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BBC’s cozy gov’t ties strained

Pubcaster's scrutiny reaches highest levels

LONDON — Heightening the drama of today’s Hutton Inquiry proceeding, which historically witnessed a sitting Prime Minister’s cross-examination, was the clear evidence that the relationship between the BBC and the Labor Party would never again be called “too cozy.”

BBC chairman Gavyn Davies, who joined PM Tony Blair giving evidence on Thursday, is not only a Labor Party supporter but is married to Sue Nye, who runs the private office of chancellor Gordon Brown.

BBC director general Greg Dyke was also a prominent Labor supporter. Much analysis of the current situation has focused on whether or not these two BBC leaders had misstepped in their efforts to disprove persistent charges that the pubcaster was too soft on Blair and Labor. That perception is one more piece of the U.K. political and media landscape that has been reshaped by the Iraq conflict.

As evidence of the chasm that the war and BBC’s coverage of it have caused, Blair said today that only a clear admission from the BBC, who broadcast the charge his team had “sexed up” a dossier on the Iraq WMD threat, that they had got it wrong would end the “raging storm” that had been created. “We issued a strong denial which didn’t really go anywhere,” Blair said, adding that the allegations contained in the BBC report were “completely absurd.”

Blair also revealed that he had phoned BBC chairman Gavyn Davies on July 7 to tell him an official had come forward who could be the BBC’s source but whose account of events did not match that given by BBC “Today” program reporter Andrew Gilligan.

The Prime Minister said he had asked Davies “isn’t the best way through for you to say, ‘We stand by our right to broadcast the story but we accept the story was wrong?'” He continued, “He [Davies] explained that he felt he could not do that, that he could not retract the original story, that that would compromise the BBC’s independence.”

The political fallout of the Hutton inquiry aside, assessing the long-term effects of the crisis on the BBC is becoming a cottage industry.

From the recent to and fro over BBC’s license fees and programming choices at the Edinburgh TV conference to Dyke’s strategic suggestions about ITV tax breaks in order to ward off greater threats to the BBC’s own exemptions, the Beeb has never undergone such thorough and prolonged scrutiny.

And now the notion of rock solid support from friends in high Labor positions has been reduced to rubble.