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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 06:22 GMT 07:22 UK
BBC defiant in Iraq dossier row
BBC director general Greg Dyke
Mr Dyke briefed governors
BBC governors have defended the corporation's news team in the row with the government over claims Number 10 "sexed up" a dossier on Iraqi weapons.

They called on Downing Street's director of communications Alastair Campbell to withdraw his allegations that the BBC's reporting of the Iraq war was biased.

And they said the BBC had been right to broadcast a claim by a senior intelligence source that the September intelligence dossier had been altered at Mr Campbell's request.

But the bitter confrontation looked set to continue as Downing Street replied by saying the BBC was "still trying to defend the indefensible".

We call on Mr Campbell to withdraw these allegations of bias against the BBC and its journalists
BBC chairman Gavyn Davies

The BBC statement came ahead of the foreign affairs select committee's publication of its findings of its investigation into the government's presentation of the case for war.

The committee is expected to find no evidence that Mr Campbell exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq in the September dossier, said BBC political correspondent Shaun Ley.

But it may complain that the government denied it access to either the head of the joint intelligence committee, or the documents on which the dossier was based.

BBC chairman Gavyn Davies said the corporation had never accused Tony Blair of lying or of trying to take Britain into war under misleading or false pretences.

His statement was released after governors met senior BBC executives to discuss the dossier row.

Impartial reporting

Earlier Tony Blair accused the BBC of attacking his integrity as prime minister by its story claiming the September intelligence dossier on Iraqi weapons had deliberately exaggerated the military threat at No 10's request.

He told the Observer: "You could not make a more serious charge against a prime minister."

Alastair Campbell
Mr Campbell: BBC is defending the indefensible
And Mr Campbell told BBC political editor Andrew Marr: "The prime minister does regard this as a fundamental attack on his integrity and that won't change because of the posturing of the BBC."

BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan first sparked the row after he reported on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that a senior intelligence official had told him Downing Street had asked that extra prominence was given to a claim Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.

Mr Campbell said on Sunday governors had still failed to answer "the fundamental question" of whether this story was "true or false".

But the governors said it had been in the public interest to broadcast the claim, made by a "senior intelligence" source and reflecting a "general pattern of concern" among members of the security services at the time.

The governors concluded the overall coverage of the war in Iraq had been fair and impartial.

'Exceptional circumstances'

But they accepted some of Today's coverage could have been handled better, including giving No 10 more warning about the story and keeping a clearer account of its dealings with the Ministry of Defence.

Mr Davies said "exceptional circumstances" allowed for stories to be based on a single source.

He said government denials were broadcast on Today within 90 minutes of the report followed by a defence minister's denials.

But the chairman said governors would re-examine rules for BBC reporters writing for newspapers.

In a letter to BBC director of news Richard Sambrook, Mr Campbell had referred to Mr Gilligan writing as a BBC journalist in three publications.

The BBC's Shaun Ley
"The committee's report is likely to fuel a further political debate about the use of intelligence"

BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies
"We call on Mr Campbell to withdraw these allegations of bias against the BBC"


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