The Broadcasting Debate: Beeb's man in India is a legend to listeners

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The Independent Online
INFORMED critic or disgruntled has-been? What exactly motivated yesterday's attack by Mark Tully, the BBC's India correspondent, on John Birt, the corporation's director-general?

Among the 900 million inhabitants of the sub-continent, Mr Tully, 57, BBC wallah for 20 years, is reputedly better known than the Indian prime minister. Inhabitants of remote Indian villages, it is claimed, automatically assume that any white male visitor is Mr Tully, or at least a close friend.

But while his high standing in India cannot be exaggerated, some have questioned his role as champion of BBC dissenters increasingly disenchanted by Mr Birt's leadership and new management techniques.

While some suspect that Tully's criticism is sour grapes at the BBC's attempts to change his contract, friends insist his motives are pure.

'Mark has been having his own trouble but he is too thoughtful a journalist and too honourable a man to have let this influence his opinion,' a friend said.

'The fact is that he has less to lose than others within the BBC. He can say what they would like to if they were not afraid of losing their jobs. Far from being out of touch in India, he is well placed to gauge opinion. He has always entertained top management figures and governors and he serves all the BBC outlets. He knows what is going on. '

That Mr Tully has less personal ambition invested in the BBC is almost certainly true. He has always said that India comes first and the BBC second. The job allows him to indulge his love of India rather than the reverse.

Tully's mother was born in Bangladesh and his father was a businessman in Calcutta. But Tully went to school and university in England.

His love affair with the country and its people started when he drifted into journalism in his early thirties. .

Tully claims that his speech is a response to a letter to the Times in March, in which BBC journalists, including Martyn Lewis and Peter Jay, defended Mr Birt. It called for the director-general's anonymous critics to declare themselves. Charles Wheeler, another BBC heavyweight journalist, has been one of the few to come out. He said on radio that previous directors-general were characterised by their light touch and absence of doctrine.