Can news be presented as drama? The editorial team at the BBC must have wrangled over this one. Newsnight is to stage a series of short dramas to raise issues about the decision to go to war against Iraq 5 years ago. This is how the Editor, Peter Barron explained it in his daily email.
Next week on Newsnight we’re making our first foray into drama with a series of films entitled 10 Days to War. This may prove controversial, but we hope it will also open up the debate about the war in Iraq in new and revealing ways. The issue our viewers most often ask us to revisit is – by some distance – the decision to go to war in Iraq.
Over the next two weeks, to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion, we will look back and examine again the circumstances of the run-up to war: the WMD claims, the question of legality, the diplomatic wrangles and so on.
I’m pleased they’ve decided to present the films as a mini drama series that will screen before Newsnight starts. But it still raises difficulties. The series runs at the normal Newsnight start time so anyone switching over could think they are watching a factual program from BBC News. Peter Barron is convinced that drama is the best way to tell the story because facts have come to light that weren’t known five years ago.
The reason we’ve chosen drama is that now we can recreate the scenes the cameras couldn’t capture at the time
Barron admits that it’s not quite Newsnight, but all the facts have been researched by journalists and they’ve chosen a big name cast which includes Kenneth Branagh, Juliet Stevenson and Tom Conti to tell the story.
It’s a radical move which challenges the integrity of news programming.
The reconstruction of an event has always been difficult for news programmes and all star drama is several steps beyond a carefully branded reconstruction self consciously following the route of a crime victim or a post office attack. Newsnight is right to agonise over the decision and to explain it carefully beforehand. The purpose is to help us understand the events and issues that led us to the most contentious wars since Vietnam. The test will be to see if it can do it impartially. Watch the response of the main political players and judge for yourself. The BBC has been in trouble in these waters before.