Battered Beeb in Crisis

Under pressure: Davies, left, tendered his resignation while Gilligan’s fate is unclear after Hutton criticisms

The BBC remains under intense pressure following the savaging it received from Lord Hutton’s report into the death of weapons expert David Kelly.

A partial apology to the Government from director general and editor-in-chief Greg Dyke, and the resignation of chairman Gavyn Davies, are unlikely to satisfy the corporation’s critics.

As it reacted to the multiple attack from Hutton, the BBC appeared to be on the back foot when it decided to delay a governors’ meeting until the day after the publication of the report to “give further consideration” to its findings. “No further comment will be made until after that meeting,” Dyke said in his post-report broadcast.

Both the BBC’s journalism and governors were heavily criticised by the inquiry chairman, who labelled the broadcaster’s editorial system “defective” after it allowed Today defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan’s 29 May report on the “sexed up” Iraq dossier to air without being scripted.

Hutton said Gilligan’s allegations about the Government and the preparation of the dossier were “very grave” in relation to a subject of great importance.

“I consider that the editorial system which the BBC permitted was defective, in that Mr Gilligan was allowed to broadcast his report at 6.07am without editors having seen a script of what he was going to say and having considered whether it should be approved.”

Hutton also said BBC management was at fault for not probing Downing Street’s complaint against the programme, and that the governors should have carried out their own investigation.

Dyke said the BBC “did accept that certain key allegations” reported by Gilligan on the Today programme wrong and “we apologise for them”.

But as of Wednesday, Gilligan’s fate with the BBC remained unclear, prompting the NUJ to speak of possible industrial action if Gilligan were sacked or disciplined.

“Our reaction would be to immediately back him, to represent him at any subsequent hearings, and to argue with our members that they should take whatever action is necessary to protect his position. And this could include industrial action,” said NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear.

Conservative Party leader Michael Howard revived calls for regulation of the BBC to come under Ofcom. The BBC now faces a tough run-up to its Chater renewal, due in 2006.

After being cleared by the inquiry of any “dishonourable or underhand conduct”, Tony Blair challenged the BBC to apologise for Gillligan’s claims.

“The BBC has never clearly and visibly withdrawn this allegation,” he told MPs. “The allegation that I or anyone else lied to this House or deliberately misled the country by falsifying intelligence…

is itself the real lie. And I simply ask that those that made it and those who have repeated it over all these months, now withdraw it, fully, openly and clearly.”

PG COMMENT

It’s not just the BBC that has been holed by Lord Hutton’s exocet. The former law lord’s damning verdict will hurt us all.

For regardless of whether or not his lordship’s conclusions are justified, there are many people out there – politicians and others – who will surely use his words as a stick with which to beat our entire profession.

Alastair Campbell quickly indicated the level of opprobrium we can all expect: “If the public… knew the truth about the way parts of our media operate they would be absolutely horrified.”

Yet in focusing so closely on the acknowledged errors in one live radio broadcast, Hutton lost sight of the bigger picture.

It’s a terrible pity he did not see fit acknowledge the genuine public interest at the heart of Gilligan’s story or dedication and diligence of the vast majority of BBC journalists.

And it will be the blackest of days if his myopia is seized on by those who seek to disenfranchise an organisation that despite its failings remains a world class public service broadcaster.

By Wale Azeez

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