Television

After Davies, BBC D-G Dyke too stands down

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MUMBAI: Heads continue to roll at the BBC in the wake of yesterday's damning findings by Lord Hutton in his investigation into the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly.

Director-general Greg Dyke is the latest casualty in the deepening crisis at the BBC. Dyke's decision to step down owning up moral responsibility for the mess the venerated British institution is in follows BBC chairman Gavyn Davies' resignation on Wednesday, shortly after the law lord's report was published.

Hutton's report, which exonerated the British government almost wholesale of "sexing up" its Iraq weapons dossier with unreliable intelligence while at the same time "tarring and feathering" the UK pubcaster, is widely regarded as being a whitewash to save Tony Blair.

The departure of both the BBC chairman and director-general leaves the corporation rudderless at a time when calls have been growing for the BBC to come under outside regulation.

Greg Dyke: 2nd big BBC fall guy

An emotional Dyke told reporters he hoped their departures meant "a line can be drawn under this whole episode".

The pair quit after the most serious claims in Andrew Gilligan's BBC's reports were branded "unfounded". However, Downing Street made it clear it was still unsatisfied with the resignations and has said it still believes the BBC should apologise for broadcasting a "false allegation".

Hutton in his report criticised as "defective" BBC editorial controls over defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan's broadcasts on the Today programme.

Leaving after four years in his post, Dyke said his position had been compromised by Hutton's criticisms of BBC management. Dyke's decision to go came after BBC governors spent Thursday morning in crisis talks in London.

"My sole aim has been to defend the BBC's editorial independence and act in the public interest," Dyke has been quoted as saying.

He said the resignations of himself and Davies, as well as his apology for the mistakes in Gilligan's broadcasts about the weapons dossier, gave the "opportunity for a new start".

Dyke has said it would be for the governors to decide how to respond to Downing Street's demands for an apology.

The most important thing about the corporation was its audiences, Dyke argued. "The preservation of the BBC per se is irrelevant unless we have the trust of the public out there," he said.

Dyke's deputy, Mark Byford, has been appointed as acting director-general until a successor is chosen.

BBC HEAD OF NEWS RICHARD SAMBROOK NEXT CASUALTY?

The future of the BBC head of news Richard Sambrook still hangs in the balance though, with many expecting that his resignation would follow before the day was out.

It was Davies who took the first hit yesterday and in his resignation statement said that as the man at the top he had to take responsibility. But he questioned whether Hutton's "bald conclusions" on the dossier's production could be reconciled with the balance of the inquiry's evidence. And he asked whether enough weight was given to Dr Kelly's taped conversation with Newsnight's Susan Watts.

But Davies added that Dr Kelly was a credible witness whose views the public had a right to know.

Ex-BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland warned earlier on Thursday against mass resignations and called for a period of reflection at the corporation.

Sir Christopher said it was right to accept Lord Hutton's central criticisms that Gilligan's original story was "unfounded" and that the BBC's governors failed to mount a proper investigation.

But he said: "It is legitimate to question whether Hutton was even-handed in the way he treated on the one hand politicians, civil servants and the security services, and on the other hand the standards of conduct he applied to journalists and broadcasters.

"There is a curious imbalance in that he whitewashed the Government, and maybe he was right to do that, but he tarred and feathered the BBC and there just seems to be a real imbalance in his treatment."

THE CHAIN OF EVENTS

September 2002: Government produces dossier about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, including claim they could be deployed within 45 minutes

May 2003: BBC Today programme's Andrew Gilligan broadcasts report of claims Downing Street "sexed up" dossier, with 45 mins claim included against intelligence agencies' wishes

10 July 2003: Dr David Kelly named as suspected source of report as government continues to deny the story

17 July 2003: Dr Kelly found dead

August 2003: Hutton begins six weeks of hearings about the circumstances around Dr Kelly's death

In his long-awaited report, Hutton said he believed Dr Kelly had killed himself after being named as the suspected source of the BBC's controversial weapons dossier story.

Dr Kelly's family, meanwhile, urged the government to learn from their tragedy.

Conservative leader Michael Howard said there was a stark contrast between Dr Kelly and "the cabal of ministers and advisers ... who were so obsessed by the war with the BBC that they gave scant attention to his welfare".

Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy called for an independent inquiry, saying: "The report necessarily leaves unanswered the most fundamental question of all, and that question is, of course, the basis upon which this country went to that war in Iraq. We are still no closer to determining whether this country went to war on a false prospectus."

MOST BRITONS SCEPTICAL OF REPORT 

And that seems to be the view of the general public as well. Much of the British the public thinks the Hutton report was a "whitewash" and that it is unfair the BBC has to shoulder all the blame for the death of David Kelly, a poll by the London Evening Standard done a few hours after the report was released.

The first major survey of the British people's reaction to Lord Hutton's verdict has uncovered widespread scepticism, with 56% of people saying the judge had been unfair to heap most of the blame on the corporation.

Exactly half of those questioned on the Hutton report by pollsters NOP for the Evening Standard said they found its conclusions unconvincing, while 49% said it was a whitewash.

A separate poll carried out by Sky News provided even more dramatic figures, with 67% saying no to the question "Has the Hutton inquiry got to the truth?".

What is the most incredible aspect of this whole affair though, is that Hutton did not deem it fit to have even a half way passing criticism of the actions of the "Blair Rich Project" spinmaster-in-chief Alastair Campbell (the British PM's then press secretary).

To quote a comment by Richard Ackland in www.smh.com.au: "We also know that Alastair Campbell had his hands all over the September 24 document. He oversaw 14 changes to the dossier before the Government presented it as the justification for war. What's a PR man doing in the bowels of this operation if it is not to sex it up a bit?"

Hutton, meanwhile, has announced an "urgent investigation" into the leaking of his findings which appeared in the government cheerleader The Sun newspaper ahead of his statement. Going by the whitewash job his "lordship" did for 10 Downing Street, the government should come out of this one also smelling like roses. That is assuming he will be the one heading the investigation of course.

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