BBC faces firestorm

Defense prepped as Kelly controvery grows

LONDON — The BBC is preparing to defend its reputation, and its future, as the controversy surrounding the death of its source for the “sexed-up” Iraq report deepens.

With MPs baying for BBC blood, the stakes could not be higher for the pubcaster, which receives £2.66 billion ($4.2 billion) a year in government-approved license fee income.

Director general Greg Dyke is determined to prevent the affair from spiraling into a campaign to reform the pubcaster, which is preparing to renegotiate its charter due for renewal in 2006. Super regulator Ofcom will begin a review of public service broadcasting next year.

The BBC disclosed Sunday that the Ministry of Defense scientist and former U.N. Iraq weapons expert David Kelly, who committed suicide on Thursday, was its source for a report accusing the government of hyping weapons evidence to justify war in Iraq.

Kelly’s local MP Robert Jackson said BBC chairman Gavyn Davies should quit, and Dyke “should consider his position.”

The broadcaster is readying a team of execs and inhouse lawyers to gather documents, transcripts and tapes relating to the intelligence dossiers on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the Beeb’s reliance on Kelly.

The information will be presented to a judicial inquiry, headed by judge James Edward Hutton, who will establish whether proper government procedures were followed by the Ministry of Defence and the government in their handling of Kelly.

Out of a mark of respect, the judicial inquiry will take place after Kelly’s funeral, for which a date has yet to be set.

But the actions of the BBC and its defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan, whose report on Radio Four’s “Today” program sparked the affair, will also come under intense scrutiny.

Questions will undoubtedly be raised about the BBC’s accuracy and impartiality.

After an emergency meeting of the BBC governors on July 6, Davies said the corporation’s guidelines allowed reporters, in exceptional circumstances, to use single anonymous sources if they were “senior intelligence sources.”

Richard Sambrook, the head of news, who did not know Kelly’s identity at the time, now admits he was wrong in his claim that the source was a “senior and credible source in the intelligence services.”

Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs Committee announced Monday that it was seeking clarification from Parliament on whether it could force journalists to disclose their source, following Gilligan’s refusal to do so.

“It is unsatisfactory that a witness should be free to make an allegation against a third party, however serious, without revealing the source for that allegation,” it said.

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