BBC’s credibility plummeted as Lord Hutton, the high ranking British judge leading an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly, summarized the conclusions of his commission. According to Lord Hutton, BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan’s allegations that the British government “sexed up” its dossier on Iraq’s weapons were unfounded, BBC’s editorial processes were defective and BBC management was at fault in failing to investigate properly the Government’s complaints against it. In the wake of the findings, BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies and Director-General Greg Dyke apologized for mistakes and resigned their positions.
As Lord Hutton stated:
The communication by the media of information (including information obtained by investigative reporters) on matters of public interest and importance is a vital part of life in a democratic society. However the right to communicate such information is subject to the qualification (which itself exists for the benefit of a democratic society) that false accusations of fact impugning the integrity of others, including politicians, should not be made by the media. Where a reporter is intending to broadcast or publish information impugning the integrity of others the management of his broadcasting company or newspaper should ensure that a system is in place whereby his editor or editors give careful consideration to the wording of the report and to whether it is right in all the circumstances to broadcast or publish it.
For years, the BBC has come under heavy criticism for its partisan, unbalanced and often misleading coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and impugning of Israel’s leaders. (For some examples, see CAMERA’s BBC page.) BBC decision makers , however, consistently refused to take responsibility for their corporation’s shoddy Middle East coverage. Defaming Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (ex. “The Accused”) and falsely accusing Israel of using poison gas against Palestinian civilians (ex. “Israel’s Secret Weapon”) elicited scant public outrage in Britain. There was no judicial inquiry into the news company’s questionable journalistic practices, nor were BBC editors and journalists held accountable in any way.
BBC has, however, been brought to account in the David Kelly affair in which it, in effect, slandered the British government. Now that the Hutton commission has exonerated the British Prime Minister and faulted the BBC for irresponsible journalism, perhaps there will be ripple effects that will result in more rigorous editorial policies and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East.