Leading Article: Birt: an apology

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LAST WEEK this newspaper called for the resignation of the BBC's Director-General, John Birt, and the Chairman of its Board of Governors, Marmaduke Hussey. This was a mistake, and we regret it. Indeed we go further. We would like to apologise most humbly to Mr Birt, Mr Hussey, the Board of Governors, and David Mellor MP for discovering and publishing the story of the Birt-Hussey tax deal in the first place. This, we now recognise, has stained the name of the BBC and may even have slightly affected the plans Mr Birt and Mr Hussey had for it. If we had not published the story, then the clubby secrecy which is such an important asset to the British way of life could have been preserved; John Birt Productions Ltd might have continued to set its wife, its suits, its car and its travel against tax; and the governors, those upstanding and (in this case) rather ignorant worthies, need not have been waylaid by troublesome reporters as they came and went from meetings in Broadcasting and Bush House. We would also like to apologise to the staff of the BBC for making them angry; to distinguished broadcasters such as Sir David Attenborough for causing them despair; to the BBC's General Advisory Council for inspiring them to criticise Mr Birt's arrangements as 'incompatible with the standards and practice expected of a public service broadcasting organisation'; and to anyone, anywhere, who felt less happy about his or her licence fee.

Finally, we apologise to ourselves. We should have known better. Embarrassing disclosure no longer prompts resignations and it was folly to call for them. Today such calls are worse than useless. They prompt the opposite result. Public figures simply stick to their office like limpets and blame the 'hysteria' of the press. And somehow it works.