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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January 2005, 15:04 GMT
Kurdish refugees

Editor: Tim Gardam (1990-93)

Kurdish refugee carries child
Many Kurdish refugees died in the mountains
Nomination: Tim nominated Charles Wheeler's reports on Saddam's brutal quashing of the Kurdish uprising at the end of the first Gulf War.

Tim mentioned one report where a Kurdish refugee mother accused the US of abandoning them to Saddam. The report was first broadcast on 15 April, 1991.

Click on the video link on the right-hand side of this page to watch

Tim said: "I think the most influential piece with which I was associated on Newsnight was that done by Charles Wheeler at the end of the first Gulf War.

"He, with producer Jim Gray, (now Editor of Channel 4 News) entered Northern Iraq via Iran to confront the flood of refugees fleeing from Saddam's counter attack against the Kurdish uprising.

"Newsnight had been noisily influential during the war itself, and in the run up to it. The programme became the focus for debate on the justification for the war, and had discovered new interviewees and perspectives across the Arab world, notably the redoubtable Iraqi Ambassador to Paris, Saddam's most plausible spokesman.

Kurdish mother
This young Kurdish mother accused the US of abandoning them
"There had been real debate within the Newsnight office about the justification for war and the intensity and seriousness of the argument was reflected in the energy of the programme on screen.

"During the war itself, Mark Urban, (who had just arrived on Newsnight from The Independent) changed the way news reported from the front, operating at one remove from the pooled, embedded correspondents, and hitching a lift to Kuwait with the Egyptian army.


"Peter Snow's sandpit had dominated TV military analysis, being copied internationally by other broadcasters, the last such occasion before the digital graphics revolution.

It remains the one piece of journalism that matters most to me looking back at my years in journalism
Tim Gardam
"However, the ending of the war was not as expected. As the programme anticipated winding down its coverage following the liberation of Kuwait, it became apparent that President Bush, (the elder), having urged the Iraqi people to rise up and overthrow Saddam, was going to do nothing to prevent Saddam butchering them.

"The Saudis apparently told the Americans that they were more concerned at the risks of a disintegrating Iraq than at the prospect of Saddam's murderous regime continuing.

"The reports coming out of Northern Iraq were terrible. The Iraqi air force - free to fly again - was massacring the Kurdish families as they fled their towns in the face of the advancing Iraqi soldiers.

"As President Bush took the cheering plaudits of his troops at a Patriot missile factory, the Americans were turning a blind eye to the potentially genocidal aftermath of their war.

Charles Wheeler
Charles Wheeler reporting on the plight of the Kurds
"Charles and Jim made their way on a single mountain road into Iraq from Iran with a relief convoy as a human sea of people came in the opposite direction. The conditions were appalling.

"In the midst of it, Charles found a mother who spoke English. Her eloquence was extraordinary. Charles said nothing and let her speak. He filed her words unedited.

"The report was filed as Newsnight, on three consecutive nights, led an angry and passionate debate at the dereliction of responsibility on the part of the West.

"The programme was reprimanded by the Director General for not being impartial. The viewers' response disagreed. John Simpson and Jeremy Paxman anchored the programme. But it was Wheeler's report that, we understood later, had made a significant impact in Government, especially with Linda Chalker, Minister of Overseas Development.

"The Newsnight report was sold to the US Networks. Within a day or so, a British initiative launched by John Major, persuaded the Americans to set up the "safe havens" in Iraqi Kurdistan, which, under UN protection, remain to this day.

"I do not know if the Newsnight report was in the end that influential, but it remains the one piece of journalism that matters most to me looking back at my years in journalism."

Tim Gardam
Tim Gardam is now Principal of St Anne's College, Oxford
Biog: Tim Gardam was elected Principal of St. Anne's College, Oxford, in March 2004.

His previous career was in broadcasting. He was Director of Television at Channel 4, where he was in charge of all programme output, from 1998 to 2003.

Before that, he was, for three years, one of the founding team at Channel 5, where he was responsible for News and Documentaries. He was a BBC journalist and broadcasting executive from 1977 to 1996.

He was editor of Panorama, editor of Newsnight, Head of Current Affairs Programmes for BBC Television and Radio and the creator of the history programme Timewatch.

In the past year, he was the author of the independent review of BBC digital radio, commissioned by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and a member of Lord Burns' panel reviewing the future of the BBC.

He is 48 and read English at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architecture.

Newsnight is broadcast every weekday at 10:30pm on BBC Two in the UK.

Watch the film on the plight of Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraq after the first Gulf War


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