[This is No.4 in a series of blog posts on Paul Johnson’s statement on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs that he admired Chilean mass-murderer General Augusto Pinochet because he ‘saved Chile from civil war’. You may read the others here: No.5, No.3, No.2, No.1.]
Further to my previous posts on this issue, I have replied as follows to the producer of Desert Island Discs:
Dear Ms Buckle
Thank you for your reply to my email on the subject of Paul Johnson’s remarks about General Pinochet on Desert Island Discs. I get the impression that you have not understood the point I was trying to make. Let me try a different approach.
I have two friends of Chilean heritage. As a little girl one of these fled the Pinochet regime with her mother. She may well already have shared some of her knowledge/experience with you. The other was born and raised in Sweden, of parents who also fled Pinochet’s Chile. One of her family’s friends is Carolina Hultgren, whose story you may read in Swedish here: http://www.expressen.se/gt/svarta-nejlikan-raddade-mitt-liv/ . I have translated this for you: [See my last blog post for this translation.]
You will glean from this the fact that Pinochet’s attacks on Chilean citizens were of such an extent that he found it necessary to have a school for torturers. Now I would ask you to put yourself in Carolina Hultgren’s place and listen again to Paul Johnson’s remark about admiring Pinochet because he ‘prevented civil war’. Next, re-read your email to me, in which you imply that it was perfectly acceptable to allow Johnson, unchallenged, to make his unsubstantiated remark (which, I think it fair to say, most unbiased observers, aware of what Pinochet did, would describe as misleading at best, and, most probably, downright fallacious) because you flagged up the fact that Johnson espoused controversial views, and in which you also set his opinion on Pinochet alongside his views on single mothers, same-sex relationships, abortion, Richard Nixon and Nelson Mandela, implying an equivalence. Can you see that you have added insult to injury?
Now imagine a listener who knows nothing of the sordid history of Pinochet’s Chile and who hears this episode of Desert Island Discs, in which, I repeat, Kirsty Young allows Johnson to state, unchallenged, that he admires Pinochet because he ‘prevented civil war’. Assuming that this listener believed the BBC to be fair and balanced, what would he/she conclude about Pinochet? I find it impossible to interpret this in any way other than that the UK’s public broadcaster has allowed its airwaves to serve as a platform for extremist propaganda.
Yes, you have every right to allow controversial voices to express their opinions, however offensive and demonstrably false they are, but you surely also have a duty to balance such opinions? I leave it to you to decide how best to respond, but I suggest it would be appropriate to provide an opportunity for Pinochet’s victims (and/or their friends and relatives) to express their views on Johnson’s hero’s peacekeeping attributes.
I trust it will not be necessary for me to escalate this complaint and so I thank you in advance for your response.
Dr R. Eric Swanepoel