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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 July, 2003, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
BBC board considers Iraq row
BBC director general Greg Dyke
Mr Dyke will be questioned about the row
BBC bosses are meeting to discuss the corporation's continuing row with the government over claims Number 10 "sexed up" a dossier on Iraqi weapons.

The organisation's governors and senior executives are being briefed by director general Greg Dyke about the circumstances surrounding the acrimonious dispute.

Both the BBC and Downing Street are standing firm over their interpretation of reporter Andrew Gilligan's 19 May story about the dossier.

He reported that a senior intelligence official told him that extra prominence was given, at Downing Street's request, to a claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.

The BBC's central London meeting comes a day before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee publishes its report on the way the government presented its case for war with Iraq.

On Sunday the prime minister upped the stakes in the confrontation, saying the allegations were "as serious an attack on my integrity as there could possibly be".

'Fully supported'

Ahead of Sunday's meeting, the BBC's head of news, Richard Sambrook, said it stood by its story and Mr Gilligan.

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

He told The Observer newspaper: "We have not backed away from the story and we have not backed away from the journalist.

"He is fully supported. Nothing we said has yet been proved wrong."

The Sunday Telegraph reported that Mr Dyke intended to tell the governors the BBC could not afford to back down over the story.

'Constitutional responsibility'

On Sunday morning Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell warned Mr Dyke to stop "digging himself in" over the row.

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

Tony Blair
Mr Blair: "You could not make a more serious charge"

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

Ms Jowell said the BBC must acknowledge that it made a mistake so that everyone can move on.

She added 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."

'Serious attack'

Dismissing the claims 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."

But 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," he said.

The BBC's Nick Higham
"Mr Blair has stepped into the row personally"

Have the real issues got lost?
06 Jul 03  |  Politics


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