London, June 26 (Reuters) : The British government, locked in a battle with the BBC over a claim officials doctored intelligence on Iraq, challenged the state broadcaster today to answer questions on its reporting standards.
Alastair Campbell, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s communications supremo, has been accused by the BBC of “sexing up” a dossier on Iraq’s weapons that helped build the case for war.
But Campbell, who in turn has accused the BBC of biased reporting on Iraq and of slandering his name, gave the BBC until the end of today to respond to more than a dozen questions about the allegation and its general working practices. Blair’s office has weighed in on Campbell’s side but refuses to say what action it will take if the BBC fails, in its words, to “set the record straight”.
The spat — by no means the first between British governments and the state broadcaster — erupted after the BBC, citing an anonymous intelligence source, said Campbell had pressed the security services to include a claim in a September dossier that Iraq’s weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes.
Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction were the main Anglo-American justification for war but the failure to discover such arms has damaged the British government's credibility.
An indignant Campbell yesterday accused the BBC of lying and demanded an apology.
The BBC had accused him of inducing Blair to lie to parliament over the premise for war, Campbell said. But the corporation denied levelling such a weighty charge and is standing by its report and its anonymous source.
”Does the BBC still stand by the allegation that both we and the intelligence agencies knew the 45-minute claim to be wrong'” Campbell asked in his letter.“Why did BBC journalists not check the story with us before broadcast' Is this now normal BBC practice'” he went on.
Blair's spokesman denied the exchange was about“petty manoeuvring”. Earlier, at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Blair did not offer the BBC a question, a highly rare occurrence.
British governments and opposition parties have often blamed the BBC for being biased against them.