LONDON — The U.K. government is coming under increasing political pressure to ensure that the BBC’s charter renewal negotiations will not be influenced by the Iraq dossier debacle.
Tom McNally, deputy leader of the House of Lords, the U.K. parliament’s upper chamber, wrote to broadcasting minister Andrew McIntosh demanding a statement on how the government intends to undertake the review and renewal of the BBC charter, when he returns from summer recess in September.
The pubcaster is preparing to defend its funding in the fall when it starts to renegotiate its charter, which expires in 2006.
“There is growing suspicion that the government, from Downing Street down, sees charter review as pay back time… those are not the circumstances where there can be explicit public trust in the government to carry out this most important task,” wrote McNally.
“You will be aware that in the past this has been a rather opaque process with little or no parliamentary or external input. I am sure you will agree that this cannot be the case this time around,” he continued.
The letter comes despite Culture SecretaryTessa Jowell’s pledge on Sunday that the government would not be influenced by the controversy over the BBC report that the government hyped up a dossier to emphasize that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.
The controversy intensified following the suicide of weapons expert David Kelly, who was the BBC’s sole source for the story.
A judicial inquiry into Kelly’s suicide will sit for the first time on Friday. Senior judge Lord Hutton had intended to wait until after David Kelly’s funeral but since it will not take place for some time, Kelly’s wife had given the go-ahead for a preliminary sitting.
Jowell’s response followed BBC board of governors chairman Gavyn Davies’ savage attack on the government in The Sunday Telegraph. He accused the government of trying to undermine the pubcaster by threatening to cut the broadcaster’s £2.6 billion ($4.2 billion) funding.
Before the charter renewal talks kick off, super regulator Ofcom will carry out a review of U.K. public service broadcasting in the fall, including an in-depth look at all the BBC’s TV, radio and online services and whether the corporation is fulfilling its remit.
(Reuters contributed to this report)