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2nd BBC official quits after attack on Blair story

Published Aug. 27, 2005

The director general of the British Broadcasting Corp. resigned Thursday in the wake of a devastating report attacking the BBC's journalistic practices, saying he hoped his departure would help save it from further damage.

The departure of the director general, Greg Dyke, a day after the chairman of the BBC's board of governors also resigned, left Britain's most respected broadcaster without its top two officials at one of the most vulnerable times in its history. It also marked a low point for the British news media during a period of unusually hostile relations between the press and Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor government.

After Dyke's announcement on the steps of Broadcasting House, hundreds of BBC employees in London, Glasgow and Cardiff walked off their jobs and into the streets in spontaneous protests at the battering taken by the BBC in the last two days, and called for Dyke to return. In Taunton, in southwest England, BBC Somerset Sound, a local radio station, went silent for a minute to signal the staff's anger.

On Wednesday, Lord Hutton, a senior judge, said in a 740-page report that the BBC had been guilty of careless reporting and poor editorial oversight in a radio broadcast last May 29. He said the BBC then compounded those errors by rushing to defend itself without checking its facts.

In the broadcast, Andrew Gilligan, a BBC military affairs reporter, said that the government used an intelligence dossier it "probably knew" was wrong in September 2002 to bolster its case for war with Iraq.

Hutton's report exonerated Blair's government of wrongdoing, both in the preparation of the intelligence report and in the death of David Kelly, a government weapons expert who killed himself after being exposed as the source of Gilligan's report.

But a backlash was developing later Thursday, particularly from supporters of the BBC enraged at what they regarded as Hutton's blanket bias in favor of the government. Even right-leaning newspapers that traditionally attack the BBC as much as they attack the government came to the broadcaster's defense.

"For all its limitations, failings, weaknesses, follies, the Beeb remains one of the world's great beacons of public service and global information," Max Hastings wrote in the Daily Mail, referring to the BBC by its nickname. "Who seriously doubts that the BBC, for all its faults, is a great force in the struggle for truth?"

Dyke, who as director general was also the BBC's editor in chief, said he hoped his departure would help the company move on. Referring to Gavyn Davies, the board chairman who resigned Wednesday, Dyke said, "With the departure of Gavyn and myself, and the apology I issued on behalf of the BBC yesterday, I hope that a line can be drawn under this whole episode."

The board immediately appointed Mark Byford, a top BBC executive, as the acting director general.

But even as the BBC's employees digested the unpleasant news of Dyke's departure after four years in the job, the newly appointed acting chairman, Lord Ryder, compounded their sense of righteous indignation by issuing a further apology after an emergency meeting of the broadcaster's chastened board of directors. The board came under special attack in Hutton's report for its decision to mount a robust defense of Gilligan's broadcast without examining its merits.

Ryder said the report "highlighted serious defects" in the BBC's practices. But, he said, the company had already begun making "major reforms," including changes in the way it addresses complaints and the way it trains new recruits.

Ryder's remarks appeared to delight Blair, whose official spokesman had issued a stern call on Thursday morning for just such an admission by the BBC.

Speaking in Hertfordshire, Blair said that an apology was all he ever wanted.

"This for me has always been a very simple matter," the prime minister told reporters, saying that a "very serious accusation" had been made by the BBC, had been proved false by Hutton, and "it's now been withdrawn."