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BBC charter will be 'unaffected'

(Filed: 27/07/2003)

Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, has insisted that there is "no question whatsoever" of the Government threatening to punish the BBC for its reporting of the Iraq dossier row.

Tessa Jowell

Gavyn Davies, the chairman of the BBC, has accused ministers of "political bullying" in an article in the Telegraph claiming that the Government was putting the corporation's independence under threat.

Ms Jowell has responded by pledging that the Government will "uphold completely" the BBC's independence.

She insisted that the spat over Radio 4 correspondent Andrew Gilligan's reports will have no bearing on her consideration of the BBC's charter and licence fee later this year.

Mr Davies and the BBC's board of governors have come under fire from a series of Government ministers over their robust support for Mr Gilligan, who reported that intelligence officers were unhappy with the handling of material about Iraq's supposed WMD capability.

class="story">Leader of the Commons Peter Hain has joined the criticism, accusing the BBC of behaving like a tabloid newspaper in the hope of causing embarrassment to the Government.

Ms Jowell said on Friday she would "consider very carefully" any recommendations from the Hutton inquiry into the death of Government scientist David Kelly when making a decision later this year on the BBC's 2006 licence renewal.

Mr Davies had raised concerns about speculation that the Government was considering scrapping the BBC's independent board of governors and handing over its powers to the new media regulatory body Ofcom.

But Ms Jowell said: "The charter review that was due in the normal way will be conducted in the normal way without any reference whatever to recent events. We entirely reject the BBC chairman's attempt to confuse our desire to correct the original story by Mr Gilligan with an attack on the BBC's independence.

"We suggest the BBC should now allow the Hutton Inquiry to take its course without further enflaming this issue."

Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative leader, told Sky News programme Sunday with Adam Boulton: "It would be wrong for the Government to try to use the excuse of the present - in many senses engineered - spat with the BBC to try to do something about the BBC in a way that smacks of ... the Government suiting their own purposes."

And Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: "I think the Government are very unwise to allow themselves to be portrayed as somehow calling into question the independence of the BBC. That's a big mistake.

"This Government will come and go, like any other government, but the BBC is here to stay as an independent broadcasting organisation on a global level, and ministers would do well to remember that."

A friend of Dr Kelly has said that the scientist had expressed reservations about the presentation of the threat posed by Iraq as early as October 5 last year - just 11 days after the publication of the controversial dossier on September 24.

The Observer has revealed that he had discussed the issue with Roger Kingdon, a fellow member of the Baha'i faith, following a meeting of believers in Mr Kingdon's home in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

Mr Duncan Smith said Labour was "in the dock" over its reliance on spin, which he suggested had led to the Kelly tragedy.

He told the Mail on Sunday: "A trial is under way and New Labour is in the dock. Its record speaks for itself. Spin and deceit aren't simply Labour's forgivable lapses. They have become Mr Blair's basic instincts and have brought us to this crisis."

©Copyright 2003, Telegraqph (UK)

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