This year will see the 800th anniversary of the sealing (sealing, not signing!) of Magna Carta, and it was therefore very appropriate that the BBC should have chosen to show a documentary about it. It was, however, not at all appropriate that David Starkey (and who made it “his” Magna Carta, incidentally?!), should have used the programme for a polemic against the British and American governments over their handling of terrorism suspects.
It started off OK – the background to Magna Carta, the fact that it was revised and reissued, etc. Then it wandered off into the realms of Charles I and the Civil War. Then on to the American Revolution. OK, that was reasonable enough: there are very important links between Magna Carta and the Constitution of the United States. However, David Starkey then started going on about Guantanamo Bay and the detention of terror suspects in the UK, and ranting on about how freedom and ancient rights and so on were now all under attack in the name of security! The torture at Guantanamo Bay is something that is difficult to justify, but the detention of terror suspects for 60 days without charge is … well, it’s a complex situation. No, of course we don’t want to be living in an authoritarian state which can detain people without due process of law, but nor do we want a situation where soldiers can be decapitated on the street and civilians can be murdered in supermarkets or taken hostage in coffee shops. It’s a very difficult and challenging situation, and I think most people can see both sides of the argument.
David Starkey is obviously entitled to his opinion, which is evidently that fear of terrorism mustn’t be allowed to lead to the compromising of rights and liberties, and that’s not an unreasonable opinion, but this was not the time or the place for him to be putting it forward. This was meant to be a programme about one of the most significant documents in our history. It should not have been used as an occasion for one individual to put forward their personal opinion about the problems of today. Not impressed, BBC.