- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

LONDON — A second executive from the British Broadcasting Corp. resigned yesterday, and the network “apologized unreservedly” in an attempt to limit damage from a judicial report criticizing its handling of a story about Iraqi weapons.

The resignation of BBC Director General Greg Dyke followed the departure of Chairman Gavyn Davies a day earlier, when senior judge Brian Hutton issued a report branding the BBC reporting system “defective.”

Minutes after Mr. Dyke resigned, the BBC’s governors, through Acting Chairman Richard Ryder, issued the apology.

“On behalf of the BBC, I have no hesitation in apologizing unreservedly for our errors and to the individuals whose reputations were affected by them,” he said.

The Hutton report rejected accusations in a BBC story that Prime Minister Tony Blair had misled the country deliberately over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Mr. Blair said yesterday that he was satisfied with the BBC apology.

Mr Dyke’s temporary replacement, Mark Byford, a longtime BBC official, promised an overhaul of the network’s editorial systems to prevent such mistakes.

But many critics of the BBC, from inside as well as outside the government, demanded that the publicly funded broadcaster confront recurring charges of antigovernment bias.

“I have no doubt there will be more turbulence,” said Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, in charge of broadcasting. “But [the BBC] should be true to its reputation for impartiality.”

Founded in 1927, the BBC this year faces a review of its government charter, which is renewed every decade.

Events of the past two days have greatly strengthened those calling for the BBC to lose autonomy and be brought under supervision by the body that regulates commercial broadcasters.

As broadcasting becomes more diversified with the development of satellite and cable television and broadband Internet access, the BBC’s unique funding structure also is being questioned.

Every house or office possessing a television set must pay about $200 annually for a license, even if the license holder never tunes in to any BBC channel or radio station.

There are more than 20 million households in the British Isles, which has a population of 59 million.

The BBC’s influential and internationally respected external radio and television programming in English, and its Arabic and numerous world language radio services, are supported by a government grant.

Mrs. Jowell and Mr. Blair stressed their commitment to the BBC’s independence, but Mrs. Jowell also pointed out that the judge’s report would be considered when the charter-renewal discussions take place.

Mr. Hutton, a senior appeals judge, led an investigation into the July suicide of government weapons adviser David Kelly, who was the source of BBC radio correspondent Andrew Gilligan’s report that the government exaggerated evidence on Iraqi weapons.

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