Humphrys: 'Gag me and I quit'
David Smith, Antony Barnett and Gaby Hinsliff
John Humphrys, the public voice of the BBC's flagship Today programme, last night warned that he will quit if the governors order him to 'go soft' on politicians in the wake of the Hutton inquiry.
Humphrys denied suggestions he had given interviewees John Reid and David Blunkett an easy ride this week because of pressure on the BBC to back down in its battle with the Government over the David Kelly affair.
The broadcaster said: 'With the way I do my interviews, if someone said to me: "Look, for political reasons we should go soft on politicians", I wouldn't hang around for very long because it would change the programme.
'I would be gobsmacked if that happened and don't think it ever will. It is inconceivable anybody would say that to me.' But considering the implications of the Hutton inquiry for the BBC, Humphrys admitted: 'Whether things will change, I have no idea.'
The broadcaster's remarks came as Lord Hutton's inquiry team confirmed it will publish a new tranche of documents tomorrow on its website, including evidence likely to embarrass both the Government and the BBC.
Solicitors for the Kelly family, the BBC and other key players will also tomorrow submit a confidential list of witnesses they wish to cross-examine. It is expected to include not only the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan and former director of communications and strategy Alastair Campbell, but the Prime Minister himself.
With nerves fraying in Whitehall, friends of Hoon rose to his defence over claims that he had misled the inquiry by failing to mention a meeting on July 9, at which his director of news, Pam Teare, outlined plans to confirm Kelly's identity to journalists who guessed he was the BBC source. It is understood that confidential written evidence submitted by Hoon to the inquiry last month and as yet unpublished makes clear he had discussed the strategy with Teare. Hoon is expected to refer to it when he is recalled for cross-examination.
The MoD last night refused to comment, but Hoon's colleagues are growing increasingly frustrated by his battering in the press. 'It is just a barrage of day-by-day criticism,' said one friend.
An inquiry spokesman last night declined to reveal what new evidence would be published, but a spokeswoman said it was 'possible' this might include a minute of the disputed July 9 meeting, involving Hoon, Taylor, Hoon's private secretary Peter Watkins, and Teare, which could reveal exactly what was discussed.
Gilligan is also expected to be cross-examined about his email to member of the Foreign Affairs Committee naming Kelly as the source of Newsnight reporter Susan Watts. Gilligan is believed to have made a new statement to the inquiry that he did not know for certain that Kelly was Watts's source.
New witnesses are expected to be called for the second phase of the inquiry, opening on September 15, but the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw is expected to escape.
The Hutton inquiry team is still considering calling a new American witness, Mai Pederson, the mysterious Arab-American woman who was Kelly's mentor and introduced him to the Bahai' faith.
While Today is bound to come under fresh scrutiny during the second phase of the inquiry, Humphrys insisted there will be no change in style: 'Some governors would like to see us do things differently. But I can't remember a time when we haven't had governors expressing views about what we do on the Today programme and it's healthy that they do.'
The broadcaster was accused of giving Blunkett eight minutes of air time this week without a single interruption. John Reid, the Health Secretary, spoke for nearly 10 minutes without any of the sparks that flew in his spectacular clash with Humphrys in June, the last time he was interviewed for Today.
©Copyright 2003, Guardian (UK)
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