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Conservative leader Howard tells media not to be bullied

LONDON - Michael Howard, the Conservative Party leader, has told the media not to be bullied in the wake of the Hutton Report and reiterated his party's call for Ofcom to have a role in the BBC's affairs.

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Speaking at a public appearance in Kent, Howard told his audience that it had been a tumultuous week and that there were lessons to be learned from a week that saw the two most senior executives at the BBC lose their jobs.

He paid tribute to Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke and reiterated the Tory party call for media watchdog Ofcom to have a role in overseeing the BBC.

"We have long argued that the government can not properly both run and regulate the BBC and that, particularly in relation to its complaints procedures, there should be a role for Ofcom. We believe that the case for independent regulation has never been stronger," he said.

Howard reminded his audience at the Kent Journalist of the Year Awards of the importance of the free press in sustaining a healthy democracy and said that if the media were ever to become government puppets, democracy would be in danger.

"It is vital that you are not cowed and that you carry out your responsibilities fairly but rigorously. One of your roles is indeed to challenge politicians," he said.

In reference to Tony Blair's claim that his honesty was challenged, Howard said that allegations of a lack of integrity should not become routine but that there will be occasions when such allegations are appropriate.

"And when they are, you must be free to make them and must not be intimidated from doing so," he said. "Those who are now screaming for such challenges to become out of bounds were in the forefront of making themselves before 1997."

Howard went on to praise the local press, which he said played a crucial role in keeping local democracy vigorous and healthy.

"Your campaigning for local causes is very effective and you are not only the best read but most widely trusted of all the media," he said.

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