The BBC Television Centre at London's White City came to a virtual standstill Thursday afternoon as over nine hundred staff left their posts to protest at the resignation of director general Greg Dyke.
Dyke's departure followed that of BBC chairman Gavyn Davies the previous day. Both men quit after the BBC's management and board of governors were excoriated in a report that exonerated absolutely prime minister Blair, his ministers and political advisors from charges of misleading parliament and the public over the circumstances that led to the alleged suicide of British government weapons expert Dr David Kelly during the Iraq war [WAMN: 29-Jan-04].
Many newspaper commentators are deeply disturbed that such a consequential finding was reached by a single arbiter, acting both as judge and jury -- and appointed by one of the interested parties, the prime minister.
Such was the tide of resentment among BBC staff that police were called to control the protesting crowd, which chanted "we want Greg, we want Greg". Footage of his farewell tour of the TV Centre showed Dyke being followed by throngs of employees, in a manner more akin to the visit of a major pop star.
Asked if he should heed the popular protest and withdraw his resignation, Dyke said: "Sadly the director generalship is not a popularity contest. We got very badly criticised by the Hutton Report. Whether that's fair or not is for another time. But if you are that badly criticised it is right for the director general to go."
Did he want to leave, asked one reporter? "No," replied Dyke, "but in the end if you screw up you have to go."
Peter McHugh, programming director of rival GMTV spoke for many: "It's a sad day for journalism, the BBC and TV in general. He was an inspirational and charismatic leader. I think he decided to go to preserve the BBC from further attack. But there aren't many bosses who can get their staff outside the offices protesting when they go."
• Separately, the BBC's acting chairman Lord Richard Ryder offered, on behalf of the board of governors, an unreserved apology to the government over the way it handled its complaint about the BBC's reporting of the Iraq dossier. Prime minister Blair immediately accepted the apology, adding that the government could now "draw a line" under the whole episode.
• Meantime, Hutton has launched an "urgent investigation" into how a copy of his report was leaked to Rupert Murdoch's The Sun newspaper.
It will examine how the report was handled by the interested parties (who received copies twenty-four hours in advance); also Hutton inquiry staff and the report's printer.
An audit trail of everyone who had access to copies of the report before its publication will be established. Depending on the outcome of the inquiry, Hutton will decide what steps to take.
The Sun declined to comment on the source of its leak.
Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff