By Wale Azeez
The NUJ has said the BBC’s decision to confirm Dr David Kelly as the source for its reports on the “sexed-up” Iraq war dossier was “an important error” that would leave other journalists vulnerable.
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The union said that, in particular, Today programme defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan had been left in an “unnaceptable position” as a result of the BBC decision.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said that while the union recognised that the corporation named Dr Kelly “under intense pressure and in circumstances that were highly emotionally charged”, this was an important error.
The NUJ also questioned the usefulness of confirming him as the source after his death, and whether the BBC’s stated “duty of confidentiality” to Dr Kelly ended with his death.
“It may well be the case that this decision was made on the basis that the regrettable and unfortunate death of Dr David Kelly made protection of his anonymity no longer of any relevance. No further harm could come to Dr Kelly, whose anonymity had already been transgressed in a disgraceful and unprincipled way by the Ministry of Defence,” said Dear.
“However, the revelation of the source will leave BBC journalists in a vulnerable and precarious position. The journalist concerned is now in a position where he can only reassert his own perception and interpretation of the content of the briefing with Dr Kelly by challenging Dr Kelly’s version of events. This position is unacceptable,” he added.
Before Kelly’s death was announced on Friday, the corporation had come under intense pressure from the Foreign Affairs Committee, the MoD and No 10, but had steadfastly refused to reveal its source.
But on Sunday, BBC director of news Richard Sambrook justified the decision to name the weapons expert: “Following his death, we now believe, in order to end the continuing speculation, it is important to release this information as swiftly as possible. We did not release it until this morning at the request of Dr Kelly’s family.”
The move appeared to put pressure back on the BBC, just when it seemed that the Government – and the MoD in particular – was starting to look exposed after the apparent suicide. The MoD had earlier confirmed Kelly as the source to journalists at the Financial Times, The Times and The Guardian.
Meanwhile, Gilligan has been taken off reporting duties until further notice. According to the BBC, Gilligan is still at work “but not undertaking any reporting assignments at present”.
BBC staff are said to have mixed views on the affair. A source said: “A lot of people feel they owe management loyalty and are loath to criticise them because Sambrook and others stood by Gilligan so steadfastly. Others don’t see what was served by confirming Dr Kelly as the source, other than to prove he was credible, albeit not an intelligence officer.
“People have their doubts about Gilligan. They were known before this blew up. He has a very controversial style that doesn’t sit very easily with the BBC culture.
“Some people are unhappy that the BBC had to go to the wall over Gilligan. The thinking is that they would rather go to the wall for someone like Andrew Marr.
“There’s a very strange atmosphere. Some people feel the BBC is at the heart of the one of biggest stories we will remember, while others are quite uncomfortable, because the BBC is the story, rather than reporting it.”
It emerged this week that the BBC has a tape of Newsnight science editor Susan Watts’s conversation with Dr Kelly recorded before her reports broadcast in June. It is understood the BBC will submit the tape as evidence to Lord Hutton’s judicial inquiry.
The BBC has says it will fully co-operate with the inquiry, make a “full and frank submission” and provide full details of all contacts between Dr Kelly and the two BBC journalists, including contemporaneous notes and other materials.
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