Andrew Gilligan: keynote speech
The spectre of the Hutton Inquiry and the Government’s row with the BBC reared its head again last weekend, amid the publication of extracts from the former BBC director general Greg Dyke’s autobiography and a lecture by former Today correspondent Andrew Gilligan.
In a serialisation of Inside Story, published in The Observer and Mail On Sunday last weekend, Dyke revealed the extent of the government’s attempts to influence the BBC’s Iraq war coverage, which included an unprecedented letter from Prime Minister Tony Blair in the week war broke out.
In addition to the ongoing exchange between Blair’s spokesman Alistair Campbell and the then director of BBC News Richard Sambrook, the Prime Minister wrote to Dyke and former BBC chairman Gavyn Davis on March 19 last year.
Dyke also poured scorn on the BBC governors who forced him to resign in the wake of Lord Hutton’s report in January. He accused former joint intelligence committee chairwoman Dame Pauline Neville-Jones and Baroness Hogg – dubbed “the posh ladies”– of stabbing him in the back.
Former deputy chairman Lord Ryder’s “craven” apology after the Hutton report was published was also criticised. In his book Dyke demanded the governors should resign.
Andrew Gilligan, giving the inaugural Media Guardian Lecture in memory of ITV News reporter Terry Lloyd, said governors over-reacted and turned a crisis into a disaster.
“But unlike the rest of us, who’ve been held to account for our failings, the governors are still here.” He added that Today editor Kevin Marsh, “an experienced BBC office politician” told him last year that, “Gavyn Davies apart, there were only two people of real calibre on the board.”
Andrew Gilligan took a sideswipe at the BBC’s post Hutton record on news and current affairs, suggesting the broadcaster’s coverage had lost its edge and the will to chase important stories about the government.
“I can’t say I’ve noticed a diminution in the robustness of the interviewing at Today, but the programme does seem to have lost at least half of its reporters and there seems to be a trend of moving story-breaking journalism off daily news programmes and into less watched or heard programmes in current affairs.”
He also asserted that there hadn’t been “any high-profile investigations of the government since Hutton.
“I am in no way belittling the investigations into the racist police trainees, nursery care and Nick Griffin. But I cannot help thinking they make softer targets than ministers and company bosses,” he said.
BBC head of current affairs Peter Horrocks insisted the BBC continued to do “strong journalism about government and people in power. It’s important that it’s not spread around that the BBC’s journalism is in crisis.”
By Wale Azeez