Heroism “Too Positive” for BBC

From the July 2007 Trumpet Print Edition

British Pvt. Johnson Beharry, 27, has a story so inspiring that the bbc commissioned a 90-minute documentary to tell it. It is so inspiring, in fact, that the bbc then decided, in the middle of the project, to kill it.

Beharry served with the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment in the Iraqi town of al-Amarah. In May 2004, he drove a Warrior-tracked armored vehicle into heavy enemy fire and rescued an ambushed foot patrol in Iraq. As Private Beharry rescued the soldiers, multiple rocket-propelled grenades damaged his 30-ton Warrior, knocking out his radio communications. He drove through the ambush with his injured crew while leading five other Warriors to safety. He then extracted his wounded crew from the vehicle while being exposed to more enemy fire.

One month later, Private Beharry proved his valor a second time when his platoon was ambushed while driving through al-Amarah. He was driving the lead Warrior vehicle, and once again rocket-propelled grenades nailed his vehicle. The rockets incapacitated Beharry’s commander and caused injuries to several of the crew. Private Beharry himself sustained serious head injuries. Despite this, he took control of the vehicle and drove out of the ambush before he lost consciousness.

For these two acts of gallantry, Pvt. Johnson Beharry became the youngest living recipient of the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for valor. He was the first person to receive it since 1982 and the first living recipient since 1965.

Something about this story made the bbc so nervous that, in the middle of the project’s development, it pulled the plug on the program. What caused such anxiety? In the words of London’s Telegraph, the bbc “feared it would alienate members of the audience opposed to the war in Iraq” (April 7).

A source close to the project said, “The bbc… began to have second thoughts last year as the war in Iraq deteriorated. It felt it couldn’t show anything with a degree of positivity about the conflict” (ibid.).

The episode provided an astonishing peek into a media culture absolutely bent on reporting only negative news about events in Iraq and feeding the public’s negative perceptions about the war.

The media have enormous potential to influence public opinion on any subject. By broadcasting only negative stories and ignoring the heroic positive ones, broadcasters are sapping the will of the public necessary for victory.