27 March 2006

Gilligan speaks out

The journalist at the centre of the storm over the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly has defended his reporting, in an interview with a Sheffield lecturer.

Andrew Gilligan’s story, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, alleged that the UK Government had “sexed up” its intelligence dossier in the build-up to the Iraq war. The story was denied by the government and became the subject of the Hutton Inquiry, following the death of the confidential source, Dr Kelly.

Andrew Gilligan

Three years on, Andrew Gilligan spoke at length to Tony Harcup, senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Sheffield. In the interview, published in Journalist magazine (April/May 2006), Andrew Gilligan reflects on what the affair has taught him.

“The principal lesson is that journalism needs to be readier to defend itself,” he says. “The trouble is that a lot of the understanding of my story has been in the light of what happened afterwards, and because it resulted in the resignations of the chairman and director general of the BBC, then it must have been a terribly bad story.”

He argues that, although mistakes were made, the “sexing up” story was essentially true.

Commenting on the role of journalists, Andrew Gilligan adds: “We are trying to open a cupboard and shine a torch around – a feeble torch in a very large cupboard – and we don’t know what’s in the bits of the cupboard we can’t see, and some of those bits are deliberately not shown to us.”

Andrew Gilligan is one of several journalists interviewed for Tony Harcup’s forthcoming book, The Ethical Journalist, which will be published by Sage in 2007.