Gilligan accuses BBC of going soft on Blair
Sunday 29 August 2004
Andrew Gilligan, the journalist at the centre of the row that brought down Greg Dyke as director-general of the BBC, claimed yesterday that the corporation had softened its approach to investigating the Government.
At a lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Mr Gilligan accused BBC Radio 4's Today programme, on which he was defence correspondent, of no longer breaking big political stories.
"The programme does seem to have lost at least half of its reporters and there seems to be a trend of moving story-breaking journalism off daily news programmes and into less watched or heard programmes in current affairs," he said.
He said that although investigative journalism continued to thrive at the BBC, "there just haven't been any high-profile, ground-breaking investigations of the Government".
The former BBC correspondent, who resigned after the official report into the affair, used the lecture to accuse the report's author, Lord Hutton, of being a "Guantanamo judge" who had made an "utterly unbalanced judgment".
Mr Gilligan said: "Hutton and his report have been discredited, even ridiculed, and they deserve to be. He will live in history as a landmark of judicial incompetence and bias."
He claimed that if his story had been examined by a libel jury it would have been vindicated. "The only real difference between my story and hundreds of other stories - our unique misfortune - was the fact that our every action was subjected to microscopic scrutiny in hindsight by a Guantanamo judge," he said.
"Very few pieces of journalism would have survived such a process entirely unscathed." He said his story had been "one of the more accurate accounts of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capability".
By contrast, the dossier compiled by the intelligence services on Saddam Hussein's arsenal had been exposed as "stable-floor sweepings from second-hand sources".
Mr Gilligan said: "That legendary dossier was the rough equivalent, for a journalist, of writing a front-page news story based on something your minicab driver heard down the pub in 1995. Except, of course, that no news story ever became part of a case for killing 20,000 people."
He said his report had had "far more serious consequences for the BBC than it merited" and that his contentious comment in an infamous 6.07am two-way interview with John Humphrys had become "the most ridiculously over-analysed sentence in recent broadcasting history".
The BBC governors had "panicked", he said. "Unlike the rest of us, who've been held to account for our failings, the governors are still there," said Mr Gilligan, who is now working as a print journalist.
Mr Gilligan's comments dominated the second day of the festival in which Channel 4's new chief executive, Andy Duncan, admitted the broadcaster is looking at entering into a commercial partnership with the BBC for the first time.
Mr Duncan suggested Channel 4 and the BBC were natural bedfellows, adding that they could save money by working together in education and new media and sharing back-office functions.
Meanwhile, in a panel debate on chequebook journalism two of the world's most famous mistresses - Monica Lewinsky and Rebecca Loos - shared a platform in defence of the paid television interview.
Ms Loos revealed for the first time that she was paid £120,000 by Sky One for an interview following her alleged affair with David Beckham.
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