THE imminence of Lord Hutton's report on his inquiry into the circumstances leading to the death of Dr David Kelly is causing some institutions which fear criticism from the report to anticipate it by making reforms even before it is published. The BBC is certain to be criticised, if only for failing to satisfy itself of the total accuracy of accusations made against Downing Street by its defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan. A broader criticism may be that the BBC remains aloof from public criticism of its programmes and is seldom willing to acknowledge publicly that it may have made a mistake; this was a complaint pressed strongly by Alastair Campbell in his evidence to Hutton.
Last week Greg Dyke, the BBC's Director-General, acknowledged the likelihood of this criticism being endorsed by Lord Hutton by appointing Mark Byford as his deputy director-general with special responsibility for programme-level compliance with the Corporation's Charter and the operational guidelines that derive from it; Mr Byford will also be responsible for ensuring that complaints are dealt with promptly and transparently.
THIS appointment is overdue and will be widely welcomed although it puts a heavy burden on Mr Byford's shoulders since he is already head of the BBC World Service and Global News. He is a BBC man through-and-through, having decided to apply for a job in Leeds after seeing a Panorama programme about the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov. He rose through the Corporation to become the boss of its regional broadcasting system before being appointed to run the World Service which has changed considerable under his leadership. His new responsibilities will also position him to play an important role in the BBC's preparations for the negotiations over the renewal of its Charter in 2006.