April 23, 2018
The BBC allowed MI5, Britain’s intelligence service, to vet its applicants in a bid to stop potentially “subversive” people from influencing the broadcast material, new files have revealed.
The documents reveal the extent to which MI5 worked with the broadcaster to politically vet thousands of employees – except for “personnel such as chairwomen” – right until the early 1990s.
According to an account by Paul Reynolds, one of the first journalists to see the BBC vetting files, the broadcaster adopted a policy of “keep head down and stonewall all questions.” For five decades, the BBC had in fact not only failed to admit but in some cases also lied about the existence of political vetting, which could lead to applicants not being called in for appointments or promotions being blocked.
An interview by BBC Director General Sir Hugh Greene reveals how the vetting worked.
“We have a staff of 23,000 and in that community we have people of all descriptions, including what you call pansies” – the word had apparently been used by the reporter – “and also communists,”Greene said.
“But that’s none of my business. We don’t conduct an inquisition on people who join the BBC,” he added.
There was a “fear,” Reynolds wrote, “that ‘evilly disposed’ engineers might sabotage the network at a critical time, or that conspirators might discredit the BBC so that “the way could be made clear for a left-wing government.”
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
The first collaboration between the BBC and MI5 took place as early as 1933, when a BBC executive, Col Alan Dawnay, began exchanging information with the head of MI5,
Sir Vernon Kell, at Dawnay’s flat in Eaton Terrace, Chelsea. They deemed the meetings necessary as it was then the height of political radicalism and the BBC needed “assistance in regard to communist activities.”