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Humphrys was nearly sacked over government criticism

LONDON - BBC chairman Michael Grade wanted to sack 'Today' presenter John Humphrys over barbed comments about the government made by the journalist at a PR industry event, according to a report in the New Statesman.

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Grade and director-general Mark Thompson were apparently adamant that Humphrys should lose his job in an attempt to appease New Labour. However, Thompson performed a U-turn when the national press came out in support of Humphrys.

Humphrys was instead rebuked in a statement by the BBC, which deemed his comments "inappropriate and misguided". The corporation said it was drawing a line under the incident.

According to the New Statesman's editor and former BBC journalist John Kampfner, Grade was eager to placate the government at a time when it is reviewing the BBC's Royal Charter.

The BBC statement followed its investigation into a speech the presenter made at the Communications Directors' Forum in June. In it, he insinuated that all MPs were liars and that the government had "sexed-up" Iraq intelligence, despite the findings of the Hutton Report.

Many observers were sympathetic to Humphrys, especially when it emerged that his comments were leaked to The Times by Tim Allan, a former Labour spin-doctor.

In his speech at the forum, Humphrys described Gordon Brown as "easily the most boring political interviewee" and Peter Mandelson as widely "detested".

A spokesman for the BBC denied that the New Statesman report bore any truth, saying: "The notion that Michael is anti-difficult journalism is tosh."

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