He deplored her standards. She was hurt and shocked. Now it's civil war at the BBC

MICHAEL STREETER

Civil war has broken out in the BBC over Esther Rantzen and her public row with the Panorama reporter, John Ware, about journalistic standards.

Senior staff are dismayed that publicity surrounding the dispute is, in the words of one source, "getting completely out of hand ... There is a civil war and it's one in which some cannons are being fired underground. Some of the things going on - memos leaked to the press, high-profile interviews and colleagues questioning people about their private life - are way over the top. The tragedy is that the important issues have been lost."

The initial dispute started over a newspaper article by Mr Ware attacking an edition of The Rantzen Report which had criticised the lack of care in the British Home and Hospital for Incurables in south London.

It focused on one patient, Ian Parker, and with the use of a hidden camera purported to show that he was left in a room to vegetate rather than being taken outside for stimulation.

Mr Ware said the programme failed to prove this central allegation and accused it of "sloppy and misleading" reporting and of having the "potential for seriously damaging the BBC's reputation for fair-minded journalism".

Ms Rantzen was "hurt and shocked" by the attack, which amounted to a "perversion of the truth, a twisting of the facts". In The Independent she said: "I have been described ... as a tabloid journalist. If this means I make populist, accessible, programmes, it is a label I am proud to wear."

The BBC's director-general, John Birt, ordered an inquiry into the television episode and the article and a separate investigation into an allegation that Mr Ware had deliberately misled a witness while compiling his article, which he denies.

Battle lines have been drawn between those in the features department, who produce The Rantzen Report, and news and current affairs. A news source said: "What John Ware said about journalistic standards and the fear of television distorting reality needed to be said."

Some sources believe there has been an attempt to avoid journalistic arguments and concentrate on "irrelevant" details, including Mr Ware's private life. Parts of a memo outlining the presenter's arguments were leaked to a newspaper, a leak publicly disowned by Ms Rantzen. The memo contains a claim by Ms Rantzen that Mr Ware failed to disclose a personal interest in his report, namely his friendship with a woman reporter whose mother works at the south London home.

The Independent has also discovered that in the last of a series of memos, Ms Rantzen personally demanded from Mr Ware confirmation of the friendship by 2.30pm. It is claimed that within an hour of the "deadline" on 30 August, tabloid journalists rang a future boss of the woman reporter, asking about the relationship.

The next day, an interview with Ms Rantzen appeared in the same paper in which she said: "I think [Mr Ware] is motivated by a profound dislike of me and my work." Mr Ware, who refused to answer her questions, is believed to have told BBC bosses he wrote the article because of concern about journalistic standards and was not motivated by the friendship.

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