The BBC's penitence makes it difficult to defend

The wounds are not yet fatal, but they will be if the BBC does not rise with force to defend itself
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The Independent Online

I too am gloating, though obviously not with the swag and swish we have just seen in that model of virtue and honesty, Alastair Campbell. He, who used exquisite S&M techniques to titillate and humiliate political journalists, who once thumped a senior journalist for dissing Robert Maxwell, who gave us that dazzling dodgy dossier on WMD, is exultant that his version of events has been totally vindicated by Lord Hutton. He told us so, he crows.

I also told you so, in these columns. As the Hutton inquiry began, I wrote that the investigation would help to keep Tony Blair in power. Here are my exact words: "We will have a good many more years of Tony Blair, the man who believes that all he does is right and his right to do. Something is rotten again in the state of Britain and this time it is a Labour Prime Minister, the willing inheritor of Margaret Thatcher, who is responsible. This is why I have only limited interest in this inquiry and why I am exploding with frustration."

That frustration - shared now by millions of British citizens - has grown and grown and grown this past week as the incredible conclusions of the Hutton report were being ingested and thrown up, smelling foul. The Government and intelligence services are declared spotless. Dr Kelly is criticised and the BBC is wholly damned. Hutton has become a guard dog and used his bark and bite to warn off any future sorties into the fortified enclosures which protect our manipulative political masters.

He could have emulated his betters. Lord Scarman, looking into the Brixton riots in 1981, upset all expectations by going deeper and further than he was directed by Margaret Thatcher, who wanted punitive retribution on those she considered "the enemy within". Scarman, considered and fair, highlighted the causes of these riots.

Lord McPherson's report into the Stephen Lawrence murder again refused to stay within any remit. This Scottish judge, no race expert, changed our landscape by exposing the racial inequality that still prevails in too many British institutions. Hutton has taken us back to the dangerous old days when judges like Lord Denning and Lord Widgery carried out inquiries which ensured the establishment was always protected.

Tony Blair and Tessa Jowell want an "independent" BBC which is as "independent" as they allow. This reminds me of what Idi Amin once told a journalist: "Yes you have freedom to say what you want, my friend. But this is a free country, so I am free to cut off your tongue if I don't like it."

And at this perilous moment in our democracy with the government acting so perfidiously, how does the BBC react? With never-ending penitence and bloodletting; with such pusillanimity that it is disabling those of us who want to defend the institution with vigour.

Even yesterday, when popular opinion and most of the press were coming out against the report, on the World at One (Radio 4) the BBC was inviting criticism of its news coverage and asking if the corporation deserved its licence fee and special status. Rupert Murdoch's News of the World had carried a survey which showed that more than half the respondents didn't want the licence fee. This, said the presenter, showed the days of the fee were over. Like the poor misguided man who allowed himself to be eaten by a cannibal in Germany, the BBC is now cutting off its own joints and feeding them to its enemies. What do they think they are doing?

The governors, in particular, have shown themselves to be contemptibly inept. (They're like Chicken Little, who had an acorn fall on her head and thought the sky was falling. She got so scared, half her feathers fell out. She alarmed her friends, who all fled with her, until they met Foxy Loxy. He invited them to his safe den and ate them all up.)

Not one governor appeared on the World at One to defend their actions or the BBC, even at this crucial time. These people, there to protect our interests and that of the institution, have failed and should all go. Gavyn Davies, an impressive man whom I have met a number of times, should never have departed when he did, though at least he left with his self-respect, refusing to bow to the howls from 10 Downing Street which wanted abject capitulation. (They got this fast enough from the eager genuflector Lord Ryder, standing in as chairman).

Davies should have stayed and taken his own time to respond to the biased report and the Government. Key changes had already been made by the BBC to ensure that there would be no repeat of that one, small, slightly flawed, dawn report by Andrew Gilligan.

Greg Dyke had no option as he was pushed. But I hope he carries on making a stink. Unfortunately, he too is guilty of pandering to this Government and its paid tyrants for too long. He now tells us that Campbell was vicious over the build up to the war and demanded "balanced" coverage, meaning a stream of pro-Government propaganda. Dyke says he had to ensure that some programmes were weighted to suit this demand, among them the Question Time programme.

I complained bitterly that this appeared to be the case when I was on with Geoff Hoon, Oliver Letwin and Charles Kennedy in London. Nick Passani, the producer was livid and argued with me passionately that I was slandering their reputation. I said I would take their word in good faith and that maybe I was wrong to cast such aspersions. I am happy to reiterate my allegations, now that the ex-DG himself says such doctoring was going on.

There was also a concerted effort to back the Government's abominable policies on asylum seekers. As any playground monitor will tell you, give in to bullies, try to please them and they will attack you more.

The danger is that the cowardice is getting worse. According to a diary report, Tariq Ali was disinvited by Any Questions this week because of fears around the Hutton report. I have been told by insiders that some of us are considered too hot at the corporation. A concerted campaign by Zionist extremists to disallow me on to key programmes is apparently having an effect. The Today programme and Newsnight are under considerable pressure to get tamer.

My love for the Beeb is not blind. There is much that is wrong with it; it too can be arrogant and celebrity driven. Black and Asian people are still not treated as equals to their white counterparts and the dumbing down is real. But when you look at the whole, it is a bastion of excellence with values which are deeply civilised and journalism which is admired the world over.

The institution is now in terrible danger as the Charter renewal beckons. The deceptions over the WMD are set to create further fury and it is no accident that as this debate begins to boil, the Hutton findings have slashed into our public service broadcaster. The wounds are not yet fatal, but they will be if the BBC does not rise with force to defend itself from this mendacious Government and its other foes.

The pathetic BBC board of governors won't do this. They are ready to let their organisation bleed to pale weakness. But some of the biggest BBC brand names - Joan Bakewell, Jonathan Ross, Jeremy Vine and others - it is said are set to fight this assault. I hope they succeed. Otherwise the corporation will not be worthy of the support it has had from all of us this week.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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