Gavyn Davies: I was the victim of a Government witch hunt

From a speech by the former chairman of the BBC on receiving an honorary degree from Middlesex University
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I was, a year ago, the chairman of the BBC. Sometimes described as the best job in Britain, it did not exactly feel so at the time. The Government conducted its campaign against Andrew Gilligan and the BBC in a remorseless and aggressive manner, with scant regard for the freedom of the press, or the independence of the BBC. They may have thought that they were pursuing a legitimate grievance. From where I sat, their methods of seeking redress for that grievance looked more like a witch hunt.

I was, a year ago, the chairman of the BBC. Sometimes described as the best job in Britain, it did not exactly feel so at the time. The Government conducted its campaign against Andrew Gilligan and the BBC in a remorseless and aggressive manner, with scant regard for the freedom of the press, or the independence of the BBC. They may have thought that they were pursuing a legitimate grievance. From where I sat, their methods of seeking redress for that grievance looked more like a witch hunt.

A year ago, the BBC governors met to consider the litany of complaints being made by No 10 against BBC News. The governors rejected these complaints, and the manner in which they had been made, and reasserted the right of the BBC to report British and international politics without let or hindrance from Downing Street. I was proud to be the chairman of the governors that night, for it would have been easier to have bent the knee to No 10. The rest of the story is distressingly familiar.

So my own career in public life ended in the failure predicted for us all. But at least I have the consolation that I did what I thought was right, and followed my conscience when it would have been much easier and more convenient to do the opposite. I have emerged from this last part of my own career journey battered, and somewhat bewildered about the standards of public morality in this country. I am sure I made errors of judgement and tactics in my final months as BBC chairman. But I did nothing that breached my principles, and I maintained my self respect.

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