Hutton delivers damning verdict on BBC
Owen Gibson and Ciar Byrne
Wednesday January 28, 2004
Lord Hutton today delivered the worst possible verdict for the BBC, describing its editorial systems as "defective" and declaring that the board of governors led by chairman Gavyn Davies had failed in its duty to act as an independent regulator.
The judge lambasted BBC management for allowing the Radio 4 Today reporter Andrew Gilligan to broadcast "unfounded", "grave" and "false allegations of fact impugning the integrity of others".
In a wide-ranging and unequivocal attack on the corporation that also took in the board of governors and BBC journalism, Lord Hutton said editorial systems had failed, leaving the futures of director general Greg Dyke, chairman Gavyn Davies and head of news Richard Sambrook hanging precariously in the balance.
The BBC is making a statement within the hour and there have already been reports that Mr Davies is considering his position.
Gilligan made 'unfounded' allegations
Lord Hutton criticised Gilligan for making "unfounded" and "grave" allegations that the government probably knew that the 45-minute claim was wrong or that it was not inserted in the first draft of the dossier because it only came from one source.
"The allegations that Mr Gilligan was intending to broadcast in respect of the government and the preparation of the dossier were very grave allegations in relation to a subject of great importance.
"And I consider that the editorial system which the BBC permitted was defective in that Mr Gilligan was allowed to broadcast his report at 6.07am without editors having seen a script of what he was going to say and having considered whether it should be approved," ruled Lord Hutton.
BBC management and governors failed in their duties
He said that BBC managers, including Mr Dyke and the governors, had failed in two respects.
Firstly, he said they failed to ask for an investigation into the veracity of Gilligan's report and secondly they failed to appreciate that Gilligan's notes "did not support" his May 29 broadcast on the Today programme.
"The governors are to be criticised for failing to make a more detailed investigation into whether the allegation by Mr Gilligan was properly supported by his notes and failing to give proper and adequate consideration to whether the BBC should publicly acknowledge that this very grave allegation should not have been broadcast," Lord Hutton said.
He said had they asked for Gilligan's notes "they would probably have discovered that the notes did not support the allegations that the government knew that the 45-minute claim was probably wrong."
And, in a devastating indictment of the governors, Lord Hutton said they should "then have questioned whether it was right for the BBC to maintain that it was in the public interest to broadcast that allegation".
All the way down the editorial chain of command, the BBC had taken on trust that Gilligan's report was factually correct. This, he said, was a fundamental dereliction of duty by the governors and management.
He pointed out that the BBC head of news, Richard Sambrook, had replied to Alastair Campbell's complaints without seeing Gilligan's notes.
"The BBC management failed, before Mr Sambrook wrote his letter of June 27 2003 to Mr Campbell, to make an examination of Mr Gilligan's notes on his personal organiser of his meeting with Dr Kelly to see if they supported the allegations which he had made in his broadcast at 6.07am," said the judge.
"When the BBC management did look at Gilligan's notes after June 27, it failed to appreciate that the notes did not fully support the most serious of the allegations which he had reported in the 6.07am broadcast, and it therefore failed to draw the attention of the governors to the lack of support in the notes for the most serious of the allegations" he added.
Today editor and head of radio news also at fault
Lord Hutton said the incriminating email sent by Today editor Kevin Marsh to head of radio news Stephen Mitchell, which admitted that Gilligan's story was "marred by flawed reporting" and "loose use of language", should have passed on to BBC bosses before they replied to Campbell.
The judge said the fact that Mr Sambrook and the governors did not know about this email "shows a defect in the operation of the BBC's management system for the consideration of complaints in respect of broadcasts".
He ruled that BBC managers and governors were wrong to defend Gilligan's story without knowing the full facts and cleared the government of the broad thrust of the allegations, that it had "sexed up" the dossier to advance its case for war.
The scale of his criticism has sent shock waves through the BBC, particularly as the way in which the intelligence dossier was drawn up was vindicated by Lord Hutton despite reservations expressed by some intelligence sources during the inquiry about the language used.
"I do not consider it was improper for Mr Scarlett [chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee] and the JIC to take into account suggestions made by Number 10 and adopt those suggestions if they were consistent with the intelligence available," said the report.
BBC did not heed government denial
Lord Hutton said the government had stated to the BBC in "clear terms" that the report that the government probably knew the 45-minute claim was wrong was untruthful.
He said given this denial was made with the authority of the prime minister and the chairman of JIC, that the BBC governors, rather than relying on the assurance of BBC management, should have made more detailed investigations into the extent to which Gilligan's notes supported the report.
Lord Hutton's conclusions are bound to provoke renewed calls for the BBC to come under the aegis of new media regulator Ofcom or a separate regulatory body.
Lord Hutton took the governors to task for leaping to the defence of the BBC without giving proper consideration to whether Gilligan's story was supported by his notes.
The corporation's critics are likely to seize on Lord Hutton's verdict as evidence that Mr Davies was too close to the director general and saw his role as defending the corporation rather than regulating it. The chairman argued that he was acting on behalf of licence fee payers and not BBC management.
"The governors should have realised more fully than they did that their duty to protect the independence of the BBC was not incompatible with giving proper consideration to whether there was validity in the governments complaints," said Lord Hutton.
Minutes of the governors' meeting released on July 6 showed that the governors and Mr Davies had their own concerns about Gilligan's broadcast.
However, they believed that the principle of defending the BBC's journalism was more important than expressing their concern over the reporting of the story. "If you say it tonight, you are disowning Andrew Gilligan," Mr Davies warned his fellow governors.
Mr Dyke, who has been bullish in the run-up to the publication of the report, will also come under pressure to resign after Lord Hutton said he considered "the editorial system which the BBC permitted was defective" and "at fault" for failing to investigate Gilligan's allegations.
Mr Dyke is ultimately responsible for all of the corporation's output as editor in chief. He has already told staff there would be "no scapegoating inside the BBC as a result of the Hutton inquiry".
It is understood that he plans to go on the offensive if he doesn't agree with Lord Hutton's damning verdict. In an email to staff, Mr Dyke has already said the BBC will only take the report on board if he agreed with its conclusions.
"What is important once Hutton is published is that if the BBC is criticised we learn from whatever is written - assuming of course that we agree with what is said," he wrote.
The corporation has already instigated a number of changes designed to take the sting out of Lord Hutton's criticism. World Service chief Mark Byford has been installed as deputy director general to oversee a root and branch review of complaints procedures and the corporation has banned employees from writing columns for newspapers.
Remember folks; this is the "news" organization that Section109 and Tailgators have said in previous posts they believe to be thruth/solid outlets for real news....fiction is more like it ;)