Humphrys hits back at 'grotesque piece of journalism' that led to BBC rebuke

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The Independent Online

The presenter was criticised earlier this week by the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, for making "inappropriate and misguided" comments in an after-dinner speech made in June in which he criticised senior Labour politicians. Details of the comments were leaked to The Times newspaper by a former Downing Street spin doctor, Tim Allan. The report prompted Michael Grade, the BBC chairman, to order an inquiry.

But Mr Humphrys has refused to let the matter rest and used another speaking engagement last night at the Institute of Directors in Manchester to express his anger at the behaviour of Mr Allan and the reporting of The Times.

The presenter said: "It was ... inaccurate, misleading and clearly designed to give the impression that I have nothing but contempt for Labour ministers. That is simply not true."

Mr Humphrys said of the Times journalist who reported the story, Tom Baldwin, that he was "renowned throughout journalism for his support of New Labour".

Mr Humphrys claimed that Mr Allan knew "that I do not believe that all Labour ministers are liars. I do, however, believe that some politicians don't always tell the truth".

The presenter denied that the BBC's response to the row was an indication that the independence of the corporation's journalism was compromised.

Mr Humphrys said: "I was not hauled before the bosses. We had a chat on the phone and that was that. I can't say I was exactly over the moon with the wording of the statement, but since I'd already acknowledged that some of my remarks looked pretty injudicious when they appeared in cold print - not that they were ever meant to appear in cold print - there wasn't much I could do about it. It was hardly a resigning matter.

"[The BBC statement] did not tell me to stop making speeches. Indeed, it said BBC presenters should be free to discuss topical issues in journalism in public."

He did not criticise Mr Grade, saying he could understand why the chairman had demanded more information, given the way the story had been reported.

Mr Humphrys was rebuked for comments made in a speech to the Commercial Directors Forum on 8 June, in which he criticised Labour ministers including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Peter Mandelson.

At the conclusion of the inquiry, Mr Thompson said that Mr Humphrys' comments had called into question the BBC's impartiality.