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BBC chairman resigns after Hutton criticism
( 2004-01-29 15:12) (Agencies)

The chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) resigned Wednesday and the broadcaster apologized for some of its reporting on the buildup to the war in Iraq after it was lambasted in an inquiry by a senior judge.

BBC chairman Gavyn Davies is to resign over the David Kelly affair.  [AFP/File]
The inquiry by Lord Hutton criticized journalist Andrew Gilligan, the BBC's management and its supervisory board of governors, for a radio report saying the government "sexed up" intelligence in a dossier on Iraqi weapons.

Hutton said the BBC report was unfounded.

He said the BBC's editorial system was "defective" in allowing Gilligan's report to air and the governors should have investigated it in the aftermath, during which weapons expert David Kelly was unmasked as Gilligan's source and committed suicide.

Gavyn Davies, chairman of the BBC board of governors, tendered his resignation after the publication of the report, with immediate effect.

"I have been brought up to believe that you cannot choose your own referee and that the referee's decision is final," he said in a statement.

"There is an honorable tradition in British public life that those charged with authority at the top of an organization should accept responsibility for what's happened in that organization."

The report also brought a public apology from Greg Dyke, director general of the publicly funded broadcaster, who said: "The BBC does accept that certain key allegations reported by Andrew Gilligan on the Today program on May 29 last year were wrong and we apologize for them."


Hutton's findings will strengthen BBC critics who say the broadcaster should fall under the oversight of the government's media regulator. Conservative leader Michael Howard said the case for outside regulation of the BBC "has never been stronger."

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair(R) leaves Downing Street for the House of Commons in London, January 28, 2004. [Reuters]
The broadcaster's feud with Prime Minister Tony Blair's government comes as the publicly funded broadcaster is about to undergo a parliamentary review of its charter, and at a time when the mandatory license fee that provides most of its funding is under fire from the private sector.

Residents of Britain must pay a fee of 116 pounds per year ($212) to operate a color television, or 38.50 pounds ($70) per year for a black and white television.

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former director of communications, who was at the center of the dispute after being named by Gilligan as the official who exaggerated the dossier, said the BBC must decide how to respond.

"What the report shows very clearly is the prime minister told the truth, the government told the truth, I told the truth. The BBC, from the chairman and the director general on down, did not," Campbell told a news conference.

"The BBC will have to decide itself what action to take to restore its reputation and integrity."

The BBC reformed before the Hutton report's release Wednesday. In December it appointed an executive to oversee complaints and compliance, and tightened rules about its journalists writing for outside publications.

The National Union of Journalists, representing Gilligan, said the BBC could face a strike if he were disciplined or fired. The union said the Hutton report was "selective, grossly one-sided and a serious threat to the future of investigative journalism."

"The obvious implication is that the BBC's governance structure will come under the spotlight," said Damian Tambini, a media law expert at Oxford University. "People are already starting to ask questions about whether such a powerful institution should govern itself."

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