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Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 00:14 GMT 01:14 UK
Journalists 'should name sources'
Defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan
Andrew Gilligan has refused to name his source twice to FAC
Reporters should have to name their sources if they are making allegations under Parliamentary privilege, a committee of MPs has said.

The Foreign Affairs Committee issued the call after grilling BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan for a second time over his report that Downing Street inserted a claim that Iraq could launch a chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes into a dossier on Iraq.

Mr Gilligan refused to reveal the identity of his key source during the private session on Thursday.

The government and the BBC are at loggerheads over the claim.

Committee chairman Donald Anderson has accused Mr Gilligan of changing his story when giving evidence to MPs.

He said: "Mr Gilligan clearly changed his mind in the course of the evidence, in particular in relation to serious allegations concerning Mr Campbell."

But in a statement, the BBC rejected the allegations and accused the committee of a personal attack on Mr Gilligan.

And Mr Gilligan himself said he had been ambushed, and was still sticking by his original story.

In a report on Thursday, the committee said: "It is unsatisfactory that a witness who enjoys the full protection of Parliamentary privilege should be free to make an allegation against a third party, however serious, without revealing the source for that allegation.

Any witness - including a journalist - is free under the cover of Parliamentary privilege to make an allegation before a select committee about a third party, who then has no recourse to a legal remedy
Foreign Affairs Committee

"We invite the House to consider this matter, and to offer guidance to its committees and to their witnesses."

Parliamentary privilege provides protection against libel and covers both Houses of Parliament and its committees.

Mr Gilligan has repeatedly insisted he will never name his source, and the BBC is backing him.

Protecting the identity of sources on contentious issues is a historic principle of journalism.

The committee acknowledged the principle but said that witnesses before parliamentary committees were bound to answer all questions put to them, whatever their professional code.

Accepted principle

The report said: "Mr Gilligan has refused to answer, in writing, or in private oral evidence, the question put to him by our chairman: on what date, and at what time, did the meeting with this source take place?

"He also refused to disclose any further information about his source over and above that given in oral evidence on 19 June. He bases his refusal to discuss any detail about his contacts with his source on what he calls 'a necessary principle of free journalism'.

"We accept that journalists regard the maintenance of this principle as being fundamental to their ability to carry out their work.

"However any witness - including a journalist - is free under the cover of Parliamentary privilege to make an allegation before a select committee about a third party, who then has no recourse to a legal remedy."

The papers of Erskine May - the bible on Parliamentary practice - says that "a witness is bound to answer all questions which the committee sees fit to put to him".

The committee added: "As is clear ... this duty is not qualified by reference to any professional code."

Mr Gilligan was the first journalist in modern times to refuse to reveal a source which formed the basis for an allegation made in evidence before a committee, the report said.

However, Mr Gilligan initially made the claims on BBC Radio 4's Today programme and so has not been using Parliamentary privilege to protect himself from legal proceedings, it added.




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