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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 June, 2003, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
BBC news boss steps forward

By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

Until recently, few outside the worlds of journalism and broadcasting could have named the BBC's director of news.

Unlike star correspondents and presenters such as Andrew Marr, John Humphrys and John Simpson, Richard Sambrook has built his career behind the scenes.

Richard Sambrook
Richard Sambrook has staunchly defended the BBC's journalism
But in the last few days, he has shown he is their match in terms of courage under fire and robustness in the face of government pressure.

Attacked with almost unprecedented ferocity by the government's director of communications, Mr Sambrook has not only withstood the blows but delivered some withering rejoinders of his own.

"I don't think the BBC needs to be taught lessons in the use of sources by a communications department which plagiarised a 12-year-old thesis and distributed it unattributed," he told the Today programme.

"We haven't lied and we haven't apologised because we have nothing to apologise for," he insisted.

We haven't lied and we haven't apologised because we have nothing to apologise for
Richard Sambrook

Mr Sambrook has accused Alastair Campbell of trying to intimidate the BBC, of conducting a personal vendetta against one of its journalists, Andrew Gilligan - whose reports had caused him discomfort - and misrepresenting its journalism.

Such toughness and outspokenness has surprised some. In a world in which editors and correspondents commonly shout and throw their weight around, Mr Sambrook's style has been the opposite - quiet, reasoned and authoritative.

Such apparent mildness can be mistaken for weakness. In the BBC's battle with Mr Campbell, Mr Sambrook has shown that such an assessment would be wrong.

Director of news appointment

He became the BBC's director of news two years ago, after a year as the deputy director.

Shortly afterwards, he had his first high-profile brush with the government when Mr Campbell accused broadcasters of helping Al-Qaeda by broadcasting Al-Jazeera's video tapes of Osama Bin Laden.

Mr Sambrook - alongside colleagues from ITN and Sky - stood firm, insisting that the best people to judge what should be broadcast were the broadcasters themselves.

Since then he has accused the government of putting unprecedented pressure on the BBC over what it should and should not broadcast.

Early years

Mr Sambrook joined the BBC in 1980 as a sub-editor in the radio newsroom. Before that, he had trained with Thomson Regional Newspapers on the South Wales Echo.

He worked as a producer and programme editor on the BBC's national TV news programmes, becoming deputy editor of the Nine O'Clock News.

During that time, he worked on location in the Far East, Middle East, Europe, Russia and the United States, produced the BBC's news coverage of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and co-ordinated the coverage of the war in Bosnia.

He then became the news editor of BBC newsgathering - the department which brings in coverage from around the world for all BBC radio and TV news and daily current affairs programmes.

Later, as head of newsgathering, he led a major expansion of the BBC's overseas news capacity, creating a network of bureaux in key regions around the world.

Now he leads the world's biggest news operation, with 2,000 journalists in the UK and around the world.

And in the current, high-octane war of words with the government, he faces undoubtedly his greatest challenge.

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