| A BBC employee rallies in support of Greg Dyke who quit as director-general in London. (Reuters)
London, Jan. 30 (Agencies): BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan, who said in a radio report that the British government “sexed up” the risk posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons, resigned from the public broadcaster today.
In a statement, Gilligan conceded that some of his story, which was at the centre of judge Lord Hutton’s inquiry into the death of an Iraqi weapons expert who was unmasked as the source for his report, was wrong.
“I again apologise for it. My departure is at my own initiative. But the BBC collectively has been the victim of a grave injustice,” he said. Lord Hutton said Gilligan’s report was “unfounded” and criticised the BBC’s management procedures as “defective”. The BBC said: “We can confirm that Andrew Gilligan has resigned. We recognise that this has been a very difficult time for him.”
Giiligan’s resignation came several hours after BBC director-general Greg Dyke, who resigned in the wake of the Hutton rebuke, said he did not necessarily accept the inquiry’s findings.
“I could not quite work out what they had apologised for,” said Dyke, after the BBC earlier bowed to pressure from Prime Minister Tony Blair and unconditionally apologised for the May radio broadcast.
“I don’t necessarily accept the findings of Lord Hutton”, Dyke said yesterday, referring to the senior judge who in a long awaited report on Wednesday faulted the BBC for its broadcast.
Dyke did not elaborate but, amid accusations from some commentators that Hutton’s report was a “whitewash” of the government, suggested he may shortly voice criticisms of the judge’s conclusions.
Dyke, director general and editor-in-chief, became the second top BBC official to fall on his sword, following Gavyn Davies who stepped down as chairman in the wake of Hutton’s report, which plunged the BBC into the worst crisis in its history. Hutton cleared Blair’s government of serious wrongdoing in events leading up to the suicide last July of David Kelly, the British arms expert at the centre of the BBC’s controversial report.
Yesterday, hundreds of BBC employees protested over Dyke’s resignation and the Hutton report, the company said.
About 400 staff — journalists, technicians, secretaries and other employees — joined the protest at BBC headquarters in London, calling for Dyke to remain in his post.
Similar protests took place in regional BBC offices in Cardiff, Manchester, Belfast and Glasgow, BBC-Radio 4 said. “It is not a strike but an expression of solidarity for Greg Dyke,” a spokeswoman for the BBC said.
As the BBC today began its search for new leaders amid fears its journalists will be muzzled in the fallout from the crisis, Dyke said all media should take careful note. “I think every journalistic organisation, every newspaper, every broadcaster in this country should be concerned.”
“Someone inside of government, inside of the civil service who has very real concerns — as Kelly had — could not be broadcast unless you could demonstrate that their concerns were true,” he told the BBC Today programme.
Dyke, a plainspeaking populist whose “cut the crap” campaign to boost creativity won respect from staff stifled by years of bureaucracy, was mobbed by tearful employees when he toured the newsroom for the last time.
He and BBC chairman Gavyn Davies resigned after judge Lord Hutton condemned the broadcaster in his report this week into Kelly’s suicide.
Widespread concern was expressed today that the top two jobs would be filled by Blair placemen and that the BBC’s will to break stories embarrassing to the government would be sapped. But the 82-year-old BBC, a source of national pride to millions of Britons who affectionately call it the “Beeb”, will overcome pressure to dilute its journalism, commentators said. “There is a danger of self-censorship,” said Martin Bell, a former BBC correspondent.
“But it will bounce back.
“They have to dust themselves down and resume hard-hitting, investigative journalism, bearing in mind the lessons that had to be learned,” he said.
Austin Mitchell, a parliamentarian with Blair’s Labour Party, said the BBC must resist ministers’ attempts to tame it.
“Good journalism cannot be carried on as if it was a legal process with affidavits and cross checking,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
Blair faces a delicate choice in finding a new BBC chairman, often seen as one of the government’s toughest appointments. “It would be disastrous to appoint somebody who is seen to be close to the government or the Labour Party,” Ian Kearns, associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, a Leftleaning thinktank, said.
The crisis could not have come at a worse time for the BBC, which is under pressure to justify its licence fee Ä an annual tax paid by all British households with a television set.
Its current charter, the rules which set out its public obligations and editorial independence, expires in 2006 and the government has already launched the public phase of the charter review.
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said she didn't want the BBC to become a“lapdog”, but added the Hutton report would figure in the review.