BBC ‘nearly brought down’ in row over ‘John Humphrys prob­lem’

South Wales Echo - - NEWS -

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

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