The BBC is an integral part of Britishness, is it not, part of the national heritage, synonymous with fair play, and respected for it, especially by foreigners who resent that their news media are essential tools in the hands of the regime. Well, here is a personal anecdote to illuminate reality. Out of the blue, a solicitous lady from the BBC World Service rang me up to ask if I would comment on President Bush’s visit to Pakistan. Gladly, I said.

And what would my comments be? The visit, as I saw it, was a timely reassurance that American overtures to India were not at the expense of Pakistan. But here was Mr Bush proclaiming the virtues of democracy while hobnobbing with a military dictator--a contradiction, surely? Indeed, I said, but Pakistan is a necessary ally in the war against political Islam, and that takes priority. Win the war, and then we shall address democracy. Whether the solicitous lady was convinced is open to doubt but she would let me have my say, and we settled on the time for the broadcast.

Hardly ten minutes passed before a more senior male producer was on the line, not at all solicitous, but in a hurry to tell me that I would not be giving my comments after all, in the interests of “rebalancing the program.” This marvellous euphemism is surely a special BBC gift to official spokesmen all round the world.