| British Prime Minister Tony Blair laughs as his wife, Cherie, sings a Beatles classic, When I’m 64, during an informal question and answer session at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The plea for a song was originally directed at Blair who wasted little time in deflecting it towards Cherie. (AFP)
London, July 22 (Reuters): Rumblings of discontent are emerging among BBC ranks over the way the broadcaster’s top brass have handled a furious row with the British government.
The BBC has presented a united front in its defence of a story that alleged the government exaggerated its case for going to war against Iraq, but behind closed doors BBC staff are smarting as the broadcaster stakes its reputation on the battle. “The source is dead and the feeling is that the management has mis-handled this case. I wonder if they would have gone this far had they known how it would turn out.”
Both the BBC and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have come under fierce attack over the slanging match which ended in the death of the broadcaster’s source last week.
The BBC maintains it accurately reported the story but newspapers today suggested cracks were appearing among the broadcaster’s governors after the apparent suicide of David Kelly, a government scientist who was the BBC’s main source.
The row has escalated into the biggest battle between the two institutions in at least a generation and threatens to bring down top-ranking figures from both sides. Despite Blair’s call for a period of reflection while an inquiry into Kelly’s death is carried out, British newspapers continued to speculate today over who was to blame.
In an apparent effort to shore up the reputation of senior management, BBC chairman Gavyn Davies insisted today that neither he nor the other governors had been aware of the identity of the source until after Kelly’s death.
In light of the death, Britain’s Times newspaper reported that one of the governors was calling for an emergency meeting to review whether they were right to back the story. Another governor voiced misgivings after Kelly was named the principal source for the story on Sunday, the Times said. The newspaper said the governor suggested the board had thrown its weight behind the story after being told the source came from the intelligence services, which Kelly did not.
Despite learning of Kelly’s identity, Davies said the governors stuck by their statement that the story was in the public interest “given the information available at that time”.
Some BBC staff said they admired the premise of the governors backing a reporter so wholeheartedly. But many held reservations about their motives in a battle seen as key to the broadcaster asserting its independence from the government.
“Dr Kelly was a kind and unassuming man and I feel we are all responsible for what happened to him,” said a BBC producer.