| Greg Dyke, who quit as BBC director general, is surrounded by supporting employees at the Television Centre headquarters in White City, London. (Reuters)
London, Jan. 29: Civilisation as the British know it is coming to an end, with the BBC facing the gravest crisis in its history and its director general, Greg Dyke, resigning today, only hours after the departure last night of its chairman, Gavyn Davies.
Tony Blair and his government, who were cleared yesterday by Lord Hutton of any wrongdoing over the death of Dr David Kelly, the weapons scientist, are not having things all their own way, though.
An influential and growing body of opinion believes that Hutton’s report is a “whitewash” — in fact, today’s Independent newspaper dramatically left most of its front page blank to signal its view that Hutton has not been even-handed in apportioning blame.
Hutton said that the allegation by the BBC reporter, Andrew Gilligan, that the government had “sexed up” its Iraq dossier was “unfounded” and also characterised the BBC’s editorial and management system as “defective”.
Today, after a meeting of the BBC’s board of governs, an emotional Dyke stood outside the front door of Broadcasting House clutching a sheaf of e-mails from his staff begging him to stay.
With his resignation and that of the chairman, he said he hoped “a line would be drawn” under the whole affair and that the BBC would have the opportunity for a “new start”.
He added that as the man at the top he had to take responsibility.
Blair and his former chief spokesman, Alastair Campbell, are calling for the BBC to issue an apology to the government. What is ironic is that when Davies and Dyke first got their jobs, they were described as Labour-supporting government plants — “Tony’s cronies”.
At issue now is the freedom and independence of the BBC. It has admitted it made a mistake over Gilligan but insists it was right to cover the Iraq war in the way that it did — which is one of the reasons why Blair and Campbell went to war against the BBC. In 2006, the BBC’s charter, which sets out the way the BBC is run, is up for a review to be conducted by the government’s department of culture and media.
“My sole aim has been to defend the BBC’s editorial independence and act in the public interest,’ said Dyke, who is being succeeded for the time being by his deputy, Mark Byford, a former director of BBC World Service radio.
If anything, the row is likely to grow, with many people openly questioning whether Hutton’s report can be reconciled with the evidence that he has heard. One trenchant commentator, the novelist Frederick Forsyth, said today that he thought the Hutton report was “garbage”.
Although Hutton is still considered an eminent judge, with long experience in northern Ireland, an opinion poll commissioned today by the London Evening Standard found more people believe it was unfair than fair for the BBC to receive most of the blame for the Kelly affair in the Hutton report.
A former chairman of the BBC, Sir Christopher Bland, said while the BBC should accept it made mistakes, it was legitimate to ask if the law lord’s treatment had been balanced.
“It seems to me that he white-washed the government and maybe he was right to do that,” said Sir Christopher, who was succeeded by Gavyn Davies. “But he tarred and feathered the BBC and there just seems to be a real imbalance in his treatment.”
While the Independent used the word “Whitewash” on page one, the sober Financial Times, commented that Hutton’s verdict took the political world by surprise.
It said that contrast between the law lord’s castigation of the BBC and his acquittal of the government was so great that the corporation started to question the basis on which he had made his judgment.
The BBC is today in the curious position of having to report its own troubles — which it is doing rather well with its camera crews and reporters doorstepping its outgoing director general.
The face of Andrew Marr, the BBC’s high profile political editor, looked drained of all colour as he commented on the departure of his own boss. No one has the faintest idea who the new director general or chairman are going to be.