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Hutton inquiry tarnishes Beeb

Court continues grilling pubcaster journos

LONDON — The BBC continues to feel the heat from the Hutton inquiry into the suicide of scientist David Kelly, the source for its controversial reports that the government hyped Iraq’s weapons capability.

The pubcaster’s role has become the story dominating every TV and radio news report and every national newspaper.

Some newspapers, notably the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times and mass-market Sun, have been highly critical of the BBC.

But, it turns out, even the BBC governors were deeply split by the way it covered events, although they presented a united front in the weeks following the airing of Andrew Gilligan’s report on Radio Four’s “Today” program.

Minutes of a July 6 governors’ meeting revealed to Hutton inquiry on Wednesday showed that most governors were concerned, and some believed the case warranted a review of news reporting guidelines.

Susan Watts, science correspondent for BBC2’s “Newsnight” show, which also covered the story, distanced herself from Gilligan in her second day of High Court testimony.

Watts told the court she objected to the BBC’s “attempts to mold” her stories in what she believed was a misguided strategy to corroborate Gilligan’s report.

She said she insisted on separate legal advice, over and above that offered to her by the BBC.

“I felt under some considerable pressure from the BBC. I also felt the purpose of that was to help corroborate Andrew Gilligan’s allegations, not for any news purposes,” said Watts. She added that she had come under huge BBC pressure to reveal her source.

Gavin Hewitt from the BBC’s flagship “10 O’Clock News” told the inquiry he had one conversation with Kelly, during which Kelly confirmed the British intelligence sector felt “unease of some substance” about the claim that Saddam Hussein could have weapons of mass destruction ready in 45 minutes.

BBC director of news Richard Sambrook spent much of Wednesday afternoon in the witness box, and at one stage defended what a lawyer described as the BBC’s “catalog of lies” in a period of rising tension between the BBC and the government.

This was the phrase used by the government’s communications chief, Alastair Campbell, in his criticism of BBC reporting.

The BBC news chief told the court there were some early concerns about Gilligan’s report and he was warned to be careful with his use of language. Sambrook denied he had exerted pressure on Watts, indicating perhaps the degree of confusion within the BBC.

The hearing continues Thursday.