Birt angers senior BBC staff

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SENIOR BBC broadcasters who question changes being introduced by John Birt, the corporation's Director-General, expressed their anger yesterday at his dismissive response to criticism from Mark Tully, an award-winning BBC foreign correspondent.

Reliable sources within the BBC say that Mr Birt is squaring up to portray his critics as 'old soldiers polishing up their campaign medals', a sentiment which some experienced BBC hands say is typical of the 'patronising and deeply offensive' attitude that Mr Birt displays towards them.

One senior BBC insider said that broadcasters who had dedicated 30 years of distinguished service to the corporation were being dismissed as 'garrulous old buffers who had no right to comment'.

Yesterday the Independent on Sunday previewed a speech to be delivered by Mr Tully tomorrow at the Radio Academy in Birmingham. He says that under Mr Birt 'there is a very real fear among staff which prevents them speaking their minds'.

He says he was prompted to speak out by a letter to the Times signed by six high-profile BBC journalists, including Peter Jay, Peter Sissons and Martyn Lewis. It accused Mr Birt's critics of being too cowardly to give their names. Mr Tully says: 'I leave you to judge how much courage it took to write that letter.'

Mr Birt is expected to reply to the attack on Wednesday in another speech at the Radio Academy.

Mr Jay, the BBC's economics editor, said in response to Mr Tully's speech, that the letter was written 'because of a regard for truth'. Mr Sissons refused to comment last night.