Television

Hutton report may alter BBC functioning

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MUMBAI: BBC chairman Gavyn Davies, who has stepped down from his post, has been the first casualty of the Lord Hutton report on the BBC. But deeper, far reaching changes are in the offing for the British Broadcasting Corporation and the way it handles its journalism as a result of the events that led to the death of Dr David Kelly.

One of the first changes to take place is the ban on its main presenters from writing columns on contentious issues, which will remove, among others, John Humphrys from the Sunday Times, and Jeff Randall from the Sunday Telegraph, according to media reports. It has also announced it is strengthening its complaints process and the editorial procedures designed to ensure programmes comply with its guidelines, both of which had come under criticism by some who gave evidence to Lord Hutton.

Gavyn Davies

BBC World Service head Mark Byford has been promoted to deputy director general and put in charge of both complaints and compliance procedures. Reporting to him will be a new controller of complaints, heading an enlarged department, and the controller of editorial policy, whose department already deals with programmes before they are broadcast.

In his report, Hutton has pointed out that, I consider that editorial system which the BBC permits was defective in that (correspondent Andrew) Gilligan was allowed to broadcast his report... without editors having seen a script of what he was going to say and without having considered whether it should be approved. The judge said BBC governors should have properly investigated Downing Street complaints as they defended the Corporation's independence, reports say.

Dr David Kelly

Other changes that could take place in the BBC could also change the way programmes like Today and networks like Radio 5 Live and News 24 go about their business, particularly in their live coverage. BBC director general Greg Dyke had admitted to Lord Hutton in his testimony that there were "lessons to be learned" from the Kelly episode. Kelly allegedly slashed his wrist after being outed as the source of a BBC reporter's claim that Prime Minister Tony Blair's team exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq's weapons to justify war.

Dyke has since got senior BBC lawyers and editorial figures to review producer guidelines, particularly concerning the use of anonymous sources and how they are described in broadcasts. Dr David Kelly had supposedly killed himself after being named as the suspected source of the BBCs weapons dossier story put out by Andrew Gilligan about the British government's intelligence dossier.

Lord Hutton

Dyke now says senior editorial figures will now consider whether in future all controversial reports should be scripted, instead of being discussed by the reporter and the presenter in what is known in broadcast terms as a "two-way" interview. The dossier story broke in the same format, in a discussion between Gilligan and Humphrys. In his evidence, Gilligan later said that he'd made "a slip of the tongue" in that broadcast and regretted giving the impression he thought the government had lied. "It is something that does happen in live broadcasts, an occupational hazard. It would have been better to have scripted this one."

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