One year after Hutton, a vote of confidence

It’s been a long year for the executives at BBC News. Twelve months
ago, they were still waiting – with a mixture of fear and hope – for
the findings of Lord Hutton in his report into the death of government
scientist Dr David Kelly.

On 29 January they were not so much put out of their misery as plunged into it more deeply than they’d imagined possible.

The report damned the corporation at every turn.

editorial systems were “defective”; it failed to properly verify Andrew
Gilligan’s key story for the Today programme; and it had erred on the
side of protecting itself from government pressure, rather than
investigating the allegations thoroughly.

Worse still, the
government escaped entirely free of any sort of blame. And the BBC’s
prime tormentor, Alastair Campbell, seized with gleeful relish the
opportunity to trample its reputation.

“What the report shows
very clearly is this: the prime minister told the truth. The government
told the truth. I told the truth. The BBC, from the chairman and
director general down, did not.” Its publication was, commentators
unanimously agreed, one of the darkest hours in the BBC’s 82-year

The resignations, the uncertainty, the cuts that followed have left newsroom morale at a low ebb.

despite the fact that many considered the Hutton report a whitewash,
the corporation’s journalists have lived with the fear that the episode
has damaged their reputation with the licence-paying public for
impartial, accurate, reliable reporting.

The Press Gazette trust survey that we publish today goes some way towards allaying those fears.

asked, on our behalf, a representative sample of 2181 Britons to name a
newspaper, magazine, broadcast news programme or website that they
considered trustworthy. 1629 gave an answer to the question. Despite
good showings by Sky News and several national newspapers, the BBC tops
the poll by a comfortable margin, with 624 mentions – nearly 40 per
cent of those who gave a response.

The Today programme, whose
broadcast of Andrew Gilligan’s notorious report was at the heart of
Hutton’s investigation, is the most trusted radio programme. Yet it is
fitting that, in the month it celebrates its 25th anniversary,
Newsnight is the BBC programme that is considered most trusted.

may still be other causes of uncertainty, not least the security of
their jobs, amongst the corporation’s journalists, but the support and
trust of the nation need not be one of them.

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