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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 July, 2003, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Blair fury at BBC dossier story
Tony Blair
Mr Blair: "You could not make a more serious charge"
Tony Blair has warned that the BBC report claiming the government "sexed up" the Iraq weapons dossier was "as serious an attack on my integrity as there could possibly be".

Dismissing the allegation as "absurd", the prime minister told the Observer newspaper: "Everyone now accepts that that charge is wrong.

"You could not make a more serious charge against a prime minister."

A BBC spokesman disputed the suggestion that the corporation had accused Mr Blair of lying or misleading either parliament or the country.

"The real question for the BBC is: were we right to report what we actually said, when we said it? We believe the answer is yes."

BBC governors will hold a meeting with management on Sunday ahead of Monday's report by the Commons foreign affairs select committee into whether the government exaggerated the case for war against Iraq.

The governors will be briefed by BBC director general Greg Dyke and other senior executives over the BBC report that prompted the row with the government.

Ahead of the meeting Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell warned Mr Dyke to stop "digging himself in" over the row.

Time to move on?

She told Breakfast with Frost: "The BBC has a constitutional responsibility for the accuracy and impartiality of its news coverage.

"The BBC is not in a position simply to make allegations unless it's absolutely clear those allegations are true.

"On the basis of all the evidence which has been published, the hearings that have been published so far, it is very clear that that claim has been repudiated.

"It is not do or die for the BBC to say we made a mistake, we regret it, and then everybody can move on."
Alastair Campbell
Mr Campbell is expected by many to be cleared

And she added that it was "perfectly possible" to separate the current disagreement from the wider question of the role of the BBC in modern broadcasting.

"There is a real sense of anger about the damage that this allegation can cause, and the apparent refusal of the BBC to say whether or not the allegation is true or not," she said.

"But that doesn't affect the fact that the prime minister [and] right across government, there is the highest regard for the best of BBC journalism."

The Sunday Telegraph reported that Mr Dyke intended to tell the corporation's governors the BBC cannot afford to back down over the story that quoted a senior intelligence official who claimed the government's first intelligence dossier on Iraq's weapons' capability was "sexed up".

Conservative shadow chancellor Michael Howard renewed his party's call for a full judicial inquiry.

"Alastair Campbell should have gone a long time ago," he told Sky's Sunday with Adam Boulton.

"I think Alastair Campbell is one of the most malevolent influences to have entered British politics for decades."

Lunch date

Mr Campbell has accused the BBC of lying, denied he inserted this claim and demanded an apology.

Mr Blair defended Mr Campbell, telling the Observer "he is a big strong player and he is absolutely superb in a job that is immensely difficult".

In a separate interview government minister and former BBC journalist Ben Bradshaw said the corporation faced the most serious allegations against it of his lifetime.

"I do not think it would be disastrous if they apologised. I think it would be disastrous if they did not apologise," he told GMTV's Sunday Programme.

The BBC has refused to apologise for the report by defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan.

Standing by the story

The director of BBC News, Richard Sambrook has said: "We continue to stand by our story and our source.

"We believe it was right to place these allegations in the public domain given the strength of our source".

He has said that nothing about the story had yet been proved wrong.

There will be no further comment until after the report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on the way the government presented its case for war with Iraq is published on Monday, a BBC spokesman said.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell
"The BBC has constitutional responsibility for the accuracy and impartiality of its news coverage"



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