​BBC arms trade ties troubling, BAE boss must resign from Trust – campaigners

Roger Carr, Chairman of BAE Systems (Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett)
The BBC must not be used as a vehicle to legitimize the arms trade, a charity warns. It is calling for newly-appointed Vice Chairman Roger Carr to resign, citing conflict of interest with his role as chairman of Europe’s largest arms firm BAE Systems.

In response to Carr’s BBC appointment, Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has launched a petition calling for him to step down. The anti-arms charity is urging the BBC to sever its ties with Carr, and the arms trade itself.

Carr’s new role at the BBC Trust is prestigious, and places the BAE Systems chairman right at the center of the organization. The trust governs the national broadcaster, and is independent of BBC management.

Its primary objectives are to mold policy in accordance with the public interest, set out the BBC’s strategic direction, and monitor the work of the BBC’s Executive Board.

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Appointments to the trust are made on the recommendation of UK government ministers. The board of trustees consists of 12 people, including a chairman, a vice chairman and members representing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

BAE Systems has sold weapons to despotic regimes and human rights abusers in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel. The firm’s reputation has been further damaged by bribery allegations that have sparked multiple anti-fraud investigations in Britain and America.

Despite his prominent role at the firm, Carr will be paid £70,610 a year to ensure the BBC acts in accordance with license fee owners’ interests.

CAAT suggests the arms dealer’s appointment could pave the way for the broadcaster to whitewash the arms trade’s destructive impact across the globe.

The charity warns arms dealers care little about broadcasting or the public interest and are primarily driven by a desire to bolster arms sales and attract a veneer of legitimacy in the process.

The BBC Trust faced further scrutiny and criticism last month when its chair, Rona Fairhead, appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as a non-executive director of HSBC’s disgraced Swiss subsidiary.

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Following allegations the banking giant’s Swiss arm had aided criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists in dodging taxes, the PAC’s chair said Fairhead was no longer capable of continuing her role at the BBC in light of her performance at HSBC.

Despite the PAC’s damning assessment, Fairhead has remained steadfast in her BBC Trust role.

In 2014, BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson was forced to withdraw from speaking at a glitzy banquet for arms brokers in central London, following a political campaign orchestrated by CAAT. But whether CAAT’s call for Carr to resign from the BBC trust will reap tangible change remains to be seen.

Dasha Ilic, Communications Manager at Britain’s Media Diversity Institute, said it’s important to consider the “choice of trustees” appointed to the BBC.

In the case of Roger Carr, Ilic urged those who appointed him to reflect “carefully and seriously” on a potential “conflict of interest” he may face in his new role. On a broader level, Ilic stressed diversity is a vital characteristic of the BBC’s output and managerial structures.

She stressed the BBC Trust and broadcasters “are still ‘hideously white,’ as the former Director General Greg Dyke put it more than 10 years ago.”

“We absolutely need to have more journalists, producers, managers and trustees coming from black and ethnic minorities’ background,” she said. She added there should be more women working at the BBC in high powered positions.

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BAE systems is the third-largest arms producer in the world. Its arms portfolio includes warships, fighter aircraft, tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, missiles and small arms ammunition.

While Saudi Arabia and Britain are two of its longest-term customers, the firm sells a range of arms to an estimated 100 states across the globe.

The arms giant has been engulfed by corruption scandals in recent years, prompting multiple Serious Fraud Office (SFO) probes into its use of bribery to bolster arms sales.

The SFO accused it of corruptly doling out millions of pounds to secure lucrative arms deals with numerous states, including Tanzania, the Czech Republic and Romania.

The SFO investigations into BAE Systems practices spanned six years, with some harking back to the 1980s. Although the anti-corruption body threatened to prosecute BAE systems in 2009 for bribery, it backed down in 2010.

BAE Systems’ business continues to boom, while its chief executive was awarded a £1 million pay rise in 2014.