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BBC self regulation shortcomings highlighted by inquiry

LONDON – The BBC's system of self regulation was dealt a blow when BBC chairman Gavyn Davies admitted to the Hutton Inquiry that procedures had not been followed regarding the report that accused the government of exaggerating the case for the war on Iraq.

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Davies took the stand yesterday to answer questions about the BBC's role in the events that led to the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly, BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan's source for the report on Radio 4's 'Today' programme that alleged the government "sexed up" the intelligence dossier drawn up to justify going to war.

Davies admitted the board of governors had backed the 'Today' report without knowing who the source was or checking all the relevant editorial records. They had relied on BBC managers to judge whether the corporation had followed its own guidelines in reporting and broadcasting.

The BBC has argued against being regulated by new super-media watchdog Ofcom, but the Hutton Inquiry has led to further calls for the BBC to be regulated by an independent body.

Davies gave evidence on the same day as Tony Blair, who told the Hutton Inquiry he would have resigned if the claims about the government "sexing up" its Iraq dossier had been true. He said the report attacked his credibility and, if true, "would have merited my resignation", Blair said.

During his session, Blair said the dossier was not to be used "as the immediate reason for going to conflict" and he said that he had not been aware of any misgivings about the dossier among intelligence officers.

Blair said that when he had heard Gilligan's report, he had asked for the claims to be checked with John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

Blair also told the inquiry he took responsibility for the media strategy that led to Dr Kelly being publicly named as the suspected source of the BBC 'Today' programme story.

Davies said that the Radio 4 'Today' programme could have done more to check the story with the government, when Lord Hutton asked him whether the broadcaster would have reported an allegation that a public figure would accept bribes without checking with the individual.

"In politics, you do not always get an absolutely truthful denial of a report," Davies said. He said that sometimes it was difficult to get a corroboration and that it had been "quite literally impossible" for the governors to check whether the original report was true.

Calls among the BBC's rivals have been mounting for it to lose its board of governors and be regulated by the same body as its commercial rivals.

The way the broadcaster is regulated is to be looked at when its charter comes up for renewal in 2006.

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