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BBC accuses ministers of vendetta

London, July 27
As British Prime Minister Tony Blair headed for Barbados for a family holiday, the row between the BBC and his government escalated dramatically today, with the news organisation’s Chairman Gavyn Davies accusing Cabinet ministers of seeking to destroy its independence in revenge for its refusal to back down in the Iraq dossier controversy.

“We are chastised for taking a different view on editorial matters from that of the government and its supporters. Because we have had the temerity to do this, it is hinted that a system that has protected the BBC for 80 years should be swept away and replaced by an external regulator that will ‘bring the BBC to heel’,” Davies wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

The BBC Chairman’s remarks underline the level of animosity between the corporation and Mr Blair’s senior Cabinet allies, the newspaper commented.

The BBC, it said, had informally agreed not to continue the feud until after Lord Hutton delivered his judicial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, the government scientist who was the source of the BBC’s story that intelligence about Iraq’s pile of weapons of mass destruction were “sexed up”.

But the BBC felt provoked by last weekend’s claim by former minister Peter Mandelson that it was to blame for Kelly’s death and by subsequent hints from Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary, that the corporation’s governors were not fulfilling their statutory obligations.

According to the report, a senior executive in the corporation claimed that Jowell had privately left the BBC chiefs in no doubt that she could use the forthcoming review of the BBC charter to put pressure on the governors to sack Director -General Greg Dyke, change the composition of the board or even change the size and scope of the broadcaster.

The BBC, on its part, is sticking by its claim that Kelly was correctly described by its correspondent Andrew Gilligan as “an intelligence source”.

According to a separate report in the Observer on Sunday, Kelly spoke openly to fellow members of a religious sect about his concerns over the ‘interpretation’ of intelligence material in the government’s September dossier on whether Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

As Kelly’s family met Lord Hutton yesterday, new details emerged of Kelly’s views on the dossier during a discussion with worshippers of the Bahai faith.

Kelly made his comments at the home of Geeta and Roger Kingdon, two fellow worshippers, in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, on October 5 last year. Also present were 30 other Bahai guests.

According to the newspaper, the disclosure of new evidence about his “unhappiness” with the dossier came as Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon had a private lunch with the weapons scientist shortly before the Iraq conflict, undermining government claims that Kelly was a middle-ranking official with little access to intelligence.

Mr Hoon met Kelly to discuss Saddam and weapons of mass destruction. Although it is not clear whether Kelly raised his concerns about the use of intelligence to make the case for war, it is unusual for a member of the Cabinet to meet officials unless they have high levels of information unlikely to be known by the minister, the report said. PTI

©Copyright 2003, Tribune India (India)

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