BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies has resigned following publication of a judicial inquiry that sharply criticised the BBC’s role in events that led to the death of British weapons scientist David Kelly.
Davies told his fellow governors at a hastily convened meeting, that “I have been brought up to believe that you cannot choose your own referee, and that the referee’s decision is final. There is an honourable tradition in British public life that those charged with authority at the top of an organisation should accept responsibility for what happens in that organisation. I am therefore writing to the Prime Minister today to tender my resignation as Chairman of the BBC, with immediate effect.”
The long-awaited report by Lord Hutton concludes that BBC management was “defective” and its governors should have made “more detailed investigations” into its May 29 report by journalist Andrew Gilligan alleging that intelligence on Iraq was “sexed up.”
“I consider that the editorial system which the BBC permitted was defective in that Mr. Gilligan was allowed to broadcast his report … without editors having seen a script of what he’s going to say and having considered whether it should be approved,” Hutton said. The judge also found that the BBC radio report was “unfounded.”
The BBC’s board of governors, chaired by Gavyn Davies, should have conducted more detailed investigations into Gilligan’s report, Hutton said. “If they had done this, they probably would have discovered that the notes did not support the allegation…and the governors should then have questioned whether it was right for the BBC to maintain that it was in the public interest to broadcast the allegation in Mr Gilligan’s report.” he said..
The National Union of Journalists, representing Gilligan, said the BBC could face a strike if he was disciplined or fired. The NUJ said the Hutton report was “selective, grossly one-sided and a serious threat to the future of investigative journalism”.
Andy Sennitt comments: The resignation of Davies comes as no surprise. The governors, who are supposed to call BBC management to account when the occasion demands, rushed to defend Gilligan when they had clearly not had time to consider the matter fully. There has always been a suspicion that the relationship between the governors and senior management within the BBC is too cosy. Discussions are due to start soon on renewing the BBC’s charter, and there are already calls for the UK’s new super-regulator, Ofcom, to take over the governors’ role. At the very least, the choice of governors and the way they’re appointed needs to be looked at.
Furthermore, the Chairman’s resignation will not be sufficient for many of the BBC’s critics. The leader of the Conservative Party, Michael Howard, said in his response to the Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons that if the findings had been about politicians, a number of people would have had to resign. Clearly he was hinting at senior figures who are implicated in Lord Hutton’s findings. If the editorial system is defective, as Lord Hutton says it is, the resignation of the BBC Chairman does not directly address the issue. Even the BBC’s own journalists are openly calling this the biggest crisis for the BBC in 50 years. I must admit, I can’t recall a time when the Corporation’s public standing was so low.
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