A GLOBAL propaganda expert has called out the BBC for its “horrifying” decision to have a spy boss edit its flagship Today programme on Radio 4.

Dr Emma L Briant further warned that the decision to give the head of GCHQ – Sir Jeremy Fleming – editorial control of the news broadcast “will actually support Russia” in its goal of undermining trust in Western media organisations.

Fleming leads the UK spy operation and reports directly to the Foreign Secretary, Tory MP James Cleverly.

Briant, a fellow of Bard College in New York, told The National: “It’s horrifying to give an intelligence agency editorial control over a BBC flagship news programme. I just find it absolutely appalling.

“It’s also an own goal I think, because GCHQ supposedly wants … to counter the disinformation that circulates about national security and things like this, but what they are doing is feeding paranoia. I think that is one of the biggest take-aways.

“It undermines the media that people need to trust in as informing the public in a trustworthy way. If they wanted to undermine the BBC’s perception of independence and cause more people to flood to conspiracy theory media then this is the way to do it.”

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She went on to say that the BBC had given Putin "an absolute gift", adding: “I find it so insane that they would not understand the implications of what they are doing."

Briant – the author of Propaganda and Counter-terrorism: Strategies for Global Change – said that intelligence agencies often have some input on TV shows or movies, but that Fleming (below) taking on the Radio 4 editorial role was “a step beyond what has been done in the past”.

“Why is the BBC doing that?” she asked. “They have a responsibility to take care of editorial matters themselves, not hand that off to an intelligence agency.”

Asked if the broadcaster was in breach of its royal charter – which states that the “BBC must be independent in all matters … particularly as regards editorial and creative decisions” – Briant said it “would seem to be”.

The National: Sir Jeremy Fleming

The BBC’s editorial guidelines further state that it “must maintain independent editorial control over our content”, a rule which giving the spy boss control would seem to contravene.

Briant, who has written extensively on global propaganda, pointed to a story published on the BBC website on December 13 in which it was reported that MPs said they had been “severely hampered … by the failure of the UK Intelligence Community to provide responses to [Westminster’s Intelligence and Security Committee] in accordance with the deadlines set".

She suggested that with MPs already finding it hard to scrutinise the intelligence services, having a spy boss edit a flagship news show was even more inappropriate.

“The BBC, there are a lot of issues but I think it’s still a really important journalistic outlet, we just need to pressure it back,” Briant added.

“I think it can be and could be and should be an independent and impartial and important media outlet.”

A spokesperson for the Alba Party also condemned the BBC’s decision to hand Fleming an editorial role, saying that “having the head of GCHQ guest edit programmes on the BBC is fundamentally wrong on two fronts”.

“Firstly, the security of the UK isn’t served well by wannabe media chums spending GCHQ resources to prepare for a radio show, and secondly it suggests there is an unhealthy, cosy relationship between the two organisations which begs the question – is the political output independent of government, its departments, and its agencies?”

Speaking to Fleming after his editorial slot, the BBC’s Nick Robinson seemed to suggest it had been the corporation’s idea to invite the GCHQ boss on. He asked the spy chief: “What was the purpose for you of agreeing to do it?”

Fleming accepted it was a “bit odd”, but said that society is a “long way past” the time when the head of UK spy agencies would have their identities kept secret.

Explaining why he had chosen to edit the BBC Radio 4 show, the spy chief went on: “I think we have a responsibility to talk a lot about trust, to try and encourage the public to understand what we’re doing to trust in what we do.

“Ultimately what we do is very intrusive, it’s very unusual, and I think the public needs to understand not just that we do it but how we do it.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “Our guest editors are chosen for their original thinking and varied perspectives. They work closely with the Today programme team to ensure the material meets the BBC's editorial guidelines. Final decisions on what material is broadcast are made solely by the Today programme. All BBC journalism is editorially independent.

“As the first serving intelligence chief to edit the programme, listeners were given a rare insight into GCHQ operations. There were challenging questions and analysis throughout the guest edit, with the one-on-one interview further holding the intelligence agency to account.”