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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 February, 2004, 14:52 GMT
Hutton report prompts BBC protests
By Lucy Wilkins
BBC News Online

For the second time in a week BBC staff have protested about the Hutton inquiry and its aftermath.

Protesters outside TVC in London
Staff protested throughout Britain at BBC sites
Compared with the cheering crowd who mobbed outgoing director general Greg Dyke as he made a farewell visit to Television Centre, Thursday's lunchtime grouping was much more subdued.

Organised by the National Union of Journalists and broadcasting union Bectu, staff gathered in London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Cardiff.

They were there to "stand up for BBC independence, the integrity of its programmes, freedom from government interference, transparency in the appointment of a new director general and chairman, and no cuts in BBC license funding".

The Hutton report into the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly heavily criticised the corporation.

John Davidson
We continue to produce high quality output and will do that no matter what happens
John Davidson, radio newsroom
It led to the resignation last week of chairman Gavyn Davies and director general Greg Dyke.

Today programme reporter Andrew Gilligan, whose controversial story alleging the government "sexed-up" its dossier on Iraqi weapons was called "unfounded" by Lord Hutton, also stepped down.

Radio newsroom NUJ official John Davidson, clutching a placard saying "Hands off the BBC!" outside Television Centre in west London, said he wanted to emphasise the independence of the BBC from political interference.

"We want to show that members of staff won't be affected by what happened in the Hutton Report.

"We continue to produce high quality output and will do that no matter what happens," he told BBC News Online.

"I hope this protest will have an impact on MPs and governors and make sure they realise that we will remain independent."

'Right to speak'

Abigail Bamsey, of CBBC online, felt people were still "upset" about the Hutton report.

"We want to maintain our independence and carry forward with our innovative and visionary ideas.

"For me, this protest shows the public that we are really hoping we will maintain independent and report news accurately and not shy away from reporting."

Abigail Bamsey, children's online
Abigail Bamsey felt staff remained "upset" about the Hutton report
BBC staff were joined by members of other unions, including hospital worker Malkiat Balku from Unison.

"I think it is all wrong. Everybody should have a right to speak," she said, as police built barriers along the footpath and a tea trolley was set up for the protesters.

Many of the official speeches were drowned out by tooting from supportive drivers, followed by reciprocal cheers from the protesters.

The NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear, his voice cracking and barely audible after a week of vocalising journalists' concerns, told BBC News Online the protests would send "a very vocal message to the government and governors".

He described the action as the start of a campaign to protect the independence and funding of the BBC, as well as the right to carry out investigative reporting.

"It is important to give confidence back to staff - that is an immediate concern as they have a right to report."

You fight from the inside and we'll fight from the outside
Austin Mitchell, Labour MP
MP Austin Mitchell, a journalist, told the crowd that he had seen "many wars" between the government and the BBC, "but never one as bloody or dictatorial as this".

"You fight from the inside and we'll fight from the outside," he urged his audience.

Cheers erupted when he said "Bring back Greg" while it was booing when he mentioned former director general Lord Birt.

Other NUJ members also turned up to support their BBC colleagues, with Kyran Connolly saying he was there to "defend public service broadcasting from political interference."

Freelancer Emma Wood hoped the protest would show acting director general Mark Byford "that people won't be bullied".

"I care a great deal about the BBC and we won't tolerate political interference.

Dyke's departure

"It is a question of journalistic integrity. The BBC has been able to stand up for that and I would hate to see quality compromised."

Thousands of staff staged impromptu walkouts last week in support of Mr Dyke following the release of the Hutton report's findings.

Many also paid for an advert in a national newspaper supporting their former director general.

Mark Byford, acting director general, has said the corporation recognised it had made errors in its reporting of the government's handling of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

He is leading an internal investigation into the failings highlighted by Lord Hutton in the BBC's editorial procedures.



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