BBC Director-General Resigns in Wake of Report

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - The director general of the British Broadcasting Corp. resigned Thursday after the broadcaster faced heavy criticism in a report into the death of a government weapons expert.

Greg Dyke said he hoped his departure would mean that "a line can be drawn under this whole episode."

"My sole aim has been to defend the BBC's editorial independence and act in the public interest," he said.

BBC chairman Gavyn Davies tendered his resignation following the publication of the report on Wednesday.

The director general is in charge of the BBC's day-to-day affairs. The chairman and the other members of the board of governors are political appointees who oversee the corporation, which includes an array of news and entertainment broadcasting outlets.

In addition to its supervisory role, the BBC governors are also charged with advocating on behalf of the organization, a system that came under scrutiny when they backed journalist Andrew Gilligan over a report that called into question the British government's use of intelligence.

That report sparked a battle between the BBC and the government that only ended with the suicide of Gilligan's source, Ministry of Defense (MoD) weapons adviser David Kelly.

In his final report, Lord Hutton, the senior judge investigating the circumstances surrounding Kelly's death, ruled that the BBC story was "unfounded" and criticized some of the corporation's editorial procedures.

Hutton cleared Blair and his administration of wrongdoing, although he did write that Kelly should have been given more support by the MoD.

On Thursday, BBC Acting Chairman Lord Ryder apologized for the story and the subsequent decisions criticized by Hutton.

"On behalf of the BBC, I have no hesitation in apologizing unreservedly for our errors and to the individuals whose reputations were affected by them," Ryder said.

"We have begun to implement major reforms, including (controls on) outside journalism, compliance systems, editorial processes and training of new recruits," he said.

Blair, who earlier demanded an apology, said he accepted the statement.

"I fully respect the BBC's independence and I have no doubt that the BBC will continue, and should do, to probe and question the government in every proper way," Blair told reporters.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have been pushing for a larger inquiry into the pre-war intelligence on Iraq, calls that were repeated in front of the House of Commons.

"At the beginning of his report Lord Hutton refers to the controversy and debate about weapons of mass destruction, whether they exist (in Iraq) and what the government told the country in the run up to the war," said Conservative leader Michael Howard.

"Lord Hutton is quite clear that these issues are beyond his remit," he said. "Will the Prime Minister therefore now undertake to establish an independent inquiry into these wider questions?"

Blair's government has so far resisted any wider hearings into the Iraq war, and the prime minister has urged patience while the hunt for weapons continues inside the country.

Hutton's verdict received a mixed reaction in the British press on Thursday, with some papers on both sides of the political spectrum criticizing the judge for allegedly failing to hold the government up to the same standards as journalists.

In an editorial, the left-wing Guardian said Hutton's report contained a "naivety of tone and approach."

"Lord Hutton's report does not describe the politico-journalistic world as it really exists," the paper said. "His report is not the end of the story. The government may have been cleared over Dr. Kelly's death - but that does not mean it was honest about Iraq."

"There are very serious issues that Lord Hutton decided not to explore and that Parliament might now consider," said the right-wing Daily Telegraph. "Even if Downing Street is cleared of deliberately tampering with intelligence for political ends, concerns remain about our intelligence services and their interaction with Downing Street."

The Times newspaper, on the other hand, contended in an editorial that any shortcomings by the government were "modest when placed against Lord Hutton's searing criticism of the BBC."

Details of the contents of the report were leaked in advance to The Sun tabloid, and Hutton on Thursday announced an investigation into the source of the leak.

See previous story:
British Inquiry Clears Blair; Criticizes BBC (Jan. 28, 2004)

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