE: Well, no. I think the interesting question is we know what the oil companies told the administration. That’s not a secret. We know what the coal companies asked for. And we know they got it. We know what the nuclear industry’s agenda was. And it was met.
What we don’t know is what the administration gave up in return. We don’t know, for example, whether the oil industry was given advance information about the administration’s plans to invade Iraq which would have been very useful information for them. We don’t know whether there were other kinds of promises made and exchanged. Which is exactly why when government sits down with business, it has to sit down in public.
BRANCACCIO: So, if you’re successful at the Supreme Court, and I’m there when the documents are released, if this should ever happen, I’m really going to find a smoking gun in there?
POPE: Well, the administration has certainly spent an awful lot of energy to conceal this. And it is possible they’ve just done so because it’s a recreational habit of the Vice President to operate in secrecy and maybe that’s all he’s doing. But even so, we need to establish the principle that even if you have nothing to hide, the American people are still entitled to know what their own government is doing.
BRANCACCIO: But assure me, Carl, that this isn’t just a partisan effort. You did see critics of the Clinton Administration make the same complaints against Hillary Rodham Clinton’s healthcare task force—
BRANCACCIO: —not a secret.
POPE: —they were given the documents. They got access to that information. And I think they were right to make those complaints. I don’t think that the Clinton Administration had any more right to sit down with private parties in secrecy than the Bush Administration. Now, we went through that battle. And it’s very ironic the very people who in that era insisted on the public’s right to know are now the advocates of the government’s right to secrecy.
BRANCACCIO: It’s just a hard time in history. I mean, we are at war. There’s a war on terror. And the more information that a government shares with the world, the more ammunition, opponents, and not just political opponents, may have against our country.
POPE: Well, one of the examples of that, I suppose, is there’s a former Army Ranger in northern Virginia whose community is threatened by a natural gas pipeline.
BRANCACCIO: Carl, I actually remember this story because I actually went to Virginia with a crew from this very program. When the guy wanted to find out if it was going to run through his property, he was essentially told, I believe, that it was a national security issue. “We can’t tell you.”
POPE: Now, the fact is one that natural gas pipeline is built, everybody in the world is going to know where it is on a satellite photo. So, the only point of concealing the map from this Army Ranger is to prevent him from organizing his neighbors. It’s not going to stop al Qaeda.
And if the government comes forward and says, “Look, there are certain documents that were part of the Energy Task Force which relate to national security,” the government has the right then to keep those documents secret. But in federal court when the government said, “We can’t give them up. We haven’t looked at them yet.” They have just cast a huge shadow over everything and said, “It’s all secret because the Vice President was interested in it.” I mean, that really is the heart of their legal case. Is if the Vice President is interested, it becomes a secret.
BRANCACCIO: What am I to make of this whole thing of— that you’ve been pressing very hard on that— you don’t like the fact that the Vice President of the United States went on a hunting trip with a lot of other people with one of the Justices of the Supreme Court as we were just mentioning?
POPE: I don’t have any problem whatsoever with the fact that the Vice President went on a hunting trip with one of the Supreme Court Justices. I have a problem with the fact that that Supreme Court Justice, having taken that hunting trip and having acknowledged in his 21-page response that he is a good personal friend of the Vice President then said, “And there is no possible appearance here that this friendship might influence my decision in this case.”
I have no problem with the Vice President hunting. And I actually don’t have any problem with Justice Scalia going hunting. But when I go and hang out with somebody who has a case before me, I’m no longer clearly an objective, impartial judge. And I should step aside and let the other eight Supreme Court Justices who didn’t shoot ducks with the Vice President figure this one out.
BRANCACCIO: Where are we in 2004 with the state of the Earth in this election year? I just saw the President this week in my home state of Maine at a wetland reserve talking about the fact that he thinks, on net, under his policies we’ll have more wetlands in America than— rather than fewer.
POPE: Where we are, unfortunately, is for the first time since the first Earth Day, we’re going backwards. For the first time since the Clean Water Act was passed and enacted under President Nixon, for the first time, EPA reported last year that America’s waterways are getting dirtier. And for the first time since Teddy Roosevelt became President back in 1900, we have an administration which has stripped from protected status more land than it has protected. In fact, they have de-protected — I don’t have the verb for that — as much land as there is in Texas and Oklahoma. 135 million acres of the American landscape which previous Presidents and Congresses had protected this administration has stripped of protected status and opened up to exploitation.
BRANCACCIO: The Bush Administration often talks about common sense. Applying common sense when it comes to environmental regulation. This week there’s an area where it seems common sense might apply. Gas prices are going up rapidly.
So, one idea is ease rules for how much sulphur might be in the gas. And that might hurt the air a little bit. But it would bring the price of gasoline down. Is that an application of common sense?
POPE: I don’t think that’s an application of common sense because the premises aren’t true. Gasoline prices aren’t going up because we’re taking sulphur out of gasoline. They’re going up because OPEC is restricting the supply.
Putting more sulphur in the gasoline not only makes the air dirty temporarily, it also damages the catalytic converters. So, the drivers who’ve paid a lot of money for the pollution control equipment in their car for a short term potential and very small decrease in the spike would, in fact, be damaging the effectiveness of their catalytic converters long term.
This is a classic example of not solving the problem. We know what the problem is. There’s too much demand for too little oil and too few oil producers with too many monopolies. Now, you can go at that problem a half dozen ways in a manner that will solve it long term.
You could, for example, make cars and trucks and SUVs more efficient. But instead of doing that, the administration takes a short term fix that won’t work and that will cost drivers more money in the long term than they’ll save in the short term. That’s actually classic Bush Administration. Save a little money now. Pay a lot of money tomorrow.
BRANCACCIO: Are we being fair, though? I mean, I was just seeing a press release on Earth Day from the military, the Department of Defense, calling itself a good steward of America’s environmental heritage. I was surprised that the department said they’ve dedicated nearly $4 billion a year to environmental programs.
They talk about their work on the Red-cockaded Woodpecker preservation. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say Red-cockaded Woodpecker during primetime on public television these days. But the Fairy Shrimp they’re doing well on. But, in fact, you do have agents of government below the level of maybe the White House doing their part, it seems, in incremental ways.
POPE: Well, absolutely. In fact, the Defense Department had become in the 1980s and the 1990s very good at environmental stewardship and very proud of the fact. But the Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a very interesting story. Oh, in March, a month before we went into Iraq, the Defense Department, the Pentagon, went up on Capitol Hill and insisted that the military needed an exemption from the Endangered Species Act.
And they got one. And the explanation they gave was they handed a fact sheet to Congress which said that at Fort Stewart, Georgia where five percent of the world’s remaining Red-cockaded Woodpeckers nest, protecting those nesting sites had interfered with training realism. Shortly after they got this exemption, the Third Army, which trains at Fort Stewart, went into Najaf and Karbala and was given instructions to not damage the Tomb of Ali, not damage the Tomb of Hussein, not damage any of the oil fields, not damage any of the villages.
Third Army fought superbly. It looked like training that way in Fort Stewart had helped them.
And I went online and I found a peer-reviewed Army study which talked about the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and training realism at Fort Stewart, Georgia. It was the study on which the fact sheet was based except the crucial paragraph in the study said protecting the Red-cockaded Woodpecker had enhanced training realism. And the Pentagon Congressional Relations Office just took the word “enhanced,” substituted the word “impaired” and gave it to members of Congress as an argument for getting an exemption. The fact is, the Pentagon knows how to live like a good environmental steward. This administration doesn’t want to let the Pentagon do that.
BRANCACCIO: So here we are, Carl. You’ve sketched out a pretty bleak view of where we stand with our air, with our seas, with our earth. You’ve been doing this a long time. Yet, look at the environment. I was— you had a book that came out in 1981 about hazardous waste. All these years dedicated to making this a cleaner place. It’s not getting cleaner. You ever think of just going out in a canoe and reflecting rather than continuing to fight this battle?
POPE: Well, I certainly think about going out in a canoe and reflecting. It’s a good thing to do. But actually from 1970 to 2000, if you’d asked me these questions I’d been able to tell you, “Look, we’ve cleaned up about 1/3 of the hazards.”
The air was getting cleaner. The water got cleaner according to EPA every single year. Blood lead levels in American children are down 93 percent from what they were when the Clean Air Act passed.
What is dismaying on this Earth Day is that in only 3 1/2 years, this administration has managed to take 30 years of bipartisan, common sense progress and put us into reverse. But I’m not looking back at the last 30 years and feeling depressed. I’m looking back at the last 24 months and feeling depressed.
BRANCACCIO: The book is called STRATEGIC IGNORANCE. Carl Pope, Sierra Club, thank you very much.
POPE: Thank you, David. It was a pleasure.
ANNOUNCER: There’s more to come on NOW. Women around the world face issues of life and death.
RAMDAS: Religious extremism, the cut back in funds and the escalation of military violence and war and conflict has created an almost untenable situation for the world’s women.
MOYERS: We turn now to the political earthquake that occurred when the BBC duked it out with the British government over its reporting on weapons of mass destruction. This battle of titans shook the foundations of the world’s largest news-gathering organizations and almost brought down the government of America’s strongest ally in the invasion of Iraq.
It all began after Saddam Hussein’s fall. The BBC quoted an unnamed senior British expert on biological and chemical weapons who reportedly said Tony Blair’s government had “sexed up” an intelligence dossier to exaggerate the case for war. Here’s an excerpt from an explosive radio report by the BBC’s Andrew Gilligan:
GILLIGAN: Downing Street, our source says, ordered a week before publication, ordered it to be sexed up, to be more exciting and ordered more facts to be, to be discovered.
MOYERS: The report made it seem that Tony Blair who’s approval ratings had already plummeting over both the war and domestic affairs — had been lying.
SMITH: The Prime Minister can’t pretend that this is just a simple and small issue. The whole credibility of his government rests on his clearing up these charges. The truth is that nobody believes a word now that the Prime Minister is saying now.
MOYERS: Now Blair’s ratings were in a nosedive. The government turned on the BBC in fury and ordered a search for the source of Gilligan’s story. The prime suspect proved to be Dr. David Kelly, a respected scientist who had been in Iraq as a weapons inspector back in the ’90s.
KELLY: The Iraqis have been fully cooperative.
MOYERS: A few days after Kelly was called to testify before a committee in Parliament, he was found dead near his home. The government appointed a prominent judge, Lord Hutton, to investigate the whole affair. He found that Kelly had committed suicide, that Andrew Gilligan’s report of the “sexed up” dossier was unfounded and he exonerated the Blair government.
The BBC was rocked. Andrew Gilligan resigned. Forced from their jobs were BBC chairman Gavyn Davies and Director General Greg Dyke.
Hundreds of BBC staff took to the streets to protest their departure and what they saw as government efforts to curb journalistic independence.
We listened to our fellow journalists across the pond and we have brought back Greg Dyke. Welcome to NOW.
MOYERS: You said in a speech, “If Iraq proved anything, it was that the BBC cannot afford to mix patriotism and journalism.” You wouldn’t get away with saying that in America.
DYKE: No, but I think that’s quite sad. I think that that’s something you should question about your society, personally. I don’t think it is the job of a journalistic broadcast organization to wave the flag and the patriotism rules or what else.
I think it limits what your journalism is about. And I mean, one of the things I’d be quite interested in knowing what’s happening here now is how many of those organizations that wave the flag are now they’re seeing more and more evidence are saying, “Well, maybe we got it wrong.”
MOYERS: Why has this story of the weapons of mass destruction been so difficult for journalists?
DYKE: I have no doubt that the security services believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Whether there were weapons of mass destruction that can be fired in 45 minutes that could land from Iraq into Cypress, I think there are grave doubts about. But in a situation where nobody’s found any weapons of mass destruction, we’re all open to question aren’t we? Journalists and politicians alike — why did we not question harder?
MOYERS: The government was scathing in its criticism. I mean, it not only attacked Gilligan, it attacked the management you and your colleagues there. Why this intensity of attack? They didn’t give up. They didn’t just issue a criticism.
DYKE: I think you have to look at the personalities involved. Andrew Gilligan was, prior to this report, was one of our journalists who was reporting from Iraq. The government of the day, the Blair government, didn’t want us to stay in Iraq and report.
They complained bitterly that our reporting wasn’t fair because we were being controlled by the Iraqis. Which I mean, just wasn’t true. But, you know governments at a time of war want to control what’s broadcast. That is not the job of the BBC.
MOYERS: You defended your reporter Andrew Gilligan; you personally defended him. Had you seen the report?
DYKE: I’d read the report obviously. I’d listened to it; it’s a radio report. I’d listened to the report. But the attack on us was so much of a widespread, and just on that report. And then what we were attacked for was having an anti-war agenda. That was the attack.
MOYERS: And this gave them the ammunition to broaden the front?
DYKE: Yeah. Now, actually if you go back today and look what Andrew Gilligan said, and you take it apart, bit by bit, I think what we now know is that most of what he said was right.
MOYERS: He says that. He says, “Most of my story was right.” But, of course in such a time, that’s not enough. Is it, for journalists?
DYKE: Well, it’s not enough for most of it to be right. It should all be right. But, he was reporting a source of somebody who had been involved in writing the dossier. And who had told him that there was deep concern inside the security services the way their information was being used. Well, that’s commonplace now, isn’t it? That’s what happening over here, the same discussion.
MOYERS: In this country, we’ve suffered in journalism considerably from, you know, lying journalists. Stephen Glass of THE NEW REPUBLIC. Jayson Blair, THE NEW YORK TIMES. Now the fellow Kelly from USA TODAY. Do you think the British government was trying to make Andrew Gilligan into a Jayson Blair, a Stephen Glass?
DYKE: Well, again, go back to what Gilligan did. Gilligan reported what Dr. Kelly had told him.
MOYERS: The scientist.
DYKE: The scientist. He reported what he told him. British law allows a broadcast organization, a journalistic organization, to report that as long as it’s accurate and fair and it needs to give the other side the opportunity to reply. Now, the Hutton Report implied that, no, that wasn’t the case. You had to have corroboration.
Well, your chances of getting corroboration from a — when you’re actually talking about a security source — are nil. And yet what was raised by Dr. Kelly needed to be raised and needed to be put into public agenda. Now that we might not have done it as well as we should have done is not the point. The point is what can Dr. Kelly said needed to be put into the public agenda. It was part of the proper public debate about the war.
MOYERS: Was it Dr. Kelly who used the term “sexed up”? Or was it your reporter?
DYKE: I think what was established was our reporter put the term to him and he then used it. In other words, so you would say, “It was sexed up?” “Yes, it was sexed up.”
MOYERS: Do you think that the government would have been less affective in its attack if Dr. Kelly, the source, had not ultimately taken his life? Did that add a drama?
DYKE: The story would have disappeared. Yeah, the story would have, I mean, it would have been a pretty big row. But, the story would have gone away.
MOYERS: My sense is you may have saved Tony Blair in the sense that when the government came down on you so hard. And it was shown that there had been some mismanagement or some not quite accurate reporting. That this gave him a life raft.
DYKE: Except the public didn’t believe it. If you look at all the figures, the public didn’t believe the Hutton Report.
MOYERS: They believed you?
DYKE: Yeah. They believed — they heard the evidence themselves. This was an inquiry that was done in open public. And they didn’t believe what Hutton then said.
MOYERS: Polls show that?
DYKE: Oh, yes. Overwhelmingly.
MOYERS: Anything happen since then to your viewership? Your listenership? Your audience?
DYKE: Well, the BBC’s trust ratings have remained exactly the same. The government’s have gone down. So, they’ve been going but I don’t think you can put that the government’s have been going down for quite some considerable time. I mean, Iraq has been a real issue in terms of trust for Tony Blair.
MOYERS: So what is your own journalistic assessment? You’re free, now independent to say so. What is your own journalistic assessment? Did the American intelligence “sex up” and the British intelligence “sex up” the weapons of mass destruction? Or did Blair and Bush politically embellish intelligence to make a case for war? What’s your own judgment?
DYKE: I suppose my own judgment is that governments increasingly run public relations machines to try to influence the public that their views are the right views. And I think in these circumstances, the public relations machine sexed up the documents.
MOYERS: The White House and 10 Downing Street?
DYKE: Yeah. I, well, I don’t know but in terms of this particular dossier that we were involved in, yes, I have no doubt that the dossier was embellished or now, let’s be fair. Everything that made the case for war was included. And everything that made the case against war wasn’t.
MOYERS: The implication of that is that Blair and Bush made bloody commitments on the basis of, if not false, then unconfirmed evidence.
DYKE: Well, I think governments inevitably try to put across the best case for their policy. And that’s what they were doing in this case. Now, whether you should do that with intelligence documents I think you have the discussion. There is an argument that if you’re going to put out that sort of dossier it should have included the case for and the case against.
MOYERS: In a war, what is the role of an independent press?
DYKE: It can’t be to just accept the basis for going to war, per se. It has to be to question that.
MOYERS: Is it’s obligation to put on those who do question it?
DYKE: Yes, I mean, again I read some statistics. Here of the number of pundits, I don’t know if you knew, who were used during the war. The number who were, who argued against the war were five or six out of hundreds and hundreds. Now in Britain, we were putting on people who argued quite consistently against the war.
MOYERS: And you were accused of being unpatriotic for that work? Or does your audience accept that? Does it want it?
DYKE: The audience is no problem. The politicians are the problem, as one saw. I mean, the audience, I think, are used to that. They expect it. The politicians in those circumstances think you’re unpatriotic. I was here a bit during the war. And I was quite shocked by a lot of the reporting here during the war. It seemed to me that a lot of your commercial broadcasters had abandoned impartiality.
MOYERS: Yeah, some put on flags and wore them. Had flags behind them on the set.
DYKE: Sure. Now that would have been unthinkable in the UK. Unthinkable.
Remember there was a million people took to the streets of London to protest, you know, the war. This was a society completely split down the middle. And the BBC, in those circumstances had the duty to try to report both views. Now, of course the government of the day doesn’t like that.
MOYERS: I read the transcript of the interview that your David Dimbleby did last year before the war in Iraq of our Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Dimbleby was polite but he was persistent. Very tough questions. And as you can read from the transcript, Rumsfeld, he wasn’t used to this kind of tough and tenacious questioning from an interviewer. Is that normal for the BBC?
DYKE: Oh yes, there was no doubt about that.
MOYERS: I mean —
DYKE: I mean by our standards, Dimbleby’s interview of Rumsfeld was an ordinary interview. By Rumsfeld’s standards, by his people’s standards, they didn’t think it was an ordinary interview at all. They weren’t used to that sort of interview. They weren’t used to people questioning Rumsfeld’s role in Iraq before he was in government, and all those sorts of things. I mean, it’s really— it’s just a different approach to reporting.
MOYERS: But how do you explain it? It is different. But how do explain that he rolls over his interviewers in this country.
DYKE: I think you’d have to explain that to me rather than me to you. We are still quite surprised, I mean in Britain, the daily, the day-to-day questioning of politicians on radio and on television, particularly on radio, is tougher, I think, than it is here.
MOYERS: Do you sense a shadow falling across the future? I ask that because last year in this country during the war, the largest radio group in America actually used the air waves to organize pro-war rallies. That same radio group wants to come to the UK.
DYKE: I think if you come to the UK you have to live by UK regulation and UK rules and they’re different from here. You know, Sky News—
DYKE: Murdoch’s organization is a mile away from Fox News. Sky News is a perfectly good, perfectly well-produced, well-run, impartial broadcaster which I don’t think you could say the same of Fox News. So I think it depends on the society and the rules that you have in that society.
MOYERS: But isn’t there a communications bill before Parliament right now that would allow U.S. media companies to own whole chunks of electronic media?
DYKE: Yeah. There is— No, it’s gone through. It got passed.
MOYERS: It did get passed?
DYKE: Yeah. It got passed.
MOYERS: Don’t you think a change in standards follows that? Globalization equals Americanization equals dumbing down?
DYKE: I’m not sure. Well, everybody in every society is claiming that the media is dumbing down. I mean, the BBC gets accused of dumbing down all the time. Actually, I did a long analysis on it. Took our schedules from one month in ’61, ’71, ’81 and ’91 and 2001. Wanted just to demonstrate that it’s just not true.
I mean, the danger is people getting old who think it was better life… was better than when what they were young. And they don’t want to take on board new tastes, new, you know, of younger people. But I was pretty strongly against allowing American media companies to own big commercial media companies in the UK broadcasters.
First of all, it seemed to me it was ridiculous that we should give that away while a European media organization can’t own a station in Cincinnati. Talk about a whole network. Secondly, I think there was always a danger, yep. I think there was always a danger, but actually in the end, it’s harder to convince a Disney of the imperatives of a broadcaster in the UK than it is if it’s owned in the UK. So I always think there was a doubt about whether that should go through.
MOYERS: Last year, during the war, the BBC television news that PBS stations carried enjoyed something like a 27 percent, 30 percent, in some markets 40 percent, increase in viewership.
DYKE: Yeah. And the same in radio.
MOYERS: Radio, too? How do you explain that?
DYKE: Uh-huh. I was getting e-mails and messages in London for a lot of people in America saying, “Thank you. Thank you for explaining or making some attempt to explain what is happening.” That’s the job of the BBC. That’s what it’s there for. That’s why every so often it will end up in enormous bust-ups with government.
I remember us going out for dinner here with one of your, I won’t say which one, but with a news organization from one of the major networks. And they said “if we’ve got a future, if we’ve got a future.” And that was inconceivable 20 years ago, that the person who runs a major network is questioning whether there’s a future for news.
Now the same thing is beginning to happen to the commercial sector in Britain. And that makes the BBC more important, not less important. ‘Cause our funding, I mean, it’s always difficult trying to explain our funding in the United States ’cause people can’t believe that you can have public money too, you know, we charge everybody 121 pounds a year to have a television set. And that goes to the BBC. And yet we then challenge the government on a whole range of issues that a commercial broadcaster would never challenge them on.
MOYERS: What intrigues me is that that money does not come from the government. Seventeen percent of public television money comes from the government, but the license fee on a television set in Britain, which goes to the BBC, is not government money. That’s consumer money, right?
DYKE: No. We collected, the BBC, I say we — The BBC collects the money. The government sets the level. That’s all.
MOYERS: In the wake of the Hutton Report and the crisis last year, is the government going to try to pull the plug on that license fee?
DYKE: I doubt it. I doubt it. I think the government ended up a bit shaken by what happened in the sense that while Hutton came out down very much on their side, they didn’t get the support of the population of Britain who supported the BBC. My guess is the government recognizes the importance of the BBC to Britain. Recognizes it’s important in terms of both high culture but also popular culture. And will continue to support it for many years to come.
I mean, the problem the BBC faces is a more organized commercial opposition who want to push the BBC into being a much smaller organization. And yet this is the time when you need well-funded, we were the biggest collector, we’re the biggest collector of televised news in the world, the BBC.
It is very important that the BBC remain well-funded and able to continue that role. But there are inevitably commercial pressures. Pressures from commercial organizations against that. I happen to believe that what we saw at the time of my, you call it resignation. When I left the BBC, what you saw was an awful lot of people in Britain objecting to the way they thought the BBC was being treated by the government. ‘Cause the BBC represents them. And I think if you can sustain and retain that, then the threat doesn’t matter. I think it’s about the trust from the public. I mean, if the BBC hasn’t got the trust of the public in Britain, there’s no point having the BBC.
MOYERS: Greg Dyke, thank you for joining us on NOW.
DYKE: Thank you.
BRANCACCIO: Sunday in Washington, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather on the mall, calling for the advancement of reproductive rights for women. It’s the first major pro-choice rights rally in the capital in 12 years.
Here to talk to us about women’s rights around the world is Kavita Ramdas. She is president and CEO of the non-profit organization the Global Fund for Women, which gives grants to poor and disadvantaged women in 160 countries.
Kavita Ramdas, thank you so much for joining us on NOW.
RAMDAS: Thank you, David. It’s a pleasure.
BRANCACCIO: It’s a major challenge you set out for yourself. I mean poor women in developing countries are probably the least powerful group on earth. Can a trickle of dollars either from groups like yours or the U.S. government really bring about significant change?
RAMDAS: Yes. Yes they can. I think there is probably nothing that can be leveraged better than investing in women. The abilities that women have and the kinds of contributions that they have made to fundamentally transforming their society are now so recognized that even organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are talking about the fact that investing in girls education is perhaps the single most leveraged investment you can make for the social political and economic development of a developing country.
BRANCACCIO: Well, what follows from education?
RAMDAS: Well, in India there was a study some years ago that measured the increase in a child’s upper arm circumference. Which is how you measure malnutrition. You can literally measure decreases in malnutrition or more robust upper arms in skinny children by tracing— correlating it to an additional year of the mother’s education.
So one additional year of a women having stayed in school, having gotten an education for one additional year literally correlates to decreases in her child being sick and her child being unwell to increases in the likelihood of those children going to school. Staying in school. Those girls, the children of mothers who’ve been educated get married at later ages, have children at later ages.
I think the experience of the Global Fund for Women tells us that whether you’re talking about places like Cambodia where now women have taken on a major challenge to stop the trafficking in women, which is the sale of women across borders. Or whether you’re talking about Uzbekistan where a remarkable women physician has taken on the environmental effects of toxic waste in the Ural Sea. Or whether you’re talking about young girls in Uganda who are teaching their elders about the health damage that is caused by female genital mutilation.
I think a very small amount of money to give women voice in their society — not to magically change the conditions, the immediate conditions but to give them voice in those societies provides us with a unique opportunity to have them hold their governments, their private sectors, their businesses accountable in a way that has never been experienced before. And that is what I think clearly leverages change.
BRANCACCIO: Help me understand the connection between the taxes I pay here in America and the health and well-being of women in far away places.
RAMDAS: Well, I think one can assume safely that when the United States is making investments in women, you can really see those outcomes have been positive. Not only for women themselves, but for their families and for their communities.
Unfortunately the war on terror that we’ve dealt with almost three years masks another very unprecedented war on women. And it has been a war that has gone without much recognition in the United States. It’s a war that I think women are on the front lines of. And are experiencing in a variety of different ways.
BRANCACCIO: That’s a heavy word, Kavita, a war. I mean, no one’s declared war on international women here in the United States.
RAMDAS: No, that’s true. There hasn’t been a formal declaration. On the other hand when the United States government cuts $34 million from the premier United Nations family planning association —
BRANCACCIO: This is the UN Population Fund.
RAMDAS: The UN Population Fund, which now has $34 million less of critical resources, at a time when the world’s women are now most vulnerable to issues like the growing pandemic of HIV/AIDS. Over 20 million women worldwide are infected with HIV-AIDS. And women are the fastest growing population of new infections.
And when the United States government re-imposed the global gag rule. And what it essentially means is that no US foreign assistance to health providers in other countries can actually go to a provider who does anything that in any way, shape, or form relates to abortion.
It creates a situation in which women are made much more vulnerable and much less healthy. And it also creates a situation in which children are at risk.
BRANCACCIO: But in your work, you must have to acknowledge that many Americans feel very, very strongly about issues involving contraception. About using their tax money to fund abortions. That has to be part of the equation.
RAMDAS: Certainly people have religious concerns or particular beliefs that they may play out in their own lives.
But I think when you look at the history of the United States influence on the rest of the world, and I certainly grew up in a country whose Constitution is influenced by the United States, the primary and overriding commitment is one to freedom of choice.
BRANCACCIO: Sometimes one worries that the focus of abortion in these issues of women’s health and about the status of women abroad sometimes obscures the real issue. In other words taking more holistic approach to where women are in society. And really their economic well being.
RAMDAS: Absolutely. I think the — I think what we’ve learned is that there’s no way you can separate the multitude of factors.
An example Ethiopian statistics today. 13.2 million Ethiopians live below the starvation point. When you have five to six children on average as a young Ethiopian mother before the age of 20 one of the reasons abortions happen is because mothers cannot bear to watch their grown children, their living children dying of starvation. Because they cannot possibly feed another mouth.
And this is what we have firsthand information from women on the ground. So do you work on economic opportunity for those poor women? Do you work on food aid? Do you also make sure that if they are having abortions using wires and needles and herbs and poison that they can do so in a way that doesn’t jeopardize their health. Otherwise you have a situation of six orphaned children who don’t have anybody to take care of them.
And I think that’s where it’s very important to look at these things together and holistically.
BRANCACCIO: Well, I was trying to crunch the numbers. And I — you see $34 million that the US is not sending to the UN Population Fund. And then I see that you, your fund, can give out, what, about a million dollars a year for this particular type of thing. There seems to be a gap.
RAMDAS: There’s a huge gap. And I think it’s a gap that we couldn’t possibly hope to replace only with private philanthropy. Which is why I think advocacy to raise awareness about this issue, both in the United States and in other parts of the world is so desperately needed. The march that you referred to a few minutes ago is one example—
BRANCACCIO: In Washington—
RAMDAS: —of that kind in Washington, is one example of that kind of advocacy. What’s striking about this march is that women from many other countries are coming to join US women in this effort. Because as a woman in Afghanistan said to me a few months ago, and I was traveling in Kabul, nothing can change for us over here, despite our best efforts, if we don’t have a policy in the United States that also supports women’s rights.
BRANCACCIO: I want to ask you about a Bush Administration policy priority. There is an emphasis on abstinence as an approach to, for instance, the AIDS crisis. And a de-emphasis, for instance, on the use of condoms as an approach to this. How do you parse that situation?
RAMDAS: Well, I love to use the Ugandan example that President Bush likes to quote. But I like to tell it because the Global Fund has the experience of working with 46 different women’s organization inside Uganda. Uganda’s famous ABC campaign.
BRANCACCIO: A is for abstinence.
RAMDAS: Abstain. B is for be faithful. And C is for condoms.
BRANCACCIO: So ABC approach.
RAMDAS: The ABC approach.
BRANCACCIO: Now, in the Ugandan example I was hearing a quote just this week from President Bush’s anti-AIDS czar. And he was saying that condoms, quote, “really have not been very effective in this fight” against this scourge.
RAMDAS: So, let me share with you the stories from the Ugandan women’s groups. The ABC campaign in Uganda was used as a collective mobilizing tool by women’s organization across Uganda. And they didn’t use abstinence in this sort of puritanical or even moralistic sense. They used abstinence much more like the play LYSISTRATA.
BRANCACCIO: LYSISTRATA, the Greek drama in which— what happened with the women?
RAMDAS: Women succeeded in abstaining and, therefore, getting their husbands to end the war. In the Ugandan case, infidelity and the fact that men have multiple sexual partners and were, therefore, infecting wives often without their knowledge.
BRANCACCIO: And I read that the rate of AIDS infection is particularly high among married women in Africa.
RAMDAS: Absolutely. But also in other countries. India right now has a significant increase in married women rates of HIV. But the Ugandan women use the ABC model that President Bush likes to quote as an incredibly effective organizing tool. It was not used in the sense of sort of— Christian abstaining from the pleasures from sex.
But, rather, entire groups of women in villages would get together and talk to their husbands and say, “All of us, collectively, none of us are going to be having sex with you. Not tonight. Not tomorrow night. Not for 15 nights.” And this was then combined with a sex education program that was remarkable.
It involved adolescent girls, young men, husbands, grandfathers, uncles. Brought them in to talk about sex, power and changes in sexual behavior. That has brought the incidence of HIV-AIDS infection in Uganda down to six percent today.
BRANCACCIO: It was extraordinarily higher.
RAMDAS: It was close to 20 percent of— in 1988, it was close to 20 percent. So, yes, abstinence can certainly be used as a tool. But I think it was not being used as a way of saying, “We will not have sex.” What the women then used it to do was to say, “We will have sex with you if you use a condom. We will have sex with you if you use a condom and stop fooling around.”
And I think those are examples of us being able to consider how you need a multi-prong strategy. And women certainly understand that very, very— in a very direct and non-academic way. And that’s how the women of Uganda, supported by their government, were, I think, as successful as they have been.
BRANCACCIO: Well, Kavita, you’re certainly taken some risks. I guess what— your husband is a Muslim and you grew up in a prominent Hindu family. How does that play out in your life?
RAMDAS: I certainly am Hindu but I don’t think being Hindu defines me. I think being Indian defined me.
And I think in many countries post the colonial experience the nationalist experience was much more defining than any religious identification.
My husband is from Pakistan. And he also comes from a family that has been very active in non-conventional and nontraditional approaches to change in that country. I think my parents were a little taken aback. My father was in particular a little taken aback.
But our families supported us, David, so in some ways we’re not really a Romeo and Juliet Bollywood story. I do think however that our experience, just in terms of how difficult it has been to travel to each others countries, to have our daughter identify herself as being both Indian and Pakistani and American she always reminds us. And American. Has been something that has helped both of us open our eyes to the realities and being able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.
BRANCACCIO: Well, Kavita Ramdas, thank you very much.
RAMDAS: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW, that big prescription drug bill Congress voted on in the dead of night. Seniors could be in for a big surprise.
BURTON: I think when they find out the benefits they’re getting for the cost they’re paying, I think they’re gonna be very upset.”
ANNOUNCER: Money, politics and healthcare for the Medicare generation. Next week on NOW.
And connect to NOW WITH BILL MOYERS Online at pbs.org.
Read what the Supreme Court will hear about Dick Cheney’s secret Energy Task Force. Find out more about the controversy surrounding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Learn about the impact of U.S. foreign aid policies on women around the world.
Connect to NOW at pbs.org.
MOYERS: Finally, we want to clear up some confusion we created in a story that we broadcast on March 26th, entitled “Private Agenda.”
We reported that after the Congress had twice rejected the idea of using taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools, the Secretary of Education awarded $77 million from his discretionary fund to groups that support using taxpayer money for private education.
That’s all true. But along with a lack of clarity in some of our reading and writing we messed up some of our arithmetic for which we’ve been dutifully called to the principal’s office.
For example, we said that the group K-12, which runs internet-based home schools, received $14 million from the discretionary fund. We should have said the grants went to the virtual schools that K-12 administers.
When we talked about the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options and its $500,000 grant, we said “So far, the most visible evidence of this money is very nice, high rent office space at the Watergate, glossy brochures, a fancy Web site, and sponsored dinners.”
That organization wrote us to say that all of that grant money went to their grassroots efforts to inform parents about opportunities for their children.
We also reported the Education Leaders Council, or ELC, received $15.9 million in grants from the Secretary’s discretionary fund. While their grants did indeed come from that fund, we missed the small print. It was added at the eleventh hour to a three thousand page omnibus spending bill that Congress did approve, authorizing in this case $9.9 million dollars for ELC.
And, finally, an additional $2.5 million that we said went to ELC actually went to a program it had started. The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence received $40 million, not the $35 million we reported.
The groups we mentioned are open and active supporters of what they call school choice. However, three of them wrote us after the broadcast to insist that they did not use their grants to support work on programs Congress has refused to fund, like those vouchers for private and religious schools.
We accept their explanation and where we were wrong, we will give ourselves a rap on the knuckles.
You can see their letters, and our responses, on our Web site at pbs.org.
That’s it for NOW. David Brancaccio and I will be back next week. I’m Bill Moyers. Thanks for joining us.
This transcript was entered on August 19, 2015.