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BBC Chair Apologizes for Errors Contained in Iraq Broadcast - 2004-01-29

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has accepted an apology from the British Broadcasting Corporation for errors it made in reporting that his government deliberately exaggerated Iraq's weapons threat before the war. A senior judge had harshly criticized the BBC's reporting one day earlier.

The BBC continues to be rocked by what commentators call the worst crisis in its 81-year history.

Since the release of the damning report Wednesday, it lost its chairman, Gavyn Davies, and chief executive, Greg Dyke. And now, it has delivered an unreserved apology to Mr. Blair.

The crisis stems from the report of Judge Brian Hutton, who found numerous errors in BBC reporting and editorial controls regarding a news story that accused the Blair government of intentionally embellishing intelligence on Iraq's weapons threat before the war.

The Hutton report focused on the circumstances around the death of David Kelly, a weapons scientist who committed suicide after he was identified as the source of the BBC story.

The acting chairman of the BBC's board of governors, Richard Ryder, issued an apology, following crisis talks at the corporation's London headquarters Thursday.

"On behalf of the BBC, I have no hesitation in apologizing unreservedly for our errors and to the individuals whose reputations were affected by them," he said.

A short time later, Mr. Blair said he accepted the apology and promised not to meddle with the corporation's independence.

"This for me has always been very simple matter," the prime minister said. "An accusation, it was a very serious one that was made, that was a false accusation as Lord Hutton has found. It's now been withdrawn. That's all I ever wanted. And I want to make it absolutely clear to you that I fully respect the independence of the BBC. I've got no doubt that the BBC will continue as it should do, to probe and question the government in every proper way. And I think what this does now is it allows us to draw a line and move on, the BBC to go on with their job and the government to get on with ours."

Earlier on Thursday, Greg Dyke resigned as BBC director general, saying the broadcaster can carry on best without him.

"I think the BBC is an incredibly important organization in this country and this has been an unpleasant and difficult time for it," he said. "I hope with me going that's the end of it. It can get on doing what it's job is, that is serving the public."

The new acting director is Mark Byford, who had been leading the BBC World Service. He said the corporation is going through a turbulent period and needs to study the Hutton report and implement reforms.