Kampfner stands by claims that BBC 'has lost its nerve'

By Alyson Fixter and David Rose

New Statesman editor John Kampfner has refused to back down over a
controversial editorial on the BBC’s “loss of nerve”, despite a storm
of protest from staff at the corporation.

In a piece headlined “Broken, beaten, cowed” in last week’s New
Statesman, former BBC journalist Kampfner claimed the BBC had gone soft
on the Government since Hutton, and that BBC chairman Michael Grade and
director-general Mark Thompson wanted Today presenter John Humphrys
sacked for an off-message speech.

Grade went on record about the
row on Tuesday, describing the piece as “utterly, utterly untrue”,
while Today editor Kevin Marsh accused Kampfner of publishing “the kind
of journalism that sees causing trouble or getting up people’s noses as
ends in themselves.”

A New Statesman spokeswoman told Press
Gazette staff were “very cross” over the allegations “impugning John
Kampfner as a journalist and the integrity of the New Statesman”, but
she added: “What most concerns us at the moment is how we move on from
here.

The issue is the bigger picture about the BBC and the role it is playing.

“If
this results in the BBC being more willing to reconnect with its
confrontational journalism, then all of this will have been worth it.”

The
double-page editorial claimed on the weekend the story broke that
Humphrys had maligned Labour politicians in an after-dinner speech,
Grade had phoned “several executives” demanding the presenter be sacked.

Grade
broke his silence on the controversy in front of the all-party Commons
media committee this week, acknowledging he had phoned Thompson, but
saying: “Newspapers were making allegations that called into question
the BBC’s impartiality.

My concern was to get to the bottom of
it.”Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price said claims of the BBC’s “loss of nerve”
since Hutton had struck a “degree of resonance among some observers”.

But Thompson replied: “It may be that you have found some resonance in this story. I do not.” Had there been any truth in the claims, it would have become public knowledge, he insisted.

To back his case, Thompson said he had defended the BBC’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina as “outstanding” after Tony Blair was reported to have criticised it.

But
Price told Press Gazette: “The BBC will only break stories if it is
certain about the accuracy and can present them in a documentary format
rather than as news.

“In my view, the BBC has stepped back from holding the Government to account.”

In an appearance on World at One, talking to Nick Clarke, Thompson also categorically denied Kampfner’s accusations.

He said: “The story is untrue, preposterous. Wholly without foundation. At no point was any pressure put on us, or any pressure exerted by us on anyone else.

“I
passionately believe in the BBC’s independence. Supposing I rang you up
and said there was a tricky licence fee negotiation coming up and asked
you to go soft on the Government, how long do you think that would stay
quiet?”

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