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Monday July 28, 2003

BBC Hits Back in Kelly Row

LONDON -- BBC chairman Gavyn Davies has urged ministers not to take revenge on the BBC for its handling of the Iraqi weapons row.

Davies, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, said any moves to bring the corporation under an external regulator threatened its independence.

He believes some ministers want to punish the BBC for refusing to back down in its row with the government over the use of intelligence to make the case for war.

But a spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport denied a forthcoming review of the BBC charter would be used to "settle scores" or reduce the corporation's independence.

Davies' comments come as Lord Hutton prepares to chair the inquiry this week into the apparent suicide of Iraq weapons expert Dr. David Kelly.

Kelly was later named by the BBC as the main source for a story on 29 May by reporter Andrew Gilligan, which caused fury in Downing Street.

Davies repeated his confidence in the story, which quoted concerns by a senior official involved in producing the dossier that the government had "sexed up" the threat posed by Iraq.

The BBC chairman said he had been angered at threats from "government sources" to reduce BBC funding, remove its director-general Greg Dyke and change its charter.

He said: "Our integrity is under attack and 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'."

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has said the Hutton Inquiry could impact on the forthcoming review of the BBC charter.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said the review of the BBC charter would be "radical and wide-ranging" without compromising its independence. He added: "There is no question of it being used to settle scores." KELLY WAS AN EXPERT ON IRAQ'S WEAPONS

Leader of the Commons Peter Hain has also criticized the BBC, accusing the corporation of acting like a tabloid newspaper over the Iraq dossier story. "Instead of following the agenda, the media are increasingly setting it," he wrote in the Independent on Sunday.

"We have seen the absolute extreme of this in the recent row between the BBC and the government. "A story, based on one source, and 'sexed up' to make it more interesting - with the seniority of that source also spun to give the report more credibility - to ensure the greatest embarrassment, in the best traditions of the tabloids, rather than a public service broadcaster."

The Observer reports Kelly had also shared concerns about the Iraq dossier with other members of his Bahai faith - a religious sect which promotes global harmony.

And the Mail on Sunday says the scientist's wife has kept a full record of her husband's final hours, including an "explosive" account of his treatment by the government.

Kelly was found dead last Friday in a wood near to his Oxfordshire home.

The inquiry's preliminary hearings begin next week at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

©Copyright 2003, Tehran Times (Tehran, Iran)

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