Dyke plans 'robust' defence - but tighter controls on his reporters

The Kelly affair might not have happened had the corporation said sorry for minor errors, reports James Morrison
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Indy Politics

Greg Dyke, the BBC's director general, is likely to be questioned at the Hutton inquiry tomorrow over his refusal to rectify or apologise for minor flaws in Andrew Gilligan's reporting on the Iraq weapons dossier, sources at the corporation said last night.

Mr Dyke is expected to be asked to explain why he failed to give ground weeks ago over an assertion in one broadcast by Mr Gilligan that Downing Street knowingly inserted false information in the September dossier to justify war. Had he done so, some believe, the row between the BBC and Alastair Campbell, No 10's outgoing director of communications, might never have escalated.

The BBC is already drawing up detailed new rules to tighten up its news operation. Proposals under consideration include tougher guidelines on the use of anonymous sources and tight restrictions on the freedom of BBC journalists to write freelance articles for newspapers.

The BBC insists that it still stands behind the overall thrust of Mr Gilligan's 29 May reports on Radio 4's Today programme that members of the intelligence community were concerned that Downing Street had intervened to strengthen the disputed dossier. Their defiance comes despite last week's conclusion by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee that there was no evidence that the Government had "sexed up" the document.

None the less, executives are irritated by some inconsistencies in Mr Gilligan's reporting. In particular they regret his suggestion during an early broadcast on 29 May that Downing Street knew claims in the dossier about Saddam Hussein's ability to deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes were false.

Tomorrow's hearing is expected to focus, in part, on why the BBC failed to apologise for this report at an early stage. Doing so might have cooled its row with No 10 and perhaps helped prevent the apparent suicide of the government scientist Dr David Kelly, the source for Mr Gilligan's story.

Mr Dyke is also expected to be asked about the extent to which he personally intervened to persuade the BBC's board of governors to issue its angry rebuttal of Downing Street's attack on Mr Gilligan's journalism on 6 July. Some critics of the corporation believe the board leapt to his defence too readily, and that it should first have carried out a more in-depth examination of his reporting and the accusations of inaccuracy made by Mr Campbell.

A BBC source last night said Mr Dyke would almost certainly put up a "robust" defence of the corporation.

Meanwhile, the BBC's news department is understood to be in the process of drawing up a detailed new system of rules to ensure its journalistic standards never again come in for the criticism they have suffered in recent weeks.

The guidelines will not be finalised until after the inquiry ends. Foremost among them are likely to be safeguards to clamp down on the use of anonymous sources. Stories based on allegations by unnamed individuals will have to be "referred up" to senior executives.

New restrictions are also expected to be introduced to prevent many BBC journalists incorporating their own interpretations in their despatches, with only correspondents such as Mr Gilligan - rather than ordinary reporters - being permitted to do so. Newsrooms will also have to log calls to organisations and individuals at the centre of stories, to ensure there can be no repeat of the Ministry of Defence's claim that it was not given an adequate chance to respond to the allegations made in Mr Gilligan's report.

In addition, the BBC is considering new rules to prevent many of its journalists freelancing elsewhere. In recognition of the controversy surrounding the article Mr Gilligan wrote in the Mail on Sunday expanding on his Today report, senior BBC correspondents, many of whom are freelance, may be forced to take staff contracts or to have their right to write for other media "bought out" by the corporation.

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