The £2bn budget shortfall at the BBC is the Labour Government’s punishment for the claims that it ‘sexed up’its Iraq dossier on weapons of mass destruction, according to veteran correspondent John Simpson.
Simpson said that while it was ‘depressing’that so many jobs were being cut, he was confident that foreign news coverage would not suffer and that what was lost ‘would eventually be regained”.
But he felt ‘deeply depressed in the longer run’about the reasons behind the cuts, he said.
‘I see it as part of the punishment the last government decided to impose on the BBC for daring to criticise the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction,’said Simpson, who was speaking at the Frontline Club in London.
The BBC was involved in a damaging row with the Government after Andrew Gilligan reported on the Today programme of the concern among the intelligence community over the contents of the Iraq dossier that had been published the September before.
At the time, it was predicted that the BBC would face a tough battle when it had to negotiate the renewal of its licence fee this year.
Simpson said that the Blair government had either ‘knowingly or unknowingly’stumbled on the best way to damage the BBC – using the licence fee.
‘I think there’s a real savage threat now to the future of the BBC,’said Simpson. He added that he feared the next time the corporation was involved in ‘a punch up’with the government of the day, the politicians might take things a step further and claim that in the interest of programme quality that the licence fee should be shared among the other broadcast channels.
Simpson said that although this might sound attractive, it would be the start of a ‘real savage decline’similar to that experienced by CBC in Canada and ABC in Australia.