Corporation staff to stage protest over threat to independence

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Thousands of BBC staff are expected to stage demonstrations across the UK today to mark their commitment to retaining the BBC's independence.

Following the staff walk-outs after the resignation of Greg Dyke as director general last week, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the broadcasting union Bectu have called on staff to show their clear determination to challenge any government attempts to weaken the BBC.

Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP and chair of the union's Parliamentary Group, is to address staff at BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane, west London, during the two-hour stoppage between midday and 2pm. Other demonstrations are expected at Bush House, the home of the World Service, in central London, and outside the Welsh Assembly building in Cardiff.

Jeremy Dear, the NUJ's general secretary, said yesterday: "The Hutton report poses a real and grave threat to journalism. It will inevitably mean journalists face greater pressure to reveal their sources and will make sources and whistleblowers think twice before coming forward."

Staff were further incensed last week when the loss of Mr Dyke was compounded by the subsequent apology to the Government by Lord Ryder of Wensum, the acting chairman of the board of governors.

He repeated it in the House of Lords yesterday, insisting that Mr Dyke's departure was necessary to draw a line under the affair.

In his maiden speech from the cross benches of the house, the former Conservative chief whip also said that it was "necessary" for the BBC to apologise for its mistakes in the wake of the Hutton report. "Most of the mistakes were conceded during the inquiry itself," he said.

"Mr Davies accepted ultimate responsibility by resigning as chairman of the board. Mr Dyke also offered his resignation to the governors and the board accepted it."

But Mr Dear said that this "abject apology" would have given "succour to politicians and all those who want to intimidate or influence the news agenda. The governors must act quickly to assert their independence". He added: "BBC journalists have taken the lead in standing up for journalism. Their magnificent actions last week sent a clear message to the governors and management of the BBC that they must stand up for the BBC's independence, integrity and commitment to quality news and current affairs.

"It also sent a forceful message to Government - hands off the BBC."

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