news analysis - independence and the bbc


A new Director General of the BBC is about to be appointed, and we expect to learn who it will be early in April. The way this vacancy arose shows the need to defend those qualities of the BBC which earn it the hatred and contempt of governments such as that of Blair.

Andrew Gilligan's report in the BBC Today Programme of 29 May 2003 made uncomfortable listening for Blair, alleging his misuse of security information in order to produce dossiers making a case for war against Iraq. The Blair government set out to track down the person who had made this allegation, eventually identified Dr David Kelly, and proceeded to treat him in such a way as to lead to his suicide.

Blair's hatred and contempt for the BBC was demonstrated most clearly in the series of events which followed the death of David Kelly. Remember how he set up the Hutton Enquiry in such a way as to avoid any questions about the legality of the war, exonerate himself and blame the BBC for allowing these allegations to be broadcast. He must have known how Hutton would see things. Yet the BBC and indeed almost everyone seemed to think the Hutton Enquiry would be impartial, despite its terms of reference.

When Hutton was published condemning the BBC, the BBC governors were tested and found wanting. The Chairman of the Board of Governors, Gavyn Davies, resigned. Director General Greg Dyke supposed that his offer of resignation would be dismissed by the Board and he would be able to carry on the fight of defending the broadcast of the Gilligan programme, which after all was a valid portrayal of the facts of the case. But the governors were cowards in the face of government hostility, and accepted Dyke's resignation. Considerable numbers of BBC staff walked out of Broadcasting House and demonstrated against the dismissal of a Director General they had come to respect.

Although the BBC is supposed to be an independent public service, the government appoints the Chairman of the Board of Governors, who in turn, with other members of the Board, selects the Director General. In other words Blair, who obviously does not want the BBC to continue as an independent organisation serving the British public who fund it, has the right to choose the person who has the main responsibility for how the BBC is run. Furthermore, in under two years' time the charter of the BBC will be up for renewal and there is no doubt that Blair will try to use the opportunity for under-the-counter privatisation of the BBC, as he has done with other public services.

On the bright side one can mention the support in its present form the BBC has received as one of the most respected news broadcasters in the world and the condemnation of Blair's attack via the Hutton Enquiry and any other plans he has for making the BBC as servile to New Labour as he is to Bush.

And the British people are more prepared to trust the journalist standards of the BBC than the tainted word of this government.