BBC ‘nearly brought down’ in row over ‘John Humphrys problem’
VETERAN broadcaster John Humphrys has spoken out about the political pressure put on him during 30 years of presenting flagship BBC radio show Today.
The Cardiff-born interviewer said relations with Downing Street during Tony Blair’s time in office became so strained the BBC was told something needed to be done about “the John Humphrys problem” or the government would stop cooperating with the Radio 4 programme.
Humphrys, who was born in Adamsdown, yesterday marked 30 years on the show. He recalled: “An admittedly lively exchange with Harriet Harman, who was the social security secretary at the time, produced a response from Downing Street the like of which the programme had never generated before.
“It was a letter threatening to withdraw co-operation from Today unless something was done about what they called the ‘John Humphrys problem.’
“That letter foreshadowed a more confrontational relationship between Downing Street and journalists, especially in the BBC, over the years to come.”
The broadcaster said a report on Mr Blair’s handling of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq “nearly brought down the BBC”.
He said: “In 2003, we invaded Iraq because, we were told by Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He didn’t. Three months later I did a perfectly unremarkable earlymorning, three-minute interview with a correspondent. I’ve done thousands of them over the last 30 years.
“Did I say unremarkable? It nearly brought down the BBC. Andrew Gilligan had been told by a reliable source that the dossier warning us of the threat from Saddam had been deliberately sexed up.
“That claim was ultimately to lead to the suicide of the source, Dr David Kelly, the destruction of Tony Blair’s reputation and the resignation of the two most senior men in the BBC – the director-general and the chairman.”
Humphrys said then Number 10 spin doctor Alastair Campbell orchestrated the government’s response, and later told him that he saw his role in Downing