LONDON – No BBC employees will be fired over a disputed story that sparked a huge battle with the government and prompted the resignations of the broadcaster’s two top officials, the BBC said Monday.
British Broadcasting Corp. said it had finished an internal disciplinary process stemming from a May 2003 report that quoted an anonymous source as saying Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government had “sexed up” evidence on Iraqi weapons to justify war.
BBC said in a statement that it would keep disciplinary decisions about specific workers confidential.
“However, we would wish to confirm that no dismissals were involved,” the statement said.
The official quoted in Andrew Gilligan’s radio report was later identified as government scientist David Kelly. He killed himself shortly after his name was leaked, setting off a political firestorm and forcing Blair to set up an inquiry to investigate the death.
Lord Hutton, the senior appeals judge who led the investigation, cleared the government of almost all wrongdoing in relation to the suicide and harshly criticized BBC, throwing the broadcaster into one of the biggest crises in its history.
Hutton concluded that Gilligan’s radio report was unfounded, BBC’s editorial procedures were defective and the board of governors had failed to investigate closely enough before defending the piece.
Chairman Gavyn Davies, Director-General Greg Dyke and Gilligan all resigned within days of the judge’s report, although many Britons criticized it as a “whitewash” that was too easy on Blair and too hard on BBC.
BBC’s statement said a “core script” for Gilligan’s broadcast had been prepared and checked, in accordance with normal production practices, but the reporter failed to follow it.
Hutton criticized Gilligan for answering an anchor’s questions without a script and his editors for allowing him to do so.
BBC said it had not made clear enough in evidence submitted to Hutton that a script was properly prepared and cleared.
The journalist spoke extemporaneously in the first, and strongest, version of his story to air, saying officials had insisted on publishing a claim – that Iraq could deploy some chemical and biological weapons on 45 minutes’ notice – that the government “probably knew … was wrong.”
He later said he had incorrectly attributed that assertion to Kelly, when it was actually his own inference.
Gilligan rejected the disciplinary investigation’s criticism, saying his bosses had not told him at the time that he was failing to follow proper procedures.
He said he welcomed the outcome of the inquiry, which he said demonstrated “that the BBC seems finally to have joined the rest of the country in rejecting the conclusions of Lord Hutton.”
BBC also said two of its editors, Kevin Marsh and Stephen Mitchell, had been wrongly criticized for failing to share their concerns about Gilligan’s work with those further up the management chain.
During the inquiry, the broadcaster said, BBC officials had said the worries Marsh described in an e-mail to Mitchell did not reflect the views of top management.
That was incorrect, according to BBC’s statement, which said management did share the concerns about Gilligan and bosses had recently discussed them with Marsh and Mitchell. The two editors had therefore done nothing wrong by not sharing the e-mail with their superiors, the network said.
BBC said Ronald Neil, a former news director, was leading a separate effort to determine what lessons the broadcaster should learn from Gilligan’s story and its fallout.