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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 January, 2004, 00:44 GMT
Resignations fuel Hutton debate

By Nick Higham
BBC media correspondent

Shortly after the BBC's Andrew Gilligan announced his resignation and criticised the Hutton report, media correspondent Nick Higham told BBC News about the possible implications.

It's now in the BBC's interests not to keep the debate about the Hutton report open, but to close it down and move on.

It wants to re-establish trust in the organisation, re-establish credibility and do whatever needs to be done to put right the admitted errors.

The problem for the BBC at the moment is that there are people like Andrew Gilligan and Greg Dyke, who have left, who are not going to let it rest.

Andrew Gilligan
Gilligan complained the Hutton report was one-sided
They want to keep it open and although the BBC denies it, I think that is potentially rather awkward.

It's exactly the same for Downing Street as for the BBC.

There is no interest for the government in trying to keep this alive.

It's got other things on its agenda, not least to appoint a new BBC chairman.

There is no interest for either of the two main parties in this in allowing the controversy to rumble on, it's the people who've left who might want to keep it going.

I knew Andrew Gilligan only very slightly and I've not had any contact with him in the last few days.

I think he has a problem in that he was a defence specialist and he may find it difficult to reopen some of his contacts with defence specialists after this episode.

Disaster prevention

But he would argue that although he made particular errors, said things which he should not have, the broad thrust of his story was correct.

And I imagine he believes his journalistic reputation is if not vindicated, then at least survives this highly critical report from Lord Hutton.

I think it's probably the last resignation but I'd hesitate to rule out any others.

The BBC has no interest in encouraging any more resignations because it keeps the whole thing open.

One of the problems is that no one seems to have spotted that what Gilligan was going to say had such tremendous potential impact
Lord Hutton criticised the editorial procedures and the BBC has to go back and look at those procedures, look at those management systems and say how did this disaster arise, what can we do in future to make sure that it didn't arise again.

That is something that only the BBC can do, like a piece of good housekeeping, and Lord Hutton has shown the questions that need to be answered - but the BBC has to provide the answers itself.

And that process was under way before the publication of the report.

I think the changes will be internal and will be about the checks and balances, the procedures you have to go through particularly if you have a controversial story.

One of the problems is that no one seems to have spotted that what Gilligan was going to say had such tremendous potential impact.

And part of the problem was that I don't think he meant to say what he did say.

Fears of over-caution

In his first interview of the morning at 6.07 in the morning, he used phrases which he didn't use subsequently.

And it was that first early interview which Lord Hutton homed in on.

Leaving that aside, the allegation is that no one understood properly the potential seriousness of what was being alleged and so they didn't make enough inquiries, talk to enough people, not enough editorial discussions.

Andrew Gilligan on a daily programme was under pressure all the time to come up with new stuff
So it's that sort of thing which the BBC needs to look at.

What worries some people inside and outside the corporation is that in that process of tightening up procedures, the BBC becomes more defensive and more cautious and less willing to tackle the really difficult stories.

Mark Byford, the acting director general, was very anxious today to say 'No it does not necessarily mean that. It means we must be more cautious in the way we do the story but not in the story we tackle. We must be absolutely certain we get it right.'

So in that respect viewers and listeners should not notice any difference.

THE HUTTON REPORT
Full Report
(PDF file 2MB)

Gilligan was intended to get scoops. The BBC has always had journalists whose job it has been to get scoops, do investigations and get exclusives.

The difference with Gilligan was he was working on a daily news programme at the Today programme on Radio 4.

Usually those sorts of journalists work for weekly current affairs programmes, documentaries like Panorama.

They work over a much longer time span, they take weeks and possibly months sometimes to carry out investigations.

But Andrew Gilligan on a daily programme was under pressure all the time to come up with new stuff and there often isn't the time or resources to do the belt and braces checking and establishing that you do on a current affairs programme.




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