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Cox pushes Ofcom power hike

Exec sez question of report's validity never answered

LONDON — Channel 4 deputy chairman Barry Cox on Thursday called for the BBC governors regulatory powers to be handed to media watchdog Ofcom, following the handling of the Iraq dossier report.

He branded the governors’ probe into defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan’s story on BBC Radio 4 “the action of champions rather than regulators.”

He said they had failed to answer the central question — whether the report alleging that the government had hyped a dossier about Iraq’s biological weapons capability was misleading.

The governors held an emergency meeting on July 6 to investigate the accuracy of Gilligan’s report and issued a statement backing the journalist. The next day the Foreign Affairs Committee published its findings, which called for an apology from chief government spin doctor Alastair Campbell for accusing the BBC of an anti-war agenda.

“A regulator would have taken more time to inquire into the matter,” said Cox. “It would have waited to see what the foreign affairs committee said [and] not feel it necessary to get its views in first.”

BBC journalists must have two separate sources to corroborate a story unless the source is a senior level. The BBC said its source, weapons expert David Kelly, who subsequently committed suicide, was a senior intelligence exec at the Ministry of Defense.

Cox, a friend of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and culture secretary Tessa Jowell, joins a growing list of industryites and politicians including Gerald Kaufman, head of the Media Select Committee, who believe the pubcaster should be regulated by Ofcom just like other U.K. broadcasters.

Cox suggested that the BBC’s license fee, a tax that every household with a TV set must pay, should be scrapped and replaced by a voluntary subscription. This would put it in on a “much healthier footing with the government” and its “independence would be clear,” Cox argued.