Apocalypse at the Beeb: but reporting restores some pride

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Indy Politics

It has been a surreal two days for the corporation. Just before the publication of Lord Hutton's report the BBC had swallowed a sliver of humble pie - its Panorama report on the inquiry, including some criticisms of Greg Dyke.

But on Wednesday they had to eat the whole thing. The strain showed in every bulletin. "Turmoil at the BBC," said Huw Edwards, on the Ten O'Clock News . Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight was even blunter: "After an afternoon running around like headless chickens the BBC is without a head."

And as the reports continued, the ironies mounted. "We would have liked to talk to someone from the BBC but were told that no one would be available before tomorrow's board of governors meeting," Paxman said - revealing that the BBC had decided to "empty-chair" itself.

Elsewhere reporters gingerly ventured on to the question of Hutton's even-handedness - throwing back that familiar old complaint about "balance". And resignation - so often mooted as a solution for governmental difficulties - was now being pressed on some just a few floors above. Alastair Campbell wasin nomood for magnanimity on Wednesday's Newsnight . "The BBC is clutching at straws tonight," he said - pressing Paxman into a rattled repudiation of the Today programme's original story. Was it?

Well, Newsnight ran a brief interview with Rod Liddle, former editor of Today , who stoutly defended Gilligan's story, but there was no fudging the severity of Hutton's criticisms in any of the bulletins and self-defence was mostly the occasional beseeching question. "Do you think Lord Hutton understands either the function of the BBC or the function of journalism?" Paxman asked Sir Christopher Bland, who answered with a thoughtful "no".

On the Today programme yesterday - spirits rallied by some of the newspaper coverage - John Humphrys was a bit more bullish. "Do you think the BBC ought to be cowed by this?" he asked, a choice of words that pretty much guaranteed only Alastair Campbell could have answered "yes". Ironically Today ended up empty-chairing its reporter - "He won't speak to us", they said of Andrew Gilligan, "on the advice of his lawyer". No unscripted two-ways yesterday.

The mood was less apocalyptic yesterday morning - buoyed bypublicdisquiet about Hutton's findings and by support from unexpected quarters. But the mood darkened with Greg Dyke's resignation and the BBC's formal apology. BBC journalists had to absorb another blow to their morale - and report impartially to the public. It was a virtually impossible task but - some understandable errors apart - it did well enough to restore some of its battered reputation.

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